The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) in Beijing. At a press conference on August 31st, their breakthrough programs were announced. The breakthrough (funding) programs are in areas ranging from particle physics to artificial intelligence. The plan was announced by CAS President BAI Chunli.

Significance 13th Five-Year Plan

The Chinese government uses five-year plans since 1953. These plans are quota-driven but evolved to focus on broader development outlines. In these plans, the government lists its investment priorities, economic strategies and guidelines for achieving medium and long-term growth. First the Chinese State Council releases the overall five-year plan, then other major government bodies will follow by their announcing their implementation of the five-year plan.


This five-year plan has extra significance for several reasons. It is the first one under President Xi Jinping’s administration. But it is also important for historic reasons. The Chinese five-year plans are inspired by the Soviet Union, and the USSR only just started its 13th Five-Year Plan when it collapsed. When the Chinese Communist Party will successfully finish this five-year plan it will be a symbolic victory for the government.

Within the time frame of the 13th Five-Year Plan, China wants to double the average disposable income compared to its 2010-level and end absolute poverty by 2020. There is no specific GDP growth target named, but the growth has to be at least 6.5% to meet the centennial goal of doubling the GDP compared to 2010.

How will China achieve those breakthroughs?

The CAS focuses on 60 major breakthroughs the country wants to achieve, as well as 80 key projects. The projects are divided into eight types of innovation platforms, which form the basis for 60 more specific directions. Furthermore, there are two support platforms initiated.

The goals of the projects are diverse. Some are focused on basic research. Other projects enhance the national innovation capability and the competitiveness in specific industries.

The aspired breakthroughs involved are organ repair and reconstruction, artificial intelligence, smog control, water pollution control. There is also a focus on space-related research: research of moon samples, a radio telescope on the far side of the moon and preparations for a Mars mission.

CAS President Bai Chunli said the following,

“We will strive to occupy the international high ground in strategic hotspot fields and blaze the trail in cutting-edge and cross-discipline areas, achieving a series of major original achievements, technologies, and products.”

The spending on R&D will increase to 2.5% of GDP. In the previous 12th five-year plan (2011-2015) this was 2.1% of GDP, while the target was 2.2%.

Current projects

Projects which are already rolled out now will continue to have a major focus the next five-year period. These projects include manned space exploration and a lunar probe. China will also continue to advance  high-resolutions earth observation, nanotechnology and precision control of protein machinery and life processes and strategic advanced electronic materials, quantum control and information.


Bai said that although the country’s research is in some important area’s already in the world’s most advanced level, China’s scientific and technological base is still weak. Currently, there is a big gap in innovation capacity, and this is where the country should focus on. The goals of the CAS is then also to become an innovative country and the world’s leading scientific and technological power.

They want to achieve this by spending 40 percent of its research budget on basic research, 50 percent on applied research and 10 percent on experimental development. Via these efforts, CAS hopes to attain world-class levels in physics, chemistry, material science, mathematics, environment and ecology, and geoscience by 2020.

Intellectual property rights

CAS aims to further develop independent intellectual property rights (IPR) and industrial technology standards. At the same time, CAS will focus on practical applications of its S&T output to enhance social development. 

Another goal is to double the country’s IPR earnings by 2020, compared to 2015. At the same time, the goal is to help companies to create 150.000 jobs and additional revenue of more than 4.8 trillion yuan (640 billion Euro) with the application of new technology.

International collaboration

During the 2016-2020-period, CAS plans to establish about ten overseas research institutions. Also, it aims to set up 5-10 CAS-TWAS Centers of Excellence, as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Our insights: China is not known for its lack of ambition, and this FYP is not going to change that. The goals are set high, both for its economy as well as the country’s academic results. The determination to keep the GDP-growth above 6.5% could result in less-sustainable decisions for the country. Some pragmatism down the road might help. The acknowledgement by the Chinese government of the importance of science and technology is admirable. For years China was lacking in expenditure on basic science. With the announced investments this is going to change, immensely. With the scheduled funding programs many amazing scientific and technological breakthroughs can be expected.