The country's expertise in science and technology has grown significantly in recent years, a report from the Ministry of Science and Technology has said.
And with 35 million people employed in various scientific and technological fields, China ranks first in the world in terms of personnel, the Report on Science and Technology Strength of China, said.
Robots perform a dance at a science and technology center in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province on September 26. The eight robots, 26 cm in height, were made by the University of Science and Technology of China.
In addition, last year, China had 1.4 million people specifically engaged in scientific research and development, putting it second only to the United States, the report said.
Xu Heping, deputy director of the ministry's strategy survey and research office, said: "The gap between China and the world's most advanced scientific powers has been steadily narrowing.
"In recent years, by focusing on cutting-edge science and the needs of the nation, our scientists have harvested some prize results, many of which have had a major influence on the international community," he said.
"Chinese scientists have been at the forefront of international research in several fields including neuroscience, genetics, protein structure, quantum communication, nano-materials and thermonuclear fusion."
Spending on scientific R&D topped 450 billion yuan (US$58 billion) last year, the fifth highest in the world.
The figure amounted to 1.42 percent of GDP for the year, the report said.
In terms of the number of papers published in the Science Citation Index, Chinese scientists last year ranked fifth in the world, behind the US, the UK, Germany and Japan.
In 1991, they ranked 15th, the report said.
Tang Qin, a professor from the scientific knowledge popularization department of the Chinese Medical Association, said: "Quantitative analysis of international scientific papers is an important reference for evaluating basic research, as it is the precondition of scientific innovation and development."
In addition, results gained through original research have led to a number of important patents.
Last year, China registered the fourth-highest number of patents in the world, the report said.
As well as 200 key State-owned laboratories, private-sector science and technology companies have contributed greatly to sharpening the country's technological edge, the report said.
At the end of last year, China had 150,000 registered firms involved in science.
Two decades earlier it had just 7,000, the report said.
(China Daily September 27, 2007)