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What others can — and cannot — learn from China

China has developed a strategy for science, technology and innovation (STI) based on its own history, culture and circumstances. For example, in the last decades of the twentieth century, we sent a large number of students abroad for education and training. Our goal was to increase the number of researchers as quickly as possible. We are also a big country that is able to invest significant sums of money in scientific infrastructure due largely to our growing economic base. The overall strategy has been to develop our scientific and technological capabilities rapidly in order to address our most critical economic and social challenges. Yet, we also realized we had to be patient and think long term. Other developing nations have been grappling with these complex issues in their own way. As was the case with Germany, the USA and the UK, the strategies of developing countries will be based on their own historical and present-day circumstances. There are, of course, some general principles that developing nations would be wise to consider — for example, the indispensable role of government, the importance of sustained investments in education at all levels, the value of linking investments in STI to national plans for economic development, and the need to encourage private-sector investments in research and development. But each nation must determine on its own both how to pursue science-based sustainable development and the pace at which to proceed. That does not mean developing countries should not exchange ideas and learn from one another, but rather that there are many pathways to success.

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Yongxiang, L. What others can — and cannot — learn from China. Nature 456 (Suppl 1), 38 (2008).

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