强国建设的下一程:构造卓越的国家创新生态体系 ——美国突破性高科技关键技术研发组织机制的启示
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The Next Step in Superpower Construction: Building an Outstanding National Innovation Ecosystem—Insights from the Breakthroughs of the United States in Organization Mechanisms for High-Tech Key Technology Research and Development

强国建设的下一程:构造卓越的国家创新生态体系 ——美国突破性高科技关键技术研发组织机制的启示

The former chief economist of the Shanghai Stock Exchange analyses America’s technology ecosystem to see what lessons it might offer for China.

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[Abstract] In recent years, China’s science and technology (S&T) innovation has provided insufficient support for economic growth, and the efficiency of S&T social organization and return on investment has not been high. Currently, China’s economy is in a critical stage of its transition from stable growth to restructuring. How can we construct a high-quality and high-performance national innovation ecosystem to provide continuous power to China’s economic development? This article draws on the successful experience of the United States in the development of cutting-edge scientific research organizational mechanisms and ecosystems to propose the following recommendations for the construction of a national innovation ecosystem in China: (1) build an innovative social value system by “breaking the ice with our thinking to lead to breakthroughs in reform” (思想破冰引领改革突围); (2) lay down a strong foundation of innovation education and S&T research by strengthening the reform of education, scientific research institutes, and human resource systems; and (3) improve the overall innovation performance by reforming the organizational mechanisms for key national S&T efforts.


Innovation is the essence of modern society and the modern market economy. It is the fundamental feature of modern economic development and the wellspring of social and economic growth. In the future, the Chinese economy must form sufficient internally generated growth momentum, smoothly realize the transformation of the development mode, smoothly realize the new pattern of dual-circulation development and the “second centennial objective,” and obtain new international competitive advantages and space for development. The key factor is innovation. We must substantially achieve a large number of critical, cutting-edge technological innovations and their wide-ranging applications; achieve simultaneous breakthroughs in the four dimensions of the total volume of innovation input resources, the quality of innovations, the quantity of innovations, and the social penetration of new technology applications; and significantly improve the overall innovation performance of the whole society.


So, how can we improve the overall innovation performance of the whole society? How can we achieve breakthroughs in an ample quantity of key technological innovations and their wide-ranging applications? How can we build a high-performance, innovation-oriented country? Building a high-quality, high-performance national innovation ecosystem is undoubtedly the top priority in a series of effective measures.


I. China’s innovation ecosystem construction is insufficient to support basic research by society


Since reform and opening up, China’s economy has achieved rapid growth that has drawn the world’s attention. However, China’s science and technology (S&T) innovation still provides insufficient support for economic growth, and the efficiency of S&T social organization and return on investment (ROI) is not high. As for the reason, the most fundamental factor is that China’s innovation ecosystem construction is insufficient to support basic research by society. This mainly presents in the following areas.


Independent innovation lags behind, and the rate of self-sufficiency in key technologies is low. China remains dependent on foreign countries for over 50 percent of key technologies, while developed countries have rates of less than 30 percent, and the United States and Japan are around 5 percent. At this stage, 49.9 percent of Chinese strategically relevant industrial enterprises use patented technologies from the United States. At the same time, China’s key high-tech equipment mainly relies on imports, and more than 60 percent of the trillions in equipment investment for the formation of fixed assets is spent on equipment that must be imported.

自主创新滞后,关键技术自给率低。我国关键技术对外依存度 50%以上,而发达国家在 30%以下,美国和日本在 5%左右。现阶段我国49.9%的战略性相关产业企业使用的专利技术来源于美国。同时,我国高科技含量的关键装备主要依赖进口,每年形成固定资产的上万亿设备投资中,60%以上需要引进。

Our digestion and absorption of imported technology are seriously inadequate. Since reform and opening up, for every 1 yuan spent on technology imports in China, only 0.07 yuan is spent on digestion, absorption, and technological innovation. In comparison, during their periods of industrialization and growth, Japan and South Korea spent 5 to 8 yen or won on digestion, absorption, and technological innovation for every 1 yen or won spent on technology imports.

引进技术的消化吸收严重不足。改革开放以来我国每花 1 元钱引进技术,只用 0.07 元进行消化吸收和技术创新。相比较而言,工业化成长时期的日本、韩国,花 1 元钱引进技术,花 5 到 8 元进行消化吸收和技术创新。

Spending on basic research has been low for a long time. China’s basic research spending has been low for a long time, ROI efficiency in basic research is not high, few key technology breakthroughs have been made, and the lack of support for high-quality patent technology applications and the formulation of leading international standards has affected the expansion of high-end Chinese equipment to foreign markets.


