Chinese President Xi Jinping repeats call for tech self-reliance, innovative talent

China’s president has reiterated his call for self-reliance in science and technology, saying innovation is the key to better develop the country’s economy, sharpen its global edge and achieve long-term goals.

The remarks came as Xi Jinping visited a solar equipment manufacturer in Wuhan in central Hebei province, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Wuhan is an up-and-coming tech hub and hosts the regional headquarters and research centres of Chinese giants Huawei, Tencent and Xiaomi. It is also home to key facilities of dozens of notable tech companies, including major fibre-optic cable manufacturers and chip makers.

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The optoelectronic information sector was a strategic hi-tech industry with a wide range of applications, and China had the potential to take the lead in it, Xi said during a visit on Tuesday to the Wuhan Huagong Laser Engineering, where he inspected innovations in the chip industry.

“We must strengthen technological development, master more core technologies with independent intellectual property rights, continuously extend the innovation chain and improve the industrial chain,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

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Even though China is the world’s second largest economy, it still lags behind in a number of areas, such as a stable foundation for some industries, and the key to that is innovation, according to Xi.

“Technological innovation depends on investment and talent,” he said.

Innovation was a decisive factor in building a modern socialist country and achieving the second centenary goal, he said, referring to China’s target of becoming a “great modern socialist country by 2049”.

China has set for itself “two centenary goals” to commemorate 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 and the People’s Republic of China in 2049. Last July, in a spirited speech at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to mark the party centenary, Xi declared that China had achieved the first of the two goals, to become “a moderately well-off society in all respects”.

Xi’s comments in Wuhan repeated what he has often emphasised in recent years, especially against the backdrop of a prolonged trade war and intense tech rivalry with the United States that has sparked talk of an economic decoupling between the world’s two largest economies.

This comes as the country gears up for the party’s 20th national congress, a five-yearly political reshuffle due to take place in Beijing this year. The event will bring a new leadership line-up for the party, but Xi is expected to stay on for an unprecedented third term as secretary general.

The president is also expected to deliver to the congress a report laying out the party’s grand strategy in the next five years, including on economic growth, innovation and modernising the military.

Xi has often talked about innovation during inspection tour visits to tech companies, such as Chengdu XGimi Technology, an optoelectronic company in southwestern Sichuan province that he visited earlier this month.

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As on many such trips around the country, accompanying Xi was Liu He, vice-premier in charge of industrial and technological innovation.

“Leading technology enterprises should be nurtured to form industrial clusters for technological innovation,” Xi said.

Xi has repeatedly also stressed the need to attract young talent.

China is “more eager than any period in its history” for professional talent, Xi told a high-level meeting last September, calling on officials at all levels to help the country expand its talent pool by attracting foreign professionals.

He also laid out a clear timetable for China to become a leading world power in science and technology within two decades.

“Our goal is: investment in research and development must increase substantially by 2025 ... and [we should have achieved] an obvious increase in a concentration of top-notch scientists,” he said.

By 2030, a talent system able to adapt to the needs of high-quality development must be formed, and by 2035, China should have gained an edge in the competition for talent in many fields, Xi added.

“The situation is pressing. The challenges are pressing. The mission upon us is pressing,” Xi said in 2018, urging top scientists and engineers to help make China a global hi-tech leader.

Beijing’s state-led “Made in China 2025” goal aims to cut reliance on foreign technology through innovation and industrial modernisation. But it was at the centre of a trade dispute with the US under former president Donald Trump, which sparked a tariffs war.

US-China trade war timeline of key dates and events since July 2018

In response to Xi’s repeated exhortations on acquiring new talent, the Chinese Academy of Sciences – the country’s top such body – convened earlier this week in Beijing to discuss recruitment.

The meeting stressed the need to build a first-class team of research leaders and innovative teams, recruitmore young talent, as well as strengthen training and evaluation, and welcome professionals from overseas.

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