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China’s increased investment in research brings opportunities and challenges

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

A steady increase in spending on research and development in China over the past decade is producing an active and rapidly growing research environment. We've pulled together some of the latest research and publications highlighting the real-world impact of China's increased investment in research:

Research investment

  • An increase in R&D spending over the last 5-10 years, taking spending up to US$443 billion in 2017, and challenging the US for the R&D top spot (US$484 billion), has attracted Chinese students, who migrated to study abroad, to return to China and take up research posts - read more

  • China launched the $1 Trillion Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, and the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) stated: “Science, technology and innovation are the core driving force for the BRI development”. Involving over 70 countries, the BRI has involved the launch of new research centres and initiatives - read more

  • China’s five-year plan for national science and technology talent development lays out regular increases in spending from 2016-2020: “A report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that China's R&D spending surged by an average of 20.3 percent annually between 1992 and 2017, with the amount for last year reaching 1.76 trillion yuan (about $257 billion), about 123 times the amount in 1991.” - read more

  • China is focusing its R&D spending on the key areas of biotechnology, computing and space exploration and engineering. Particular focus is given to advancing AI technology and looking at the implications it will have for military and scientific progress

Publication ethics

  • The Editage Global Survey Report 2018 has fed into a handy infographic looking at perceptions researchers have around plagiarism, editorial transparency and publication ethics. Findings show that whilst researchers from China have a high awareness of issues such as plagiarism and co-authorship, they still struggle to interpret and comply with publishing ethics standards, suggesting that publishers need to do more to provide resources and support in this area - read more

  • Controversial practices in publishing in China include schemes offering cash incentives for authors securing articles in selected publications, such as Nature or Science

  • The Chinese government has been accused of academic censorship after it arranged for access to be removed to over 80 journals - read more

Pressures to publish

  • Many Chinese universities require their students to publish academic articles before they’re allowed to graduate, creating a culture of publication pressure for students and early career researchers - read more

  • Some steps are being taken to tackle publication pressure as institutions in China are starting to support the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) to combat the current emphasis on journal impact factors and perceptions of prestige

Publishing processes/contributions

  • China is responsible for an estimated 36% of all scientific articles, and 37% of citations, overtaking the US for the first time in sheer numbers of papers, in 2018 - read more at Harvard and Nature

  • Research has also highlighted that there is more work for publishers to do around explaining and raising awareness of the peer review process, as researchers in China often feel this is confusing, commonly agreeing with statements such as: “Comments from different reviewers are often conflicting and confusing. Peer reviewers often ask for complex and time-consuming additional research to be conducted.” - read more

  • Interestingly, although a high percentage of papers come from authors in China, the same is not said for reviewers – there is a relative shortage of Chinese reviewers - read more

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