Forbidden City

China’s top policymaking body charts plan for science and technology 'self-sufficiency'

China’s top policymaking body, the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, approved a plan on Wednesday for developing homegrown science and technology with an eye toward helping China achieve “self-sufficiency and self-empowerment in technology.”

According the state-run Xinhua News Agency, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the group that while China has made “substantial progress” in trying to develop its science and technology sector, the country still continues to struggle with institutional barriers. 

For decades, China’s science and technology development borrowed from the Soviet model and didn’t focus on market demand or national goals. On Wednesday, Xi called for that to change. Technology research has to become more “target-oriented” and “problem-oriented,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

The adoption of the new plan -- which replaces a similar one from 2015 -- is part of a broad, nationalist approach for the development of technology. China is trying to leverage resources from both the public and private sector to build up, in particular, the nation's artificial intelligence and quantum computing capabilities.

Beijing unveiled the three-year plan just as the Biden administration said it planned to tightened the screws on a roster of Chinese tech companies it believes threaten U.S. national security. The Commerce Department announced on Wednesday that it had added a dozen mainland companies to a trade blacklist for that very reason. 

Eight of the firms -- which include Xi'an Aerospace Huaxin Technology, Hangzhou Zhongke Microelectronics and the Hefei National Lab -- were cited for allegedly trying to help the Chinese military develop quantum computing capabilities by acquiring or trying to acquire “U.S. origin-items in support of military applications.”

For some time now, U.S. officials have worried aloud that Chinese companies are so beholden to the Beijing central government, they collect sensitive information its behalf. The Chinese Communist Party has dismissed this out of hand, saying it does not engage in industrial espionage. 

“Global trade and commerce should support peace, prosperity, and good-paying jobs, not national security risks,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “The Department of Commerce is committed to effectively using export controls to protect our national security.”

Chinese commerce ministry spokesman Shu Jueting said on Thursday that the Chinese government strongly opposed the sanctions on the Chinese companies, and intends to take it up with the U.S. directly.

In another sign that China has made this technological great leap forward a top priority, Vice-Premier Liu He, Xi’s right-hand man who has been tasked with working through the American restrictions, wrote in a 6000-word article in the People’s Daily on Wednesday saying that technological innovation isn’t just important to China’s development, it is key to the country’s very survival.

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Dina Temple-Raston

Dina Temple-Raston is the host and executive producer of the Click Here podcast as well as a senior correspondent at Recorded Future News. She previously served on NPR’s Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology, and social justice and hosted and created the award-winning Audible Podcast “What Were You Thinking.”