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Opinion
Innovation in a New Era
By Harvey Dzodin | NO. 11 MARCH 15, 2018
As has been the case in recent years, innovation will be both a major theme and preoccupation for China in 2018, given even more importance after pronouncements by Xi Jinping, General Secretary of Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in his work report at the 19th National Congress of the CPC in October 2017, where he spoke of the shape of the new era and the new principal contradiction, both inextricably linked to accelerated innovative advancements in numerous fields.

Xi declared that the principal contradiction facing China's socialist society had gone through a certain evolution. In the recent past, it had been between "the ever-growing material andcultural needs of the people and backward social production," while now, it is between "unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life."

In the West, most of us are blissfully ignorant about the centrality of the concept of contradictions. However, in China, it is of immense importance, being derived from the Marxist concept of dialectical materialism related to the interaction of contradictory social forces.

While many contradictions co-exist, there is only one of such importance that it must be successfully addressed lest it pose an existential threat. Meeting the challenge of addressing the principal contradiction by providing balanced and adequate development to meet the people's ever-growing needs for a better life requires innovative solutions of great magnitude and increased frequency.

China is well advanced in this regard, as I found out at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou in December 2017. The city's leaders obviously worked hard to win this coveted prize that focused attention on the event itself as well as the innovative city and region hosting it.

There was definite electricity in the air at this gathering of some of the smartest, richest and most powerful people on the planet. I came away feeling that China has almost left its copycat phase behind and is addressing its principal contradiction by morphing into a world-class inventor and innovator, just as it's now positioned as the world leader in globalization.

Major national initiatives can be cited to demonstrate this point. Made in China (MIC 2025) is a national project to enable the country to become self-sufficient in manufacturing with homegrown solutions within the next eight years; meanwhile, AI 2030 has the goal of making China the leader in artificial intelligence in the coming years.

Moreover, since these initiatives will take all the brainpower China can muster, the country has just implemented a new long-stay fast-track visa policy for foreign "high-end talent" and their families. The policy is designed to supplement the scientific and entrepreneurial talent of Chinese students, especially those who study in foreign universities and then return home equipped with critical thinking skills and often with practical experience in their chosen fields.

Further validation comes from the February 2018 GE Global Innovation Barometer of 2,090 corporate innovation executives from 20 countries including China, Germany, India and the United States. Only five countries are seen to have a very strong innovation-conducive environment. China is fourth out of the 20.

Comparing 2018 to 2014, respondents in 18 of 20 countries said that their own nation had developed an innovation-conducive market environment. China had the most growth in this area from 24 percent to 73 percent. Surprisingly, Japan and Germany dropped from 41 percent to 38 percent and 77 percent to 65 percent, respectively. Therefore, China turned out to be the big winner.

In the Report on the Work of the Government delivered to the National People's Congress in March, Premier Li stressed that China would seek to enhance economic innovation and competitiveness in the process of pushing high-quality development and to promote market vitality and social creativity in the course of deepening reform and opening up.

More efforts will be made in improving education, health care, elderly care, housing and environmental protection to address the principal contradiction in this new era.

Is China up to the challenge?

Yes, indeed.

The author is a research fellow for the Center for China and Globalization, senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice president of ABC Television in New York. The article was originally published on China.org.cn

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to baishi@bjreview.com

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