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Yang Wei: Critical Transition for Basic Research in China

At some time of the future, basic research in China will be in the transition stage from tracing to keeping pace with, othersandhas to be faced intensive demands for scientific development. Chinese government has been put forward the major deployment of implementation of innovation-driven development strategy and raised clear demands on the perfection of knowledge innovation system and reinforcing basic research. To plan and promote basic research with a global perspective is the strategic demand for seizing the high ground, enhancing independent innovation capability and building a science superpower in the world.

Basic research is currently taking on new features worldwide. In the 21st century, the adjustment of the international R&D pattern has deeply undergone and basic research has achieved new developments and taken on new features. Firstly, the leading effect of basic research is highlighted. The interaction between science and technology innovation and industry transform has been actively concomitant.The technology development based on basic research whose leading effect for emerging strategic industries such as new energy resource, new material and new generation of information technology is especially prominent. Secondly, research breakthroughs in frontier are emerging. Scientific development has taken a turn for deeper dimension with continuous achievements and promising signs for revolutionary breakthroughs in the exploration in areas such as the matter essence, origin of the universe and life, etc. Thirdly, disciplinary crossing and merging are deepened. Such crossings between multiple disciplines have given birth to new research areas such as bioinformatics and systematic biology, which is the merging of life sciences and information sciences, nanoelectronics and nanobiology, the crossing and merging of nanosciences with numerous disciplines, etc. Fourthly, competition and cooperation are getting intense. While the international scientific community is operating openly for innovation to meeting the mutual challenges, competition in frontier sciences and high-tech areas are becoming intense. The forward-looking deployment of basic research has become the consensus and action of all countries.

Basic research in China is in the transitional period from following developed countries to parallel development with them. Recently, China has become a major engine for the world R&D investment.  In 2011, theChina’s R&D investment accounted for 13.1% of the total amount in the world and China is now the second largest country for R&D investment after USA and before Japan. In terms of scientific essays, China has achieved a neck-to-neck position with some innovation-oriented countries. According to statistics, in the period of ten years from 2002 to 2012(until Nov. 1), Chinese researchers have published 1.0226 million international papers, which the second position in terms of total number, the sixth in terms of total citation and fifth in terms of frequent citation in the world. With gradual increase and steady development in basic research, there has been a large number of outstanding research results like experiment-confirmed the long-awaited quantum anomalous Hall effect (QAHE)which is referred as the achievementat the level of Nobel Prize. It can be said that basic research in China has achieved leap-type development through long-term accumulation and is reaching towards internationally developed level. However, some problems are still existent, such as lack of original achievements in frontier areas and being inadequate in leading scientific and technological researchers, imbalance in terms of disciplinary distribution and unfavorable cultural atmosphere for innovation.

We should seize the strategic opportunity and promote basic research in China. Firstly, to have the courage to bear the historical responsibility. National Natural Science Foundation is the major channel for supporting basic research in China, which should bravely bear the historical responsibility, construct the funding mechanism with fair evaluation, rewarding performance, innovative operation, efficient management service, abundant funding resources, and multiple funding programs, and serve as the academic beacon for leading basic research in the country. Secondly, to actively expend the financial resource. Funding in basic research is investing in the future. Currently, while R&D investment in China maintains a rapid increase, investing intensity in basic research is yet to be strengthened. In recent years, basic research accounts for only less than 5 % of the total R&D expenditure, which is far less than 10 % to 20 % of the developed countries. We will actively try to get support from the central government, while attracting investment in basic research from social resources. We should also conduct strategic research on the investment prediction of basic research in the current situation and resource allocation, combining mid-term and long-term planning outline and preparing to draw up the 13thFive-year Plan of NSFC. Thirdly, to scientifically plan funding as a whole. We will promote the balance and merging of disciplines, cultivate innovative talents, excellent young researchers, leading talents and talent groups; further implement the key areas and make efforts to lead technological innovation by major breakthroughs, extend open and cooperation, and fully make use of global resources to increase our innovation capability. Fourthly, to make efforts to create the environment which is oriented the evaluation based on the original innovation, the steady support for painstakingresearch, the encouragement for exploration and toleratefailure in research, and as well as the research integrity.

Copyright 2007 Bureau of International Cooperation, NSFC