Artificial intelligence and quantum information are among the seven key areas China has identified as priorities for development as it seeks to become a global leader in the scientific field by 2035.

Integrated circuits, brain sciences, genetics and biotechnology, clinical medicine and health care, and deep Earth, sea, space and polar exploration were named as the other five sectors that will be given priority in terms of funding and resources, according to China is five-year plan for 2021-2025 and its vision through to 2035.

Government spending on basic research will increase 10.6 per cent this year and investment in research and development should grow at an annual rate of at least 7 per cent over the next five years.

This will enhance the capacity of enterprises to achieve technological innovation, unlock the creativity of talent, and improve the systems and mechanisms for making scientific and technological innovation.

Figures from the OECD show China has been closing the gap with Western nations on science and tech spending. In 2000, China’s funding for R&D was just 0.9 per cent of its GDP. But by 2018 the figure had grown to 2.1 per cent of GDP – or1.96 trillion yuan– putting the country 18th on a global list topped by Israel with 4.3 per cent.

Despite the increase, only about 5 per cent of China’s overall spending on R&D was on basic research, compared to 15 per cent in the United States in 2018. In 2019, China’s total R&D spend – by governments and companies – was 2.23 trillion yuan, or 2.2 per cent of GDP.  The figure rose to 2.4 per cent last year.

In the blueprint for 2021-25, China said it would set up national science centres in Beijing, Shanghai, Anhui and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. These would offer improved residency policies and explore skilled migration programmes to attract foreign talent and provide an ‘internationally competitive” environment for overseas scientists to work in China.

Institutes of Science and Development in Beijing said the 10 per cent rise in government spending on fundamental science this year would make it possible for scientists to study challenging topics without the pressure of having to deliver immediate results. It will also strengthen researchers’ confidence that their efforts will receive ongoing support from the government.

The five-year plan “sends a clear signal” about the government‘s intent. China may not have everything, but intends to play a leading role in some critical areas.