Sci-tech progress a defining feature of past decade

Shenzhou XIV astronauts Chen Dong (center), Liu Yang (right) and Cai Xuzhe salute from the Wentian lab module on July 25. The Shenzhou XIV astronauts opened the hatch of Wentian, the first lab module of China’s space station, on July 25 at 10:03 am (Beijing time) and entered the module, according to the China Manned Space Agency. (XU BU / FOR CHINA DAILY)

On June 16, 2012, China's Shenzhou IX spacecraft blasted off on a mission to dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 experimental space lab. This was China's first manned rendezvous and docking mission. A decade later, on June 5, China successfully launched Shenzhou XIV, the first manned mission during the construction phase of China's first space station.

Astronautics is only one of the technological sectors in which China has made tremendous progress over the past 10 years. There is also the Rainbow Fish submersible that can dive to a depth of 11,000 meters; Micius, the world's first experimental quantum communication satellite; and the world's first quantum computer.

The country has also made great technological achievements in advanced materials, artificial intelligence, aviation, bio-tech and robotics.

There was a time when China was trying to catch up with the developed world in technology. Now, China can proudly say it has caught up with the old champions in quite a number of sectors thanks to a series of policies that have been devised and implemented to support the country's innovation drive. This has been backed by significant investment in R&D, which rose 14.2 percent year-on-year to reach 2.79 trillion yuan ($441.66 billion) in 2021. This was 2.44 percent of its GDP, up from a 1.91 percent in 2012.

If there is a keyword for China's sci-tech progress over the past 10 years, it is innovation. On the global innovation index released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, China has advanced from being ranked 34th in 2012 to 12th in 2021.

The country's push for innovation has been evident during the COVID-19 pandemic as it has used science-based methods to successfully isolate strains of the virus and develop testing reagents and vaccines against COVID-19, formulate tailored diagnosis and treatment plans, and used big data to trace infection chains, which has helped it build a solid sci-tech defensive wall to protect people's lives and health.

But much of the innovation over the decade has been incremental. Those are improvements in existing technologies that deliver a better performance. More needs to be done to produce new key technology and end the country's reliance on the developed countries for the most advanced technology.

The country needs to further promote scientific and technological innovation to upgrade its industries, eliminate the bottlenecks in supply, and realize high-quality development through innovation. That will be the key mission for the coming 10 years or more, as the country must strengthen its science and technology capabilities in order to achieve its development goals.