MBIE: NZ-China Science and Innovation Quarterly Round-up

MBIE: NZ-China Science and Innovation Quarterly Round-up

MBIE: New Zealand – China S&I Quarterly Roundup

Clinton Watson

Issue 1, December 2018

Message from Beijing

Kia ora koutou,

It’s been a very busy first three months settling into my new position here in Beijing, after four years in science policy!  There’s been a steady stream of high-level visits and several high-profile workshops between New Zealand and China scientists.  It’s been fascinating observing the mutually beneficial ties developing not only here in Beijing, but also in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu and Guangzhou.  China’s strengths in the hard sciences, engineering and computing are becoming all too obvious, but some strengths in agricultural and biological science fields are also emerging.  Innovation remains at the top of the agenda for Beijing, with new programmes and funds for innovative technologies and sectors being set up and there are reports China’s VC market is now bigger than the US.

This is the first issue of a quarterly series about research, science and innovation in China and collaborations with New Zealand.  Part One pulls together some of the more interesting developments happening in China’s science and innovation system.  Part Two focuses on showcasing relevant collaborations between the two countries.  All the material is unclassified, so feel free to forward onto others.

If you’re in China, please add my WeChat (NZ-ScienceInnovation) and get in touch.  To sign up to the distribution list or to be removed, please email me at [email protected] or Jessie at [email protected].  As this is the first issue, we welcome any feedback you may have.  If there are particular topics or issues you want to learn more about in future issues, please let me know.

Clinton Watson

Science and Innovation Counsellor – New Zealand Embassy Beijing

Developments in China’s S&I

China establishes a top-level “leading group” for science and technology

China’s State Council (China’s Cabinet) announced in August a dedicated “leading group” for science and technology, signalling an increase in importance to science and technology. The group is tasked with studying and reviewing national strategies, plans and major policies for S&T development; discussing major national scientific tasks and projects; and coordinating S&T work across ministries, departments and provincial authorities. The Science and Technology Leading Group is headed by Premier Li Keqiang with Vice-Premier Liu He as deputy. Read more

Premier Li Keqiang chaired the first plenary meeting of the National Science and Technology Leading Group in early December. Premier Li emphasized that more focus should be given to core technologies, promotion of new economic drivers and further integration of S&T with the economy. He called for strengthened intellectual property rights protection and the construction of a more pleasant environment for fostering innovation. He urged scientists and research institutes to exercise more integrity and professionalism and to achieve excellence. Li also called for more opportunities for young people to develop.

Leading groups are a critical part of China’s policymaking process, comprising top-level leaders and Ministers. China has around 80 leading groups on topics such as “comprehensively deepening reform”, finance and economy, and national security. The leading groups are where policies are thrashed out and recommendations provided to the Politburo. Some specialists consider the groups to be more important than ministries and at the core of the power structure in China. Read more

Strategic planning for China’s innovation system gets underway

The National Leading Group for Sci-tech System Reform and Innovation System Construction, chaired by Vice Premier Liu He, met in September 2018 to begin planning for the next science and technology mid- to long-term plan which will cover 2021–35. The group discussed implementation of the 2006–20 plan, baselines for the next period out until 2035 and adjustments to science, technology and innovation national strategies. Premier Liu said the structure of the next mid- to long-term plan is undecided, but its goal is to make China a powerhouse of research and innovation. Key targets under the 2006–20 plan were to increase spending on R&D to 2.5% of GDP, generate 60% of economic growth through technology, reduce reliance on foreign technology to 30%, and become a top five country in patents, global publications and citations. The last target has already been met. Read more

China “upgrades” entrepreneurship and innovation

The State Council released a circular in September setting out high-level expectations for central and local government to “upgrade” mass entrepreneurship and innovation. The new measures seek to improve services for entrepreneurship and innovation, create more job opportunities, increase the “transformation” and application of scientific results, build more innovation zones and clusters, integrate research institutes and firms of all sizes into value chains, and combine domestic and international resources for innovation . The circular is the latest in a string of about 40 State Council documents issued in the past year relating to “innovation and entrepreneurship”.

