16/04/2023 - The latest OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2023 says that recent measures by China, the European Union and the United States – which between them account for more than two-thirds of global spending on Research & Development (R&D) – to reduce international technology dependencies could lead to a weakening of science, technology and innovation activities at a time when global challenges, more than ever, require international co-operation.
Data on collaboration based on scientific publications shows early signs of China-US disengagement from bilateral collaboration in research. US co-authorship with China has fallen markedly in recent years, possibly owing to pandemic travel restrictions and denial of visas that restricted Chinese academics from travelling overseas. Most of the decline – which started in 2020 and accelerated in 2021 – is in engineering and natural sciences fields, areas that underpin developments in breakthrough technologies and which account for the bulk of bilateral research collaboration between China and the United States.
“Strategic competition should be reconciled with tackling global problems and crises,” OECD Deputy Secretary-General Kerri-Ann Jones said, presenting the report at the European Commission in Brussels. “Leadership has inevitably involved some measure of protection of technologies from strategic competitors, but today, research and innovation are evermore interconnected across countries via trade flows, availability of critical materials and the race for talent. It is important that OECD countries carefully target their measures while keeping channels open to ambitious research and innovation co-operation to tackle current and future global challenges.”
The scale of China’s R&D expenditures today suggest it is gaining critical mass to innovate at the frontier in areas ranging from Artificial Intelligence to the processing of critical minerals.
While the United States remains the world’s largest absolute spender on R&D, China sits in second place, more than tripling its number of researchers over the past 20 years. China’s R&D intensity (defined as its R&D expenditure as a share of GDP) has grown from 1.71% in 2010 to 2.45% in 2021, above the EU at 2.15% but below the US at 3.46%. China is now a market leader in some technologies, such as 5G, and at the forefront in others, including batteries and wind turbines.
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