Editor’s note: Has China become a giant of proportions that should worry humanity? In a series of analyzes to be read until Monday, our columnist and expert political scientist on China, Loïc Tassé, tries to answer this question.
China has around 2,600 academic institutions that are home to 32 million students. While not all of these universities are world-class, the massive investments the Chinese government has made in higher education and research are starting to pay off.
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About 40 years ago, China was struggling to emerge from the Cultural Revolution. Almost all higher education institutions had remained closed for 10 years, due to the Cultural Revolution.
At present, several Chinese universities rank among the best universities in the world in science.
Investments that bear fruit
In 2020, the Chinese government injected the equivalent of US $ 400 billion into research. Chinese investments in research are bearing fruit.
Since 2019, China has been the country that files the most patent applications, ahead of the United States. And the gap is widening. In 2020, 68,720 international patent applications originated from China, an increase of 16% from the previous year. In the same year, 59,230 patents originated in the United States, an increase of only 3%.
Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese army has become the prime contractor for all research in sensitive areas. It takes under its wing all research that can have a military impact.
File photo, AFP
This photo taken in Beijing, China on September 24, 2020, shows an engineer at a factory in Sinovac that was built to produce a vaccine against COVID-19.
Moreover, Chinese researchers no longer have the right to communicate research results that could affect the country’s national security to their foreign colleagues. In other words, all cooperation in sensitive areas is prohibited.
The United States is no exception. Since 2019, the Department of Energy, which coordinates research in the quantum field in the United States, has prohibited organizations and companies with which it does business from hiring Chinese employees. The rule also applies to subcontractors of companies.
At the cutting edge of research
China is on the heels of the United States in several areas. For example, she sends missions to the Moon and Mars and she wants to build with Russia an inhabited lunar base at the South Pole of the Moon.
But it is more advanced than the United States and other scientific powers in many areas.
For example, it has succeeded in transmitting quantum telecommunications by satellite. She developed the most powerful quantum computers. She is at the cutting edge of genetic engineering.
No one masters the sowing of clouds to make it rain better than she does. It has 312 of the 500 fastest computers in the world. Its next Maglev train could reach over 800 km.
Its researchers have just developed an artificial heart with magnetic levitation. It will undertake the construction of the largest radio telescope in the world. Its researchers are already looking at 6G, which could begin to be implemented by 2025.
In addition to their formidable research centers and their facilities, which are among the most modern in the world, Chinese researchers also have a vast network of contacts around the world.
China is becoming the center of the scientific world.
An empire that still pollutes a lot
China has set itself the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2060. Although China is generally successful in achieving its goals, there is every reason to believe that it will not achieve carbon neutrality in China. this date.
However, China has developed green energies in a tremendous way. It has become the world’s leading producer of green energy. Its solar panels, very cheap and very efficient, have no rival in the world.
And the Chinese president announced in 2020 that China would reach its peak of greenhouse gas emissions a little before 2030. Can we believe it?
The problem is that China’s energy needs continue to grow very rapidly and coal produces 58% of the energy consumed in China. This consumption is expected to increase by 21% in the coming years.
Worse, China is signing contracts around the world to build coal-fired power plants.
Energy demand in China is expected to grow as the auto industry continues to expand or as climate change and rising living standards for Chinese people lead to increased demand for air conditioning.
It is possible that new technologies to capture greenhouse gases will be discovered by then. China will need it to achieve its goals.
But what motivates the decisions of the Chinese leaders is above all the dilemma in which they find themselves: if they want to remain in power, they must increase the standard of living of the average Chinese, and therefore develop the economy.
But at the same time, they must solve the glaring pollution problems in China.
In theory, this means producing more while polluting less. In practice, it is easier to increase production and promise a reduction in pollution at a later date.