China wants more high-tech zones in innovation drive

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China wants to add some 50 high-tech zones by 2030, pledging to continue providing support and investments. The government credits these industrial development sites for fuelling the country’s GDP and achieving “breakthroughs” in quantum computing and 5G communications. 

There currently are 173 high-tech zones nation-wide, with 84 established in the last decade alone. The target is to push this number to 220 by the end of the government’s 14th Five-Year Plan in 2025, said the Ministry of Science and Technology at a media conference held Wednesday. These sites will cover most of China’s eastern prefecture-level cities as well as major prefecture-level cities in the central and western parts. 

The high-tech zones contributed 13.4% of the country’s GDP in 2021, while using just 2.5% of domestic construction land, according to a report Thursday by state-owned newspaper China Daily. The development sites generated 15.3 trillion yuan ($2.2 trillion) in GDP last year, up from 5.4 trillion yuan ($775.77 billion) in 2012. 

They also house 78% of national technological innovation centres and 84% of China’s state key laboratories, comprising university and research facilities that are funded by the federal government. More than 4,400 research institutions reside on the tech zones, hiring in excess of 5.63 million researchers. 

More than 115,000 high-tech companies were located in these zones last year, up from fewer than 20,000 in 2012. Total exports from the zones accounted fro 24.4% of the nation’s overall exports last year, up from just 3.2% in 2012.

In addition, 97 high-tech zones clocked 100 billion yuan ($14.37 billion) in revenue last year, compared to 54 in 2012, noted Li Youping, the Ministry of Science and Technology’s deputy director of Torch High Technology Industry Development Center. 

He added that these sites collectively spent more than 1 trillion yuan ($143.66 billion) in research and development (R&D) last year. 

Li said the high-tech zones had achieved several breakthroughs including in quantum computing, satellite navigation, and 5G communications. China’s first artificial intelligence (AI) chip as well as first quantum communication satellite were developed by scientists and companies working within the high-tech zones, he noted. 

He added that the zones had set up more than 2,200 research institutions overseas, with 77% rolling out policies to drive globalisation.

Li said: “These zones will become the vanguard for high-quality development and make more contributions to China’s transformation into a scientific and technological powerhouse.”

The Ministry of Science and Technology’s deputy director of research commercialisation and regional innovation, Wu Jiaxi, said the high-tech zones had remained resilient against risks and were capable of achieving growth despite global market uncertainties in recent years. 

Wu added that the government would continue to provide “policy support” and drive investment in key areas, including digital technologies, energy, and biopharmaceuticals. For instance, Changsha high-tech zone in Hunan province would invest 1 billion yuan ($143.66 million) over the next three years to nurture local talent, he said. 

Tax breaks and help in product commercialisation also would be offered to small and midsize businesses (SMBs), he noted. 

Amongst the current crop of 173 high-tech zones is Chengdu Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone, which last year churned 280.06 billion yuan ($40.23 billion) in gross regional product, clocking a year-on-year growth rate of 11.1%. Established in 1988, the site also comprises the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park, which was jointly developed by Singapore and Sichuan and focuses on the development of 5G, AI, big data, and network security.

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