Premier Li first promoted the mass entrepreneurship and innovation campaign at the World Economic Forum’s 2014 summer meeting in Tianjin. Since then, the central government has increased support for entrepreneurs and start-ups with generous financial incentives. The government has also implemented new measures, such as a unified government service platform, tax breaks for tech incubators and university tech parks, and simplified registration procedures for start-up companies. Entrepreneurs are now able to set up small businesses in less than a week with only a few thousand yuan (about NZD500), without needing an office or registered capital. Read more

Provincial-level S&T investments lagging behind ambitions and central targets

The Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development (CASTD), an institution under the Ministry of Science and Technology, published the 2018 edition of its regional science, technology and innovation (STI) ranking, showing that China’s overall innovation capacity scored 69.63 points, up 2.06 points. The list ranks 31 mainland provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, based on the S&T environment (such as R&D infrastructure, talent attraction policies, ease of doing business), R&D investments, R&D outputs, commercialisation activities, and economic growth and social development.

Shanghai leads the index, with the Zhangjiang High-tech Zone making a big contribution. Beijing, in second place, clusters a larger group of research universities and state labs, but its innovation and entrepreneurship market is less developed. Tianjin, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang also scored above average. The report highlights growing regional disparity between coastal and inland regions. Eastern provinces contributed the majority of value added, business revenue, export volume and net profits of high-tech manufacturing industries. Central provinces Anhui and Hubei recorded high R&D spending growth, but their sci-tech output is still behind coastal areas.

Only seven regions are on track to meet the 5-year plan R&D intensity targets of 2.5 percent of GDP by 2020. Nine regions even failed to meet 2015 targets. R&D expenses as a proportion of total budgets shrank in over half of the regions (18), and in 75 percent of regions businesses spent less than 1 percent of revenue on R&D. An analyst from CASTD said that very few regions have the right foundations in place for meeting government innovation goals. Read more (in Chinese only) →

Chinese science makes big contribution to “research fronts”

In 2013, Clarivate published its inaugural report examining a selection of particularly active and fast-moving “research fronts. Since then, Clarivate has partnered each year with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to produce updated versions of the report, based on data in the Web of Science.

The report examines 100 Research Fronts – discrete nodes of activity whose mass and citation dynamics mark them as notably consequential areas of research. In addition to identifying established Research Fronts, the report highlights “emerging” fronts, those embodying notably new and fast-moving pockets of investigation. Read more →

The authors devised a research leadership index, according to which China ranks second to the United States overall. China ranks first in Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering (well ahead of the United States) and in Chemistry and Materials Science. China ranks 2nd in agricultural, plant and animal sciences; ecology and environmental science; and geosciences. Of the ten broad research areas, China’s performance in clinical medicine, and astronomy and astrophysics lags significantly.

China’s Radio Telescope “FAST” to be put into use in 2019

China’s 500-metre aperture spherical radio telescope or FAST, nicknamed Tianyan (Heavenly Eye) is expected to be put into use for Chinese astronomers in 2019. FAST, located in a natural basin in Guizhou Province in southwest China, is the world’s largest filled-aperture radio telescope and the second-largest single-dish aperture after the sparsely-filled RATAN-600 in Russia. Construction on the FAST project began in 2011 and it achieved first light in September 2016. It is currently undergoing further testing and commissioning.

To date, “FAST” has discovered 44 new pulsars. It observes at wavelengths of 10cm to 4.3m.  Read more →

China’s 100 most innovative companies in 2018 named

China’s most innovative companies have been identified in the 2018 Top 100 Chinese Innovators report launched in October by Clarivate Analytics. The analysis, which only covers Mainland China, is based on four criteria: patent volumes, patent success rates, patent citations and the location of inventions filed for protection.

Fifteen new companies have joined the 2018 list, 12 of which make their first appearance on the list. The companies are in a range of industry sectors, such as information security, medical devices, electronic components, communications equipment, media, general and special-purpose machinery, automotive and electrical equipment and consumer goods and healthcare.

