By Eduardo Baptista
BEIJING (Reuters) -China will restructure its science and technology ministry to channel more resources to achieving important breakthroughs, with the goal of moving faster towards self-reliance, according to a State Council plan submitted to parliament on Tuesday.
The restructuring of the central government ministry was included in a reform plan of state institutions that the State Council, China’s cabinet, submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is meeting this week.
“Facing the severe situation of international scientific and technological competition as well as external containment and suppression, it is necessary to … accelerate the realisation of high-level scientific and technological self-reliance and self-improvement,” the cabinet said in the plan, without naming any countries.
The proposed restructuring comes amid repeated calls from China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping to reduce dependence on foreign technology as the United States imposes a growing number of export controls, hitting many Chinese firms and industries.
“Amid fierce international competition … whether we can build a socialist modernised country in an all-round way as scheduled depends on the self-reliance and self-improvement of science and technology,” Xi said on Sunday to a group of NPC delegates.
The institutional changes revealed on Tuesday will reduce the scope of the science and technology ministry as previous responsibilities, such as building high-tech industrial development zones and driving technological progress in rural areas, will be re-distributed across several ministries.
“Strengthen the Ministry of Science and Technology’s strategic planning … optimise the whole-process management of scientific and technological innovation,” the cabinet said in the plan.
The changes will further centralise power over science and technology polices in the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with the plan also proposing the establishment of a new decision-making body, the Central Commission on Science and Technology.
Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday while presenting his work report to the opening of the NPC’s annual meeting that the role of government in pooling resources for key technological breakthroughs should be better leveraged.
“Enterprises should be the principal actors in innovation,” Li said, though he did not specify whether this referred to state-owned or private enterprises, or both.
While analysts and industry insiders have pointed out the challenges China faces in achieving self-reliance in areas such as semiconductors, an Australian think tank said in a report last week that China had a “stunning lead” in 37 of 44 critical and emerging technologies.
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Robert Birsel)