II. Insights from the breakthroughs of the United States in organization mechanisms for high-tech key technology research and development.


For many years, the United States has been able to maintain its leading position in global S&T innovation because of its excellent, professional, and coordinated cutting-edge scientific research organization mechanisms and scientific research ecosystem that comprehensively link all sectors of society. Such organizational mechanisms have achieved a coordinated layout at the three levels of basic research, applied research, and development research; along the two main lines of military use and civil use; between the two main sectors of the government and private business; and at the two ends of the line from innovation supply to social demand. They have achieved mutual connectivity, mutual support, integration of the resources of the whole society, and the concentration of superior forces to take on major undertakings. The characteristics of these cutting-edge research organization mechanisms are:


Emphasize systemic solutions for the improvement of the overall innovation performance of the whole society. In innovation, the United States emphasizes that systemic solutions should be used to organize and support innovation throughout society in order to achieve rapid breakthroughs in a number of strategically significant, cutting-edge, and disruptive key technologies and to enable innovation achievements to be diffused throughout society and applied in a wide range of scenarios at the greatest possible speed. By promoting the comprehensive upgrade of all sectors of society, they have made high-quality, high-efficiency innovation ubiquitous, significantly increasing the overall innovation performance of society as a whole. For example, compared with the former Soviet Union, the United States was able to better integrate and coordinate the allocation and utilization of military and civilian innovation resources to promote development, achieving open collaborative support and a snowballing amplification effect. On the contrary, the former Soviet Union completely disconnected the allocation and utilization of military and civilian innovation resources, which ultimately doomed them in the arms race.


Emphasize the interconnection and collaboration of education and scientific research systems with the underlying foundation of society-wide innovation. The United States has future-oriented and extremely creative education and scientific research systems with a flourishing, cutting-edge academic environment. This has provided strong support for the underlying foundation of innovation. For example, U.S. university professors can deeply consider issues and conduct elite research in an independent, free, open-minded, persistent, and undisturbed manner, creating an endless stream of master scientists. Based on an integrated and forward-looking education method and a comprehensive understanding of the world, students are influenced and guided by the cutting-edge thinking of these masters, which stimulates an intense curiosity and desire to explore. Standing on the shoulders of giants, these students constantly surpass their predecessors and achieve one breakthrough in scientific research after another.


Emphasize the role of the Department of Defense’s technology system as an innovation organization mechanism for the whole society. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has always emphasized that advanced technology is inseparable from national security. In order to ensure the global technological superiority and corresponding military superiority of the United States, the national defense system plays a core role in the organization mechanisms for innovation. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) focuses on providing high-tech reserves for solving mid- and long-term national security issues. It performs research and analysis on the possibility of military applications of new advanced technologies with potential military value and high risk. DARPA has not only accumulated a deep reserve of S&T resources for the U.S. military, but has also successfully developed many advanced weapons systems. It has given birth to many “disruptive” key S&T innovations that can be used by both the military and civilian seconds, including unmanned aerial vehicles, the internet, semiconductors, the UNIX operating system, lasers, and GPS.

强调国防部技术系统对全社会创新组织机制的作用。一直以来,美国国防部强调,先进技术与国家安全密不可分,为了确保美国在全球的技术优势和相应的军事优势,国防系统是创新组织机制的核心角色。例如,美国国防部预研局(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,简称 DARPA)专注于为解决中、远期国家安全问题提供高技术储备,研究分析具有潜在军事价值、风险大的高新技术在军事上应用的可能性。DARPA 不仅为美国军方积累了雄厚的科技资源储备,成功研发了大量先进武器系统,而且孕育出诸如无人机、互联网、半导体、操作系统 UNIX、激光器、全球定位系统(GPS)等许多“颠覆性”、可军民两用的重大科技创新。

Achieve the integration of innovation resources from the whole society by open gathering. DARPA’s project managers mainly come from industrial departments, institutions of higher learning, and government laboratories and research centers. They possess both theoretical and innovative experimental expertise in various disciplines. They hold their positions for three to five years and do not become civil servants. Therefore, DARPA does not have a hierarchical, bureaucratic, and conservative decisionmaking system, allowing it to focus its efforts on openly gathering and integrating relevant S&T resources from around the country for the exploration of the future. DARPA relies on independent assessments of the high sensitivity of cutting-edge technology through its scientific management mode, efficient executive institutions, and strict review mechanism. As a result, it locks in on many high-risk, high-value, high-performance, and high-yield projects, which has ensured the continuous emergence of major innovations. At the same time, DARPA releases a development strategy report every two years to organize the implementation and development of technology through the top-level design of a technology development plan. This has become a weather vane for the focus of future S&T innovation and the development of national defense technology in the United States, supporting the integration of social innovation resources and breakthroughs in cutting-edge key technologies.

