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Policy background

China’s Communist Party Central Committee set out their long-term innovation strategy in May 2016, entitled the National Innovation-Driven Development Strategy. The strategy identifies industries that China feels would most benefit from increased indigenous innovation, including the transport industry. By 2030 China wishes to be ranked among the leading innovation-oriented countries, and by 2050 to be a world centre of science and innovation.

The top-level policy guiding China’s transport innovation is the 2019 Outline for Building China’s Strength in Transport, which frames their goal to be a global transport superpower by 2050. The National Comprehensive Three-dimensional Transportation Network Planning Outline builds up on their long term goal, focusing on the period 2021-2035. China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) is fully aligned with both overarching policies.

Made in China 2025 strategy, published in 2015, features prominently in China’s R&D&I policies. It articulates how China aspires to become a world leader in high-tech industries, strengthening domestic innovation and reducing its reliance on foreign technologies while moving up in global value chains.

China’s national innovation system is coordinated by the Ministry of Science and Technology, which works with relevant government departments to improve incentive mechanisms for technological innovation.

Institutional framework of transport research

R&D policy is created and implemented by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The responsibility of managing R&D is held by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology. The major advisory bodies on policy to the CPC and the State Council are in three institutions directly affiliated to the State Council and are active in research funding:

  • Development Research Centre (DRC) which is a state agency responsible for policy research, strategy review and consulting on the economic and social development of mainland China;
  • Counsellor’s Office of the State Council which advises the government on national affairs;
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which functions as the national scientific think-tank, providing advisory and appraisal services on the national economy, social development, and science and technology progress

In December 2014, the State Council introduced a strategy to reform the R&D system through establishment of an open and unified national management platform re-organisation of national science, technology and innovation (STI) funding programmes into five new pillars. They are:

  • National Natural Science Fund: focusing on basic research and applied research in natural sciences. The Fund is administered by the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the largest Chinese research funding agency in natural sciences directly affiliated to the State Council.
  • National S&T Major Projects (Megaprojects): 16 programmes addressing major key products, technologies and engineering of strategic importance for the country’s economy and industrial competitiveness. This funding stream is particularly relevant for transport research.
  • National Key R&D Programmes (NKPs): It incorporates several previously-existing programmes for basic research. It supports R&D in areas of social welfare and people’s livelihood, such as agriculture, energy and resources, environment, health.
  • Technology Innovation Guidance Funds: These funds invest in priority and strategic areas through venture capital funds, private equity, and risk compensations.
  • Bases and Talents Programme: aims to promote the establishment of scientific bases, and the fostering of top innovative talents and teams by supporting their research activities.

In addition to main these funding streams, there are several additional thematic funding programmes that are managed by Ministries of the respective sector. There are also additional local funding programmes that generally target local actors and international cooperation.

Funding Sources and Support Initiatives

Horizon Europe is the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever with nearly €96 billion of funding available over 7 years (2021 to 2027). It is open to the world, which means that participants from all over the world, including China, can participate in most calls. 

In April 2022, the EU and China signed an administrative arrangement for the period 2021-2024 to support collaborative research projects under two jointly agreed research flagship initiatives: the Food, Agriculture, and Biotechnology as well as the new Climate Change and Biodiversity flagships.


(Last updated: 01/09/2023)