China is fooling only itself if it thinks it will soon overtake the United States as a world leader in science and technology, according to the boss of a state-owned publication dedicated to the subject.
With the world’s two largest economies embroiled in an escalating trade dispute, the comments made by Liu Yadong, editor-in-chief of Science and Technology Daily, which comes under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology, were unexpected.
“The large gap in science and technology between China and developed countries in the West, including the US, should be common knowledge, and not a problem.” Liu said.
“But it became problematic when the people who hype [China’s achievements] … fooled the leadership, the public and even themselves.”
Liu made the surprisingly candid speech at a science and technology seminar in Beijing on Thursday.
In it he said that despite the technological achievements China had made, there were still many obstacles for it to overcome before it could pose a serious challenge to more advanced nations.
These included a lack of theoretical scientific knowledge, a skills deficit in some areas, and insufficient patience and perseverance to see projects through, he said.
Liu also made the apposite observation, given the prevailing trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, that the way in which some people had oversold China’s technological achievements and potential had fuelled the concerns felt, and now being aired, by many Western nations.
Among the products that are likely to be subject to the latest tariffs threatened by US President Donald Trump are ones manufactured under the “Made in China 2025” banner.
The government’s scheme for industrial modernisation, with the emphasis on the development of hi-tech industries, had until very recently been strongly touted by Beijing. As such it has attracted considerable foreign media attention and been repeatedly cited in the ongoing trade negotiations between China and the US.
One example of the “hype” to which Liu was referring is an article by Xinhua that was widely circulated last autumn hailing China’s “four new great inventions”, namely high-speed rail, electronic payments, bike sharing and online shopping – even though none of them actually originated in the country.
While it was perhaps unsurprising to see Liu’s speech receive widespread support online, it also garnered praise from a less expected source, the state-run, and generally jingoistic, tabloid Global Times.
In an opinion piece published on Sunday, the newspaper said that Liu’s comments reflected public opinion and were timely given the trade dispute with the US.
“The overwhelming support for Liu shows that there is a collective consciousness within Chinese society that hopes to see more self-reflection internally and more humility externally,” it said.
It did, however, argue that it was important for China and its people to remain optimistic, and not allow other nations to contain it.
Liu’s comments followed the publication of a series of articles by Science and Technology Daily that identified 29 key technologies in which China was lagging behind other countries. One of them cited the problems caused by the US government’s ban on American companies selling parts and software to Chinese telecom and mobile phone maker ZTE in the wake of its export control violations.
The White House later lifted the ban after ZTE agreed to pay a US$1.4 billion fine and restructure its management.
The first of the articles appeared in April, when one of the most popular films showing in local cinemas was Amazing China, a propaganda documentary that painted a rosy picture of the country’s achievements since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
“We think it’s necessary for the public to know more, and particularly about the areas where China is not amazing, and is enslaved to others,” Liu said.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China ‘fooling itself’ with plan for world leadership in tech
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