Your Editorial marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) points out some of the remarkable results the organization has achieved since its inception (see Nature 574, 5; 2019). However, we find your take on its history quite misleading.
For example, you seem to overplay the modern significance of China’s Cultural Revolution. The devastating consequences of that have been recognized by the Chinese government for more than 40 years, and it has painstakingly implemented measures to reverse the negative effects. This great governance has ensured that China has witnessed huge advances ever since.
CAS is not run independently of government, as you imply. The establishment and development of CAS have been entirely based on the wisdom and support of the central government. The role of the academy in leading China’s research has always been recognized by China’s leadership, which has respected science and technology from the start — for its own sake as well as for developing a sustainable economy.
Contrary to your headline, CAS has never sought or achieved financial autonomy. Over the past 40 years, half of its income has come directly from central-government investment; the rest has been from competitive funding or technology transfer. CAS could not develop without the funding and support of the central government. And CAS is committed to facilitating technology transfer to support economic development, although it does not directly invest in the industrial sector.
The academy has a list of notable achievements, apart from those you mention. It started China’s first talent programme, attracting top-quality overseas-trained scholars back to China. And CAS intends to become a leading research institution that satisfies scientific interests and regional or global needs. We have already established 10 joint research and education centres overseas and, together with another 36 science organizations, have launched the Alliance of International Science Organizations to address shared challenges and to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
You suggest that CAS could be a model for science academies in other countries — particularly in one-party states or those with authoritarian leadership. Our core competence lies in our unique role as a national research institution. Although every academy should of course determine its own development, we find that an integrated structure combining research, education, consultation and technology transfer suits us well.
We object to your allegation that the Chinese central government takes “harsh measures against its people”. In carrying out its scientific and technical mission, CAS stands firmly with the central government and with the people. We reject any such false allegations with disruptive intentions and are strongly opposed to biased judgments of China’s internal affairs, and to any unnatural linking of political or ideological positions with our mission.
Nature 574, 486 (2019)