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China unveils ‘Belt and Road’ science plans

China has announced a science and technology cooperation network for countries it is targeting in its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.

The science network is designed to strengthen intergovernmental ties and regional cooperation in science, Bai Chunli, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said unveiling the plans at a press conference on 9 May.

A long-term goal is for the network to evolve into “a community of shared science and shared innovation”, Bai said, according to the Chinese state-run newspaper People’s Daily. So far, 22 countries have joined the science cooperation network, and Bai said he expected it to be completed by 2030.

The Belt and Road initiative is a comprehensive programme of economic diplomacy. China is investing close to $1 trillion in infrastructure projects in some 60 countries. Many of these countries are along China’s ancient Silk Road trade routes including Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, as well as much of central and eastern Europe.

European countries such as the United Kingdom are also included, however. According to internal documents seen by Research Professional, China is looking to learn from the UK’s experience as a hub for financial services. 

The Belt and Road plan was unveiled by president Xi Jinping in 2013, and has been compared by analysts to the Marshall Plan after the second world war. However, Chinese government investment in the programme declined by 2 per cent last year and has fallen another 18 per cent so far in 2017, the Financial Times reported yesterday.

Xi will host 28 heads of state at a Beijing summit on 14 and 15 May to promote the initiative.

Bai told journalists that his academy is focusing on promoting scientific cooperation through the programme, because most countries on the Belt and Road route face the challenge of balancing economic growth with environmental preservation.

Bai added that the academy had trained 1,800 people from countries involved in the programme, and is setting up nine centres for science and technology cooperation overseas.