Top tier companies in the index include Baidu, Haier, Hisense, Huawei, Oppo, Tencent, Legend Holdings, Tsinghua Tongfang, XIAOMI and ZTE. Almost half (48) of the companies on the list were state-owned enterprises, down from 59 in 2017. In terms of regional distribution, Beijing still tops the list with 39 companies, followed by Guangdong (27) and Shanghai (11).  Read more →

China continues to pump out unicorns

In the last five years, Shanghai and Beijing created 29 and 17 unicorns (a start-up company valued at more than 1 billion USD) respectively, accounting for 80% of startups in Asia. However, Silicon Valley remains the global leader in unicorns, creating 57 in the same period of time, with New York behind racking up 13. Read more →

A separate report shows China now has 164 unicorns, worth a combined US$628 billion, now ahead of the US by number, but not value – the US has 132 unicorns valued at more than US$700 billion as at the end of 2017. Five sectors dominate the list of China’s unicorns: e-commerce; internet; finance; health, culture and entertainment; and logistics. China’s large companies are playing an important role in incubating start-ups. Alibaba alone invested in 29 start-ups and Tencent 26.   Read more →

New manual for startups entering China

Startupbootcamp China has produced a China Landscape Report to help international startups understand the macro trends affecting China and the opportunities they can consider. The report is intended to be a manual for international start-ups expanding to China. The report identifies the main challenges for international startups entering the Chinese market as a lack of understanding of local market conditions, users, policies, regulations, industries and business habits.

The report identifies 5 hot industries in China: education tech, agri-food tech, smart manufacturing, digital health and clean tech. For each industry, the report outlines fundraising, development and technology trends. Read more →

China holds World Artificial Intelligence Conference forum

China is planning on becoming a global AI innovation centre by 2030 in the belief that AI will be the new central issue for international competitiveness and the engine for economic development. As part of this drive, Shanghai hosted the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in September. The conference themed “AI for everyone” attracted AI scientists, entrepreneurs and government officials to discuss the opportunities and influence of AI. Read more →

At the conference, Google, Amazon and Microsoft announced plans to build new research facilities in China. Read more →

China launches international organization for S&T cooperation along the Belt and Road

The inauguration ceremony of the Alliance of International Science Organisations was held in Beijing in November. The Alliance is an international, non-profit and nongovernmental scientific organization spearheaded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The University of Auckland is one of the Alliance’s founding members together with 36 other science organizations mostly from Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Read more →

New Zealand – China S&I Cooperation

New Zealand Minister of Research, Science and Innovation visits China

New Zealand Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Hon Dr. Megan Woods visited China and met with China’s Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang in September. Both Ministers committed to strengthening cooperation on scienceand innovation at a larger scale.

Minister Woods also attended the World Economic Forum Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin.

Four local media outlets published articles on the Minister’s visit and New Zealand’s research and innovation. The articles in Chinese can be found at China Science & Technology Daily, 21st Century Business Herald, Caixin and Intellectuals.

New Zealand scientists in China for the 2018 NZ-China scientist exchange program

New Zealand scientists for the NZ-China Scientist Exchange Program gathered in Beijing for an orientation workshop organized by the China Science and Technology Exchange Centre in October. The nine New Zealand scientists spent 3-6 weeks with their Chinese counterparts. This year our scientists had exchanges with collaborators located in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Harbin, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, Kunming and Guangzhou.

This year’s scientists were from AgResearch, Lincoln University, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Plant and Food Research, University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington and Wellington Fish and Game Council.

China and New Zealand hold the first China (Shanghai) – New Zealand Brain Research Cooperation Symposium

The China (Shanghai) – New Zealand Brian Research Cooperation Symposium 2018, co-organized by the New Zealand-China Non-Communicable Disease Research Collaboration Centre, Brain Research New Zealand and Huashan Hospital affiliated to Fudan University, was held in October in Shanghai. Huashan Hospital is recognised across China for its leading neurosurgery and brain research. This symposium built on previous meetings between New Zealand and Shanghai researchers in 2017.

Ten brain researchers and clinicians from New Zealand, including the co-directors of Brain Research New Zealand (Cliff Abraham and Peter Thorne), the founder of New Zealand’s brain bank (Sir Richard Faull), and 13 clinicians and neuroscientists from China participated. The collaboration was sparked in part by Shanghai’s ambition to create a world-leading brain bank based on the New Zealand model. Scientists from the two countries shared their latest research developments in brain research, including work on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. Representatives all agreed that there was great potential for the two countries to cooperate in the area of brain research, especially as Shanghai has received funding for a Joint International Research Laboratory, which can serve as a platform for joint project applications with New Zealand neuroscientists. Some collaborative research projects are already currently underway.

