La lunga marcia verso l’autosufficienza: costruzione e aggiornamento del sistema nazionale d’innovazione in Cina - The Long March towards Self-Reliance: Building and Upgrading the National Innovation System in China


The Fifth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the CCP emphasized the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) as the country’s driving forces on the path to achieving socialist modernization by 2035. In light of the escalating relevance bestowed to STI areas, this essay examines the gradual yet steady establishment, through a trial-and-error approach, of a national innovation system (NIS) in China. Adopting the analytical tools offered by the NIS theory, the article highlights the key principles and critical turning points in the country’s STI policy since the inception of the economic reforms. Whereas mainstream reports on China’s progress in the STI areas ascribe its success mainly to heavy State-led investments in science and technology, this essay acknowledges the attention accorded to the coordination of innovative actors and the circulation of knowledge, skills, and ideas. When looking at the present and future developments, four areas of attention are highlighted: the updated definition of new emerging industries, the growing importance of regional clustering, an ongoing infrastructural upgrade, and the strategic relevance of technology standardization. Significant obstacles to continued progress in the STI areas are also identified. First of all, the incentives structure is still too disconnected from qualitative criteria. Secondly, the growing atrophy of China’s long-standing institutional flexibility is endangering a model that, thus far, has enabled its extraordinary progress in science and technology.