Oral statement to Parliament

Opportunities for British and Chinese businesses in science, research and innovation

It is a pleasure to be here in China representing the United Kingdom. This is the largest ever Government-led business delegation to China. …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable

It is a pleasure to be here in China representing the United Kingdom. This is the largest ever Government-led business delegation to China.

We hope it makes a powerful statement about the British Government’s commitment to building a closer working relationship with China. Central to this co-operation is science, research and innovation. We want to be partners for growth and science, innovation and technology is an area where we are already working closely but could do much more.

I’m certainly in the right country to speak about science and innovation. This is the country which brought the world silk, banknotes, cast iron, the compass, papermaking and bronze.

China has an unequalled history in developing new technology. British philosopher Francis Bacon, writing in 1620, pointed out how printing, gunpowder and the compass, all Chinese inventions, have had such a massive impact on the world.

Scientists and scientific pursuits have long been valued in China: scientists such as Bi Sheng, Song Dynasty scientist Shen Kuo, scientist and statesman Su Shi, and the inventor of moveable type, Hua Sui.

The Four Modernizations, goals set by Zhou Enlai in 1963, and which were a focus of the Chinese government, particularly under Deng Xiaoping, concentrated on agriculture, industry, defence and science and technology. More recently the Chinese Government has set indigenous innovation as a top priority for growth, backed by heavy and impressive investment and reform.

China’s leading position in the worlds of science and innovation continues to this day - just look at the world’s fastest Tianhe 1 supercomputer unveiled last month, the Chang’e 2 lunar probe and projected space station. China is now the world’s second largest publisher of research and already in the world’s top three for citation impact in physical sciences, engineering and maths.

A new economic reality

The global economy has been through a difficult few years - something which has had a big impact on the United Kingdom - and China in a different way. Growth rates remain low in Europe and the US and the recovery is slow. The new British Government has had to take come difficult decisions over government spending.

The British Prime Minister recently outlined our domestic strategy for growth. The Government is putting more money into education and training for our young people. In our recent review of Government spending, we announced a commitment to science. Despite enormous pressure on public spending, the overall level of government funding for science and research programmes has been protected. It has also committed to increasing medical research in real terms. We think that these measures, along with lower business taxes, will help boost the economy and attract more foreign investors to come to the UK.

China and the UK have the same goals: economic growth. To create jobs and prosperity for our people, and to grow successful companies. Part of this must include working together for mutual benefit. We see science and research as vital to addressing key global threats such as climate change, infectious disease and food security. We both recognise the importance of international collaboration and that science and innovation are cornerstones of a modern, knowledge-based and sustainable economy.

Collaboration between British and Chinese scientists is nothing new. British academic Joseph Needham was the director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office in Chongqing from 1942 to 1946, collaborating with the historian Wang Ling on Chinese scientific history.

My son, Hugo, who is currently based in Singapore, is a quantum physicist and he reports very positively on his collaboration with the Science and Technology University of China in Hefei, under professor Jiangfeng Du.

Today, the UK is China’s largest research partner in Europe and the third largest overall. Current UK research projects in China, undertaken with Chinese partners, are worth approximately £80m. I understand that our joint research collaborations are growing more quickly than China’s other global collaborations. Leading UK research institutes have already established long standing links and I have some announcements to make today which show how working together is good for both sides.

First, I will shortly launch, together with Professor Tan, a new joint project into renewable energy.

I am also delighted to announce that British company MRCT has signed agreements with Chinese companies to connect innovative research in the UK with development capabilities in China. This includes jointly developing a new drug for cancer.

Finally, I am pleased to announce the Dickson Poon China Centre at the University of Oxford in the UK. This follows a £10m donation from Hong-Kong based philanthropist Dickson Poon. The Centre will bring together academics, encourage original research, publications, joint projects and collaboration with scholars and institutions in China, the UK and elsewhere. The Centre will also provide an interface for the University’s relations with business, government and non-governmental institutions involved with China.

The UK’s leading position

The UK takes science very seriously. With just 1% of the world’s population we author 8% of the world’s scientific papers. From the discovery of the double helix, to the invention of the World Wide Web, and this year Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics and economics, British research has been at the forefront of breakthroughs that affect the lives of everyone.

The UK is home to some of the world’s best universities - three of the top ten in the world. Indeed, the UK helps educate some 85,000 Chinese students annually. About 20% of our academic staff in universities are from abroad and the figure is much higher in leading research universities. The UK attracts more R&D investment projects than any other European country. We also have a strong record of exploiting university research - turning it into commercial applications.