通过开放性地聚集实现全社会创新资源的整合。DARPA 的项目管理者,主要来自产业部门、高等学府以及政府实验室和研究中心,兼备各个学科的理论和创新试验特长,任期 3-5 年,不进入公务员系列。因此,DARPA 不存在等级森严的官僚式保守决策体制,可将精力放在开放性地聚集整合全国相关科创资源进行未来探索上。DARPA 凭借着对前沿技术高度敏感性的独立评估,通过科学的管理模式、高效的执行机构及严格的评审机制,从而锁定了许多高风险、高价值、高绩效、高收益的项目,确保了重大创新成果的不断涌现。同时,DARPA 每隔两年发布一次发展战略报告,通过技术发展规划顶层设计来组织实施和发展技术,成为美国未来科创聚焦和国防技术发展的风向标,支撑了社会创新资源的整合和前沿关键技术的突破。

III. Several Recommendations


(i) Build an innovative social value system by “breaking the ice with our thinking to lead to breakthroughs in reform”


We should promote changes in concepts and social culture and a new round of ideological emancipation; eliminate various concepts, rules, and practices that restrict and hinder innovation in different fields; construct an innovation-oriented social value system; make innovation a core logic of social culture, social life, social education, scientific research, and economic activity; truly form a kind of “innovation is life, it is a value of life” (创新就是生活,就是人生价值); make innovation an activity that all walks of life, organizations, and all levels of society enjoy and are extremely adept at; and create fertile social soil for supporting and nurturing innovation.


(ii) Lay down a strong foundation of innovation education and S&T research by strengthening the reform of education, scientific research institutes, and human resource systems


If China is to develop into a world-leading innovation-oriented country, we must carry out fundamental reforms in the fields of education, basic research, and applied research, as well as in the training and use of corresponding talents. First, we must fully learn from successful practices in China and abroad, reform the current exam-oriented and narrowly subject-based education model, and cultivate many leading first-class S&T talents and innovation talents. Second, we must reform the evaluation mechanisms of universities, including the de-administration (去行政化) of education and scientific research institutions and the construction of an academic atmosphere so as to obtain a sufficient number of first-class basic research results and attain a world-leading ROI efficiency for basic research. At the same time, we must accelerate the promotion and application of new-generation intelligentized technologies in the education system and scientific research system. Leveraging the high-performance empowerment of intelligentized technology, we must popularize high-quality and high-performance education and scientific research throughout the whole society in a breakthrough and efficient manner and change lanes to pass other countries in the construction of an education superpower and scientific research superpower.


(iii) Improve the overall innovation performance by reforming the organizational mechanisms for key national S&T efforts


The national innovation system is a comprehensive system of actors, relationship networks, and operating mechanisms that participate in and influence the allocation of innovation resources and their utilization efficiency. In order to improve the overall performance of innovation mechanisms, we must carry out targeted reforms for the basic factors and shortcomings that affect the comprehensive performance of the national innovation system, organically combine innovation entity incentive mechanisms with external environmental conditions, and achieve a synergistic effect between the relevant parts and the system as a whole. Through the arrangement of national institutions and their interactions, we must promote the innovation, introduction, diffusion, and application of knowledge; improve the performance of nationwide technological innovation; finally achieve seamless vertical, horizontal, and end-to-end connection and collaboration in the innovation chain; achieve the systematic, efficient, and in-depth integration and collective evolution of education, scientific research, the real economy, and financial systems together with innovation; achieve a qualitative leap in China’s overall innovation capabilities; and maximize the coefficient of S&T progress or the rate of technological progress.


Attachment: Highlights from the 2015 and 2019 DARPA Development Strategy Reports

附件:2015 年、2019 年 DARPA 发展战略报告要点

The 2015 development strategy report, Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, pointed out that, with the rapid proliferation of more powerful and lower-cost technologies around the world, destructive nonstate actors and traditional competitors can use the most advanced technologies faster than the United States, posing a growing threat to the United States in the field of traditional security. In addition, the United States will struggle to deal with non-traditional security threats posed by factors such as terrorism, population migration, environmental pollution, extreme weather, and epidemic diseases. The report identified four main strategic investment areas and corresponding investment priorities: (1) the investment priorities identified in the “rethink complex military systems” field include assuring dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum; improving position, navigation, and timing (PNT without GPS; maintaining air superiority in contested environments; leading the world in advanced hypersonics; asserting a robust capability in space; enhancing maritime agility; exerting control on the ground; and augmenting defense against terrorism; (2) the investment priorities identified in the “master the information explosion” field include deriving meaning from big data and building trust into information systems; (3) the investment priorities identified in the “harness biology as technology” field include accelerating progress in synthetic biology, outpacing infectious diseases, and mastering new neuro-technologies; and (4) the investment priorities identified in the “expand the technological frontier” field include applying deep mathematics; inventing new chemistries, processes, and materials; and harnessing quantum physics.

