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China's Absorptive State: Innovation and research in China

Our new report charts the rise of innovation and research in China and sets out a roadmap for more strategic UK-China collaboration.

Our new report charts the rise of innovation and research in China and sets out a roadmap for more strategic UK-China collaboration.

Key findings

  • China is an absorptive state, increasingly adept at attracting and profiting from global knowledge and networks
  • Accelerating the shift to a more innovative economy is a core priority of China’s new leadership, building on ambitious growth targets is a new focus on quality, efficiency and evaluation
  • China’s research base continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, but has not yet been matched by similar leaps in quality
  • Our new data reveals that for the first time the UK has overtaken Japan to become China’s most prolific research co-author after the USA
  • Over the last five years, an expanding tier of Chinese multinationals have become visible in global innovation rankings
  • Previously regarded as only a weakness, the quality and speed of Chinese firms’ capacity for incremental re-innovation is becoming an important competitive asset

China's innovation system is advancing so rapidly in multiple directions that the UK needs to develop a more ambitious and tailored strategy, able to maximise opportunities and minimise risks across the diversity of its innovation links to China. For the UK, the choice is not whether to engage more deeply with the Chinese system, but how.

This report analyses the policies, prospects and dilemmas for Chinese research and innovation over the next decade. It is designed to inform a more strategic approach to supporting China-UK collaboration.

With the recent once in a decade leadership transition, and a review of China's Medium and Long-term National Plan for Science and Technology Development 2006-2020 (MLP) now underway, Nesta and its partners - the UK's Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the Foreign Office-BIS Science and Innovation Network and Research Councils UK - were keen to review how China's innovation system has changed over recent years.

This is an important report for Nesta. Over the last few years we have been doing more to map 'innovations in innovation' around the world. In technology as in so many other things, we live in a multipolar world and it's no longer enough to learn from familiar places like Silicon Valley or the German industrial heartlands. That's why we have developed partnerships not just in China but also in India, Brazil, the USA, Europe and elsewhere.

Institutions that are most frequent co-authors on UK-China papers

Inputs to Chinese innovation

China's innovation output: hotspots for quality research and innovation

Check out the Storify round-up of responses to China's Absorptive State

[<a href="//storify.com/nesta_uk/what-people-are-saying-about-china-s-absorptive-st" target="_blank">View the story "What people are saying about China's Absorptive State" on Storify</a>]


Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Principal Researcher

Tom was a Principal Researcher in the inclusive innovation team.

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Kirsten Bound

Kirsten Bound

Kirsten Bound

Executive Director of Research, Analysis and Policy

Kirsten was an Executive Director at Nesta and led Nesta’s Research, Analysis and Policy team.

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