China: Science and Technology under Communist Party Control

For several decades, science and technology have been among China’s political priorities: they are considered by the political authorities to make up one of the “four modernisations” deemed essential for the country, as advocated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 (the other three being agriculture, industry, and defence). The twentieth Communist Party Congress, held in October 2022, reaffirmed the need to maintain this focus on science and technology.[1]

In the wake of this Communist Party Congress, and in a context of stiff competition on the international stage (particularly from the United States in strategic areas such as semi-conductors and artificial intelligence), the National People’s Congress, at its session held in March 2023, examined the current arrangements for implementing the country’s policies for research and technological development. This led to the adoption of a major plan to reform their organisation.[2] For a number of years, the Ministry of Science and Technology had been responsible for coordinating the activities of research organisations, and in particular those of its funding body, the National Natural Science Foundation of China. It also had virtual control over the Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose many institutes constitute the central pillar of basic research in the country. Following the reforms, the Ministry’s role has been refocused on enhancing efforts in key sectors to achieve the objectives of the major national priorities. However, the greatest reform consists in the creation, within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), of a “Central Commission for Science and Technology”, mandated to strengthen the contribution of government agencies to national policy objectives, as well as improving their consistency and accountability in this respect.

The Global Times — a C...