We are now establishing a new network of elite Technology and Innovation Centres to commercialise new and emerging technologies in areas where there are large global market opportunities and a critical mass of UK capability. The recent Spending Review provided over £200m for these.

We are also investing in the £220m UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation as an entirely new institute with a distinctive vision of how medical research should be conducted. It will play a key role in creating the foundation of knowledge on which this century’s improvements in health will be based.

In achieving growth, both of our countries see innovation as a key element of our strategies - to create jobs, develop society and enhance quality of life. We have just celebrated the success of the Innovation China UK programme.

  • We are working together on a number of projects and initiatives, including: Clean and renewable energy projects.
  • We run a joint £5m Innovation China-UK programme.
  • There is a China Tomorrow programme to facilitate business research and innovation collaboration.
  • The [400m RMB] Oxford China Centre for International Health Research between Oxford University and Fuwai Hospital is doing valuable work in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and strokes.
  • I think the Shanghai Expo provided an ideal opportunity for showcasing UK-China science collaboration - for example in the areas of biomedicine, low carbon homes and nano-technologies.
  • We are also working closely with China in health research. Our Health ministries have agreed to work together to share knowledge and experience about disease control and bio-safety. Also in terms of research on infectious and non-infectious diseases, and medical technologies.
  • More specifically, UK pharmaceutical companies, notably AstraZeneca and GSK, have established large research operations in China.
  • Other major commercial collaborations include Castrol’s R&D base in Pudong and BP’s and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ joint Clean Energy Commercialisation Centre.
  • The UK and China are collaborating on several high potential clinical trials and infectious disease programmes.
  • This includes stem cell research between UCL and Peking University.
  • And Oxford University and 1st Affiliated Hospital of Dalian Medical University earlier this year launched a joint laboratory on regenerative medicine. There are many more examples.

I think the future for collaboration between our two countries looks very positive. We want the best UK and Chinese scientists to work together so that they will become even more successful together.

Working together

The UK envisages an ambitious programme of research engagement with China over the next five years. This recognises the priorities and strengths of the two countries, the capacity to deliver excellent research and the potential for co-investment from China (and from other UK sources) to support the delivery. As in science, we think that excellence and openness are vital for success in international innovation.

We appreciate assurances that China places foreign-invested companies and domestic companies on an equal footing. We further believe that openness to the best technology, wherever it is sourced in the world, is essential to provide the incentives for companies to develop competitive technology and invest in China.

This area, like many others, relies on Intellectual Property rights being upheld and enforced. Because ultimately, it is in the interests of Chinese companies and Chinese consumers that intellectual property rights are upheld and enforced. If not, the victims will be Chinese consumers. Intellectual property is a key to unlocking innovation, bringing new technologies to our people and reinforcing our strong relationship.

I am encouraged by the commitment we have made to improving the global intellectual property system. It will allow our researchers, our creators and our people to continue to learn, to create and to access new technologies in support of innovation. But we must continue to work together to improve the intellectual property environment for Chinese and British businesses to ensure innovation and growth.

Complementary strengths

The UK has strengths across research, high-tech goods and knowledge-intensive services that are highly complementary to China’s economy. Scientific research and innovation are no longer purely domestic affairs, and more openness would help China reap the benefits in sectors where the UK is strong. Governments that develop means to support this effectively will be the ones that secure the greatest long term benefits for the countries they govern. The G20 has agreed that it is now more than ever vital to promote open markets as a route to growth.

We share China’s wish to increase exports, including high-tech goods and services. To do this we want to put in place strong incentives to make this commercially and scientifically viable. I have today discussed some of these issues with my colleagues in the Chinese Government and look forward to further discussions during the next few days. In conclusion, I believe that the UK and China are ideal partners for growth in science and innovation.

I’d like to finish with a quote from Deng Xiaoping, speaking in 1977. He said: “We must adhere to the policy of ‘letting a hundred schools of thought contend’, and promote debate. Different schools of thought should respect and complement each other. Academic exchanges should be promoted. No success in research can be the result of the efforts of a single individual: it always rests on the achievements of past generations as well as our own.” He continued: “Any new scientific theory is a summation of practical experience. How can a new theory be evolved if it is not based on a summation of the practical experience of both past and present generations of scientists, both Chinese and foreign?”

I am delighted at the achievements that we can already celebrate together and look forward to developing the partnership further.

Published 8 November 2010