2015 年的发展战略报告《服务于国家安全的突破性技术》指出,随着更强大和更低成本的技术在全球快速扩散,破坏性的非国家行为体和传统竞争对手可以比美国更快地使用最先进的技术,在传统安全领域对美国造成越来越强的威胁;而由恐怖主义、人口迁移、环境污染、极端气候和流行疾病等因素构成的非传统安全威胁也使美国疲于应对。报告确定 4 个主要战略投资领域和相应的投资重点:1.在构建复杂军用系统领域确定的投资重点包括确保制电磁权、增强不依赖 GPS 的导航与授时(PNT)能力、在对抗环境中保持优势、在高超声速领域领先世界、维持稳固的太空能力、增强海上灵活性、发挥地面控制力和增强反恐防御;2.在征服信息爆炸领域确定的投资重点包括挖掘大数据的内在价值和在信息系统中建立信任;3.在利用生物学技术领域确定的投资重点包括加速推进合成生物学研究、战胜传染病和掌握全新神经技术;4.在扩展技术边界领域确定的投资重点包括数学深度应用、投资全新化学、工艺和材料、掌握并利用量子物理学。

The 2019 development strategy report, Breakthrough Technologies for National Security,  proposed four main strategic directions and ongoing investment priorities for each direction: (1) The investment priorities of the “defend the homeland” direction include autonomous cybersecurity, strategic cyber deterrence, weapons of mass destruction sensing and defense, active bio-surveillance and biothreat countermeasures, and the development of defense capabilities against hypersonic weapons; (2) the investment priorities of the “deter and prevail against high-end adversaries” direction include capabilities in the traditional land, sea, and air domains but states that space and the electromagnetic spectrum will be just as or more important in deterring conflict away from the shores of the United States. The United States must develop, field, and operate these new capabilities faster than its adversaries; (3) the investment priorities of the “prosecute stabilization efforts” direction include better and more rapidly adapt to different environments; focus on developing capabilities to adapt to informal, unconventional, gray-zone conflicts and capabilities to adapt to city-scale warfare; establish rigorous and reliable models to better understand and influence adversary behavior; and improve the combat capabilities of combat personnel; and (4) the investment goal of the “advance foundational research in science and technology” direction is to understand technological development and further develop and apply technology. In the near future, DARPA will target specific threats across multiple operational domains and explore S&T that may lead to “leap ahead” solutions, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, microsystems, new computing methods based on molecular informatics, and next-generation social sciences. DARPA invested $2 billion to launch the “AI Next Campaign.”

2019 年的发展战略报告《面向国家安全创建技术突破和新能力》提出了四大战略方向和各方向正开展的投资重点:1.在捍卫国土安全方向的投资重点包括自主网络安全,战略性网络威慑,大规模杀伤性武器探测和防御,主动生物监视和生物威胁反制,以及高超声速武器的防御能力的发。2.在威慑并战胜高端对手方向的投资重点既包括传统的陆域、海域和空域的能力,也包括更加重要、能使冲突远离美国本土、美国必须以超过对手的速度来开发、部署和使用的新能力—太空域和电磁频谱域的能力。3.在开展维稳工作方向的投资重点包括:更好、更快地适应不同的环境,重点发展应对非正式、非常规灰色冲突的能力;应对城市规模战争的能力;建立严谨、可靠的模型以更好理解和影响对手的行为;提高作战人员的作战能力。4.在推动科技领域的基础性研究方向的投资的目的在于理解技术的发展并进一步开发和应用技术。近期,DARPA 将针对特定的跨多个作战域的威胁,探索可能催生“跨越式”解决方案的科技,包括人工智能和机器学习、微系统、基于分子信息学的新计算方法、下一代社会科学。DARPA投入 20 亿美元启动“下一代人工智能运动”。

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Cite This Page

胡汝银 (Hu Ruyin) (2023). "The Next Step in Superpower Construction: Building an Outstanding National Innovation Ecosystem—Insights from the Breakthroughs of the United States in Organization Mechanisms for High-Tech Key Technology Research and Development [强国建设的下一程:构造卓越的国家创新生态体系 ——美国突破性高科技关键技术研发组织机制的启示]". Interpret: China, Original work published December 11, 2021, https://interpret.csis.org/translations/the-next-step-in-superpower-construction-building-an-outstanding-national-innovation-ecosystem/

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