Maurice Wilkins Centre strengthens ties with Guangzhou

The Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (GIBH), Chinese Academy of Sciences, hosted a delegation of six leading investigators from the Maurice Wilkins Centre (MWC) in November.  Over the two-day workshop the two sides discussed how to further develop the GIBH-MWC Joint Laboratory and the recently-funded Guangdong Provincial Laboratory (MWC is one of 3 major international partners, alongside Cambridge University and the Max Planck Institutes). Active fields of collaboration include: immune therapy for cancer; molecularly-targeted cancer therapy; new treatments for metabolic disease, especially diabetes/pre-diabetes; induced pluripotent stem cells and human tissue organoids in drug screening and disease modelling; new large animal models of human disease; novel devices and automation for cell culture and cell therapy.

The MWC delegation also met with Jinan University’s School of Pharmacy, hosted by Prof Ke Ding with whom MWC has had a long-standing scientific collaboration. The two parties discussed collaborative opportunities, including the potential for MWC to collaborate on bioactive natural products derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Jinan researchers expressed strong interest in helping New Zealand gain more insight into the medicinal properties of its own natural products, and the MWC agreed to enable links with researchers in New Zealand working in that space.  Both the research and educational activities will now be coordinated under the auspices of the International Joint Laboratory for Traditional Chinese Medicine Modernization and Innovative Drug Design, which includes the MWC as a key international partner. Three MWC Principal Investigators, Professors Rod Dunbar, Garth Cooper and Greg Cook, are already serving on the Academic Advisory Board of the new centre, with Prof Dunbar as Co-Director with Prof Ding.

CEO of AgResearch visits China

An AgResearch delegation, led by Chief Executive Tom Richardson, visited some of AgResearch’s key collaboration partners in a week-long visit to China in October.  The delegation visited top agri-food research organisations, such as the Institutes of Food Science and Technology, and the Institute of Plant Protection, both of which are within the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS).  Dr Richardson believes CAAS could be a strategic partner for AgResearch in Asia because of the many shared research areas from ‘pasture to plate’.

AgResearch’s science collaborations in China have increased significantly over the last 3 years.  The strategic partnerships allow AgResearch to bring consumer market intelligence to New Zealand’s agri-food sectors.  AgResearch believes its collaborative research with Chinese partners will eventually help fast track export opportunities for New Zealand companies and facilitate the entry of premium products to the Chinese market.

CEO of Plant and Food Research visits China

A delegation from Plant and Food Research, headed by CEO David Hughes, visited China over five days in September. The visit began at the China-New Zealand Joint Kiwifruit Laboratory in Chengdu, a collaboration with the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Natural Resources Science. The Centre is one of two national-level centres between China and New Zealand.

The delegation then travelled to Yangling City in Shaanxi province to visit Northwest A&F University to formalise a new collaboration – the China-NZ Apple Research Centre – a research agreement focused on fundamental research in apple genomics. While at NWAF University, the group met up with two Plant & Food Research scientists who are working with Chinese scientists to learn more about the invasive species Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. The delegation also visited Shaanxi Rural Science and Technology Centre, with whom PFR and Zespri have a research collaboration focused on improving local kiwifruit quality and yield.

The delegation also visited long-term research partner Zhengzhou Fruit Research Institute and the Shanghai Institute of Materials and Medicine in Suzhou Industrial Park. KiwiNet has established collaborations at the park to support New Zealand institutions to commercialise technologies in China. In Shanghai the PFR delegation met Fruitday, commercial partners in a joint venture in New Zealand. They also visited Zespri China to hear how the Zespri China supply project is progressing with PFR’s support.

The 2nd Ideas to Life Conference held in Hangzhou

The 2nd Ideas to Life Conference was held on 1-2 November in Hangzhou. The Conference was co-organized by University of Auckland Innovation Institute China and Hangzhou Economic and Technology Development Area. With the theme Innovations for Healthy Living, the conference attracted the participation of more than 150 investors, inventors, and representatives from Chinese enterprises and research institutes. Read more →

New Zealand gaming studios visit China

Organized by NZTE Shanghai, four New Zealand gaming studios (Cerebralfix, Runaway, Weta Workshop and Pikpok) visited China in October. During the visit, they held in-depth talks with top Chinese gaming companies Tencent Games, Shanda Games, Taptap and YooZoo Games. The visit helped the New Zealand studios gain a better understanding of the Chinese market and Chinese consumer preferences and get a deeper understanding of relevant government policies in the sector.

