China’s economy is unlikely to continue to grow at a sustainable pace without innovation playing a big part, according to a scholar at one of Britain’s top technology and research institutes.
“Opening-up and diversification of ideas are the key elements for China to accelerate innovation,” said David Gann, professor of innovation and technology management at Imperial College London.
Chinese industrial advancement, a hotly discussed topic at the two sessions, has worked exceptionally well in recent decades in the “fast follower” model, quickly adopting new techniques once they have been introduced. Companies such as Huawei have gained global recognition, he said.
However, he added that the country has not moved into a leadership position in terms of developing groundbreaking technologies.
The reason the UK has been at the forefront of innovation for the past two centuries, Gann said, is because it is an open society with a diverse culture and an international outlook, where people feel unconstrained about coming up with new ideas.
China and other countries now face tough challenges, including dealing with climate change, protecting the environment and containing infectious diseases.
“We’re not going to solve these intractable problems with current tools, technologies and policies, so we need to innovate there,” Gann said.
He said great universities and research institutes are hotbeds of innovation because they attract and produce talent, as shown by stories about tech giants coming out of Silicon Valley.
“Universities usually have a long-term view and look at things in a different way to business and government,” he said. “With facilities and labs for testing and experimenting, they can work on problems in the long term.”
Gann said he thinks China is increasingly acquiring the right ingredients to innovate, with the rapid rise of Chinese universities acting as the driving force. He added that there are key areas in which China and Britain can collaborate, such as in new materials, data and health.
“We are quite good at some of our universities, but the UK is a tiny place and we must not think we can solve all the problems ourselves,” he said. “I think the future of the UK is about collaborating with China as much as with the US and other European countries.”