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Life Science and Biotechnology in China
Speech by Mr. Jin Ju, Head of Chinese Delegation, at the Meeting of 5th Session of United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (May 28-Jun 1, 2001, Geneva)
2004/04/19
Life science and biotechnology is of great importance to China. The Chinese government attaches much attention to the development of modern life sciences, as we believe that biotechnology will help us to solve the most urgent problems, such as population, food supply, health care and environment protection.

I. Different Programs Initiated to Support Modern Life Science and Biotechnology

Since the seventh 5-year plan (1986-1990), the Chinese government has been implementing a couple of programs that prioritize the development of biotechnology.  The programs cover a wide spectrum in basic research, high-tech development as well as industrialization, which include Basic Research Program, Hi-Tech Research and Development Program, Key S&T Problem Solving Program, Key Science Infrastructure Program, Key Industrial Pilot Program, as well as the establishment of Key Laboratories and Engineering Centers, etc.

Science and education hold the key to a prosperous future.  The funding from government for R&D has been increasing continuously during the past over 20 years.  We have adopted preferential policies in venture capital and taxation for the research institutes and high-tech companies.  Many R&D centers and bases on biotechnology have been set up and more and more scientists with Ph.D. degree are returning home after receiving training in western countries.  There are more than 400 universities, research institutes and companies and a total of over 20,000 scientists and researchers involved in biotechnology.  The number of research papers being published internationally is increasing rapidly.

II.   Industrialization of Biotechnology Emphasized

The Chinese government mainly plays three roles in the promotion science and technology development.  First of all, the government should strengthen the support to basic research.  It is the basis of any new knowledge and methodology.  Secondly, favorable policies and necessary conditions should be created for technology innovation, transfer and industrialization.  They need a stable macro-economy, a healthy financing system, an educated labor force, a competitive market environment, etc.  Thirdly, innovation system should be improved.  Innovation relies no longer on companies or institutes alone, but on integrated efforts from both sides.  Obstacles on cooperation and networking should be removed and close connection should be set up through networking among universities, public organizations, industrial companies and financial institutions.

In order to promote integration of science, technology and the economy, following policies have been implemented in China:

(1). Setting up high-tech incubators for biotechnology

(2). Making favorable taxation policies for biotechnology development

(3). Supporting SME's in biotechnology field

(4). Encouraging venture capital investment and technology transfer

(5). Setting up specific zones for high technology development

(6). Recognizing intellectual properties as capital investment

With the efforts of the government, the scientific community and the industries, we have made significant progress in biotechnology development.

a. The total sales of biotechnological products in China have increased by 50 times during the past 10 years.  In 1997, it was about 13 billion RMB (USD 1.6 billion).  In the year 2000, it reached more than 20 billion ( USD 2.5 billion).

b. A total of 18 bio-pharmaceutical products have been commercialized, including recombinant medicines and vaccines. 30 more are on the stage of clinical trials.

c. Crop breeding techniques are generating huge economic value in China: the yield of super hybrid rice is as high as 100kg/ha per day in rice growing period.

d. China is one of the earliest countries to carry out gene therapy for patients and Chinese scientists have found out several disease genes including the neural deaf gene.

Furthermore, we have also made important progress in blo-pesticides,

disease diagnosis and treatment techniques.  And we are reforming national traditional bio-industry.  Nowadays, biotechnology has shown its importance for China's economy and social development.

III. Challenges to Biotechnology and Life Science in China

1. The Bio-safety issue

With the development of life science and bio-industry, the bio-safety issue becomes inevitable.  The development does provide us with superior techniques in many fields.  It also presents us with unprecedented issues, such as bio-safety, intellectual property rights protection, etc.  The statistics suggested that there are more than 44 million hectares of transgenic plants in the world.  The transgenic technique has brought huge benefits to many countries.  However, governments, scientists and the general public of the countries also face the challenge of bio-safety and bio-ethics issues.

The Chinese government actively supports the research and development in biotechnology and transgenic techniques.  However, we have attached great attention to bio-safety issue.

The following are our basic policies on bio-safety.
(
1).  Formulating laws and regulations on transgenic products

The Chinese government first passed "Bio-Engineering Safety Regulations" in 1983.  Currently, we are drafting National Law on Bio-Safety.  This is a joint effort among S&T, agricultural, food, medical sectors.

(2).  Establishing scientific standards for evaluating long-term safety issues

The Ministry of Science and Technology has set up a special program to carry out further research on related bio-safety issue so as to evaluate objectively the safety based on scientific criteria.

(3).  Encouraging mass media and public involvement

The Chinese government makes the information accessible to the public.People need to know not only the whole truth regarding the transgenic products, but also its benefits to human being.  We are doing our best to ensure the profit of any new technology, while minimizing its potential risk for human being and the environment.

2. The Issue of Intellectual Property Right Protection

Innovation is the power of knowledge-based economy.  Protection of intellectual property rights will stimulate and accelerate the technology transfer.  We have to keep a good balance between the free information exchange and protection of inventors' interests.  To take human genome project as an example, China is a part of the consortium, and we insist that all of the basic human DNA sequence information should be available to the public and used freely.  In the meantime, we agree to the patent protection of advanced techniques and new products, especially in functional genomic.

China has been adopting the policy to protect the patents and intellectual property rights.  We have gradually established various laws and the regulations regarding patents, trademarks and copyrights.  The Chinese government formally accepted the international consensus on patenting and intellectual property right protection.  We have been working hard to create an environment to recognize patents and protect the interests of patent owners.  As a result, the number of patent applications in China has increased significantly during the past few years.

IV. Promotion of International Cooperation and technology Transfer

1. Competition Leads to Innovation, Cooperation Leads to Prosperity

In today's global economy, scientific collaboration has become the main stream of development.  China has made a great progress in national economy during the past over 20 years and we believe that international cooperation will help us to achieve our goal.  Up to date, the Chinese government has established active scientific cooperation and exchange programs with 152 countries throughout the world.  We have signed the agreements with 96 countries for research collaboration.  The cooperation has different formats, including the collaboration on joint investigation, basic research and industrialization.

The Chinese government will continue to implement the open-door policy and the economic reform.  We will initiate some research programs for international collaboration.  The government has approved to set up a specific fund to support International cooperation during the tenth 5-year plan.

2. Equal Partnership and Mutual Benefits as Key to Successful International Scientific Cooperation

There is a common saying, "Everyone has its own advantages".  For scientific cooperation, we should establish equal partnership, and the cooperation should benefit to all parties.  We will follow international rules and fully protect the intellectual property rights.  We are, and will always be a responsible member of the international family.

At the age of global economy, I strongly believe that, the development of modem life science, and biotechnology will bring us a brighter and more prosperous future.  A worldwide corporation will certainly help us to realize our magnificent prospects.
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