Tech self-reliance at core of China’s five-year plan

Under the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s next five-year plan, China will promote “scientific and technological self-reliance” and a sustainable, low-carbon future.

 The key strategic pillars of the five-year plan for 2021-2015 were published this week, following four days of private meetings between President Xi Jinping and the CCP’s top decision-making body, the Central Committee.

Among other targets – such as ensuring sustainable economic growth – China will promote technological self-reliance and aim for “major breakthroughs in core technologies in key areas [to] become a global leader in innovation” in the coming years.

“We will take scientific and technological self-reliance as a strategic support for national development,” said Han Wenxiu, an advisor to President Xi, during a press conference.

Chinese tech giants like Huawei, ZTE and Tencent have been repeatedly targeted by President Donald Trump. This year, President Trump tightened restrictions against Huawei to prevent it accessing technology with US origins – such as extreme UV etching machines vital for manufacturing 7nm chips – from countries anywhere in the world. This has disrupted Huawei’s enterprise and consumer businesses, and accelerated efforts to boost domestic chip manufacturing.

Reports have suggested that the CCP is planning a vast investment ($1.4tn) in chipmaking comparable to the effort previously put towards building China’s nuclear capacity.

Andrew Batson, China research director for Gavekal Dragonomics, told The New York Times: “I think a lot of what China is trying to do is to throw a lot of resources – financial resources, human resources – at clearly identified problems. A lot of the priorities involve scaling up of existing technologies domestically.”

Han asserted that despite this emphasis on self-reliance, China would continue to be open to trade: “No matter how the international situation changes, we will never waver in our basic national policy of opening up. China will provide countries around the world with larger markets and more opportunities,” he said.

The CCP did not reveal any details of which industries it plans to target in the push towards technological self-reliance, although it is reasonably likely to emphasise AI, cloud computing, solar technologies, and autonomous vehicles in addition to chipmaking.

“Technology is the key now in the next area of development of China,” Wang Huiyao, an advisor to China’s cabinet, to Bloomberg News. “It’s a key area that China wants to give more attention, more resources, and more development. I think that’s basically for China’s development in the future.”

The five-year plan will also aim for a “steady decline in carbon emissions” through a transformation of lifestyle and industry, including accelerating green and low-carbon development. President Xi recently announced that the country would aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, having been the world’s worst-offending carbon emitter since 2004.

The full five-year plan is due to be published in March 2021, and will be approved during the annual session of the National People’s Congress.