During the trip one of the companies signed a distribution agreement with a Chinese partner.

NZHIH signs a commercialisation agreement with Chinese partner

New Zealand Health Innovation Hub (NZHIH) recently signed a commercialisation agreement with a Chinese partner to develop a Hepatitis Diagnostic test for early detection of liver inflammation in patients with a chronic hepatitis B virus infection of genotype C.

Auckland DHB (ADHB), drawing on the expertise of Dr William Abbott, has developed a diagnostic test for early detection of liver inflammation in patients with a chronic hepatitis B virus infection of genotype C (specific to Chinese, Indonesians, Tongans, Māori and Aboriginal peoples). The research project was funded by the Health Research Council. The largest population to benefit from the test are people of Chinese descent.  The plan is to validate, develop and support commercialisation of the diagnostic test in China and then to introduce it to New Zealand as a priority for the Australasian market and others. ADHB has assigned the technology to NZHIH which is a joint venture between Auckland, Counties Manakau and Canterbury DHBs. NZHIH has successfully bid for Kiwinet funding and has found a manufacturing investor in China.

If left untreated, between 15 to 25% of patients with a chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection will die as a result of the complications of the infection. These complications, which are liver failure and liver cancer, occur as a result of inflammation in the liver and have a particularly high frequency in patients with a genotype C infection.

Medical Devices Consortium visits Hangzhou on study tour

Beyond Capital, a New Zealand based investment partner of the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT), hosted a group of CMDT members on a study tour to Hangzhou in November. The objective of the visit was to understand the partnering opportunities open to New Zealand’s medical technology innovation and medtech start-ups. The group learnt about the health innovation ecosystem in Hangzhou, visiting innovation hubs, start-up communities and hospitals.

The programme included two days of visits to hospitals from the high-end Hangzhou Medical Mall private facility to public hospitals in Zhejiang and Shanghai, the HEDA precinct and HIPARK a high-tech innovation hub specializing in games and digital health. The group was also hosted by the Zhejiang Institute of Medical Equipment Inspection and Research, a branch of the Chinese FDA, and several medical device OEM manufacturers who also undertake prototyping and small production runs. The China-New Zealand Sports & Joints Healthcare Conference was also part of the study programme.

The New Zealand team was extremely impressed by the scale of the Hangzhou Provincial Government’s vision and support for health innovation. China’s healthcare needs are similar to those of the west but its emphasis on health priorities appears to be slightly different. The opportunity for New Zealand could be in collaborations around proven rehabilitation programmes and digital rehabilitation technology. Another growing area that the New Zealand team identified is in serious gaming for rehabilitation. The CMDT team comprised of University of Auckland, AUT, Massey University and NZTE.

Cultural Tip

Many of you will have attended work dinners or banquets in China.  These can be a little daunting, especially when the 60% alcohol-heavy baijiu comes out… Here are a few tips to make things go smoothly:

  1. The most senior host at a banquet will offer the first toast. Stand and raise your glass for formal toasts when others at the table do so.
  2. If you are the head of a visiting delegation, make a toast after the host.
  3. Guests and hosts will be sat according to status and seniority. Offer your toast to the people on either side of you and then clink glasses. After the initial round of toasts, people may move around the table to offer toasts to others. Feel free to do so too!
  4. When toasting someone your senior or of higher status, hold your glass slightly lower than theirs to clink.
  5. Whatever you’re drinking, finish the glass each time (ganbei literally means ‘dry glass’).
  6. Do not drink alone; you should wait until a toast is given and then drink with the group.
  7. The host will raise a final toast signalling the end of the dinner.  Try not to leave before this happens.

Disclaimer: The articles referenced in this email reflect the views of their authors only.  They do not represent the official policy or position of the New Zealand government.

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18 Dec, 2018
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