At the same time, China's position is strengthening, which also means that the quality of Chinese research is increasingly recognised internationally. According to data from Japan's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, the top one per cent of the most cited research from 2018-20 had more Chinese sources than US ones. This is also due to the increasing number of Chinese publications in high-impact journals - and the bulk of the work is now being done in research centres with international reputations. To give an example, this means that nearly 49 per cent of the high-impact studies on advanced aircraft engines published in the last five years have been written by Chinese researchers, according to ASPI data.
ASPI's report points out that in 37 of the 44 technologies it tracks (from defence to aerospace and biotechnology to quantum technology), China was identified as the leader over the US in research. According to ASPI, this not only gives the Asian giant a global lead in current critical technologies, but also sets the stage for future technological breakthroughs. The survey also found that other countries such as India, the UK, South Korea and Germany trail the two superpowers by a significant margin.
While recognising that there are sectors where China could soon break the monopoly of the US or other Western countries, ASPI also points out that it is a difficult process to translate research breakthroughs into manufacturing, as China's experiments in aerospace and semiconductor manufacturing have shown in the past. The first major successes of the future could even come in the space industry, where Asia also has a leading research base. In this area, much depends on the development of the components of the overall technology ecosystem.
In the short to medium term, the success of technological research - the result of a long-term industrial policy planning process - can ensure that China can strengthen its influence in global supply chains in certain critical technologies. And in the long term, it can significantly upset the status quo in the technological power balance, as current and future critical technologies are already fundamentally shaping our society - be it energy-efficient microchips in mobile phones, devices to ensure the security of online banking or the techniques that underpin the implementation of the green transition - not to mention their role in military force development.
The author is a senior analyst in the International Relations Directorate of the Magyar Nemzeti Bank, the central bank of Hungary