China S&T News Digest for August 30 - September 5, 2017

China is tightening the screws on internet access, again. The latest crackdown--an evolving effort to ban virtual private networks (VPNs) not under government control--could seriously erode scientists' ability to stay connected with peers abroad. "Internet accessibility is a major obstacle for our research. It makes international collaboration difficult and damages the reputation and competitiveness of Chinese science institutes," says an astronomer in Beijing who, like others contacted for this story, feared possible repercussions for criticizing official policy and asked to remain anonymous. Sites now commonly used for research are also blocked. These include Google Scholar, important for scholarly searches; Google Docs and Dropbox, which allow scientists to share materials for organizing conferences and managing collaborations; and even, unfathomably, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Broadly speaking, whether one looks at China in isolation or puts the country in comparative perspective, China's innovation performance has gradually improved over the last decade along a number of indicators, separating it from other major emerging economies. Yet China still has a substantial distance to travel before it approaches the level of innovation found in the world's most advanced economies. Most importantly, the level of inputs China is mobilizing is not consistently and smoothly translating into successful technology innovation outputs. This low "metabolism" of inputs into successful high-tech advancement is why we characterize China as a "fat" tech dragon.

China will step up reform to support innovation by removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation. The decision was made at a recent State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. The government will roll out a host of reform measures that have been piloted in eight areas, including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta, since June 2016. Eligible foreign students with academic background equal to or above the master's degree could apply for work permits or work-related residence permits. The one-stop application and issuance of work permits for foreign experts will also be made available nationwide. A pilot program in the aforementioned eight areas will allow foreign experts to apply for permanent residence if their income, tax payment, and duration of work in China meet a certain standard.

A Chinese aerospace firm's claim that it is developing a "flying train" capable of travelling at up to 4,000 km/h has met with skepticism and wry humor from transport experts and members of the public in China. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation announced plans to research a futuristic train network that would first run at 1,000 km per hour between cities, eventually developing to reach top speeds of 4,000 km/h. That target is well over 10 times faster than the maximum speed of existing bullet trains. The idea was unveiled by Liu Shiquan, the corporation's deputy chief executive, at an industry conference in Wuhan in Hubei province, the official Science and Technology Daily reported.

In February of this year, China's Ministry of Education issued a new guideline for science education, requiring elementary schools to make science a compulsory subject for first-grade students. The move showed the authorities' determination to improve children's scientific literacy, said Wang Kai, a researcher with the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences. Science classes were first introduced for primary school education when the subject "Nature" was changed to "Science" as part of a curriculum reform in 2001. The new guideline will allow more children to start learning about science at an earlier age, said Chen Jie, a teacher at the China-Cuba Friendship Primary School.

China has become a nanotechnology powerhouse, according to a recent report. China's applied nanoscience research and the industrialization of nanotechnology have been developing steadily, with the number of nano-related patent applications ranking among the top in the world. According to Bai Chunli, president of Chinese Academy of Sciences, China faces new opportunities for nanoscience research and development as it builds the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology and globally influential national science centers. "We will strengthen the strategic landscape and top-down design for developing nanoscience, which will contribute greatly to the country's economy and society," said Bai.

A China-backed private equity fund will decide this week whether to seek US President Donald Trump's approval for its proposed $1.3 billion acquisition of US chipmaker Lattice Semiconductor Corp., people familiar with the matter said. Buyout firm Canyon Bridge Capital Partners has spent close to eight months trying unsuccessfully to persuade the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which scrutinizes deals for potential national security threats, to clear the deal. Critics of the deal worry that technology gained through the acquisition could be used by China's military, but the companies have argued that it poses no such risk.

Rostec State Corporation, the Russian industrial conglomerate co-developing a long-haul widebody aircraft with China, has said the two countries will develop their own engines for the project, with the apparent longer-term aim of breaking the duopoly enjoyed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Victor Kladov, director of Rostec's international cooperation and regional policy, said the development and manufacture of an engine for the planned 280-seat widebody jet, known as the C929, is a top priority. "Only China and Russia will be the manufacturers of the engine," he said, and "will try our best to churn out a best-class engine, to support this aeroplane [project]."

The next stage, scheduled to happen in about five years' time, will be to launch a quantum-communications satellite in a higher orbit than Micius's. The altitude of 20,000 km will permit the satellite to communicate simultaneously with a much bigger part of Earth's surface and allow testing of the feasibility of building a practical quantum-communications network. An experimental quantum-communications payload is planned to be on board China's space station, which is scheduled for completion by 2022. This means the station could be maintained and upgraded by human operators--a rare example of space-station crew doing something that could not easily be accomplished by robots. If all this goes well, the ultimate goal is a world-spanning ring of satellites in geostationary orbits.

Chinese authorities have mapped out a 400 million yuan ($61 million) development plan to turn a red rock basin in the country into a Mars simulation base for scientific research and eco-tourism. Liu Xiaoqun, from the moon and deep-space exploration department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that a planning meeting was held in Qinghai province to determine the base's development, reports Xinhua news agency.

China is likely to delay implementing tough new sales quotas for electric plug-in vehicles, giving global automakers more time to prepare, four automaker and industry officials told Reuters. Based on their conversations with Chinese policymakers, the people said a final scheme for sales quotas on electric plug-in cars could be introduced within days or weeks.They would not be enforced until 2019, a year later than initially planned, sources said, cautioning that things could still change.
Produced by the IGCC Project on the
Study of Innovation & Technology in China

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