Trendscanning: China 2025

 This is the first version of the trendscanning process aiming to reveal some trends/factors that will affect the research environment in China by 2025. Having that in mind, during this analysis we have focused upon a single main focal question, that is “ What are the main factors that will affect the Research Environment in China the next 15 years?” .

This first analysis has revealed 16 drivers, that were further rated,  by 41 experts, in terms of their importance and probability to occur. The analysis also revealed the 6 most important and plausible drivers that will continue to affect the research in China, which are the need for resources, the environmental Problems, the Global Communications, the (lack off) language skills, the private R&D investment, and the  investment on Space and Defense. Finally, a cross impact analysis has revealed the interrelation between the different factors, and highlighted the strong role of governance and of the national economy on the future developments.

The next step of the analysis will continue by focusing more on specific technological sectors and by taking into account the suggestions of the experts that have responded to this initial scoping process.


The performed trends scanning is focused on a single main focal question, that is “ What are the main factors that will affect the Research Environment in China the next 15 years?” . The answer on this question will provide input so as on a later stage we will be able to reply to a more complex question, which is “where will the Research of China be in 15 years?”.

The current trends scanning is preparatory work for a larger study, that aims to produce several scenarios about the Future of Research in China in 2025. Thus this initial exercise was focused to identify the main (obvious) factors that will shape the research environment in China during the next 15 years.

The Methodology utilized is based upon the typical scenario making process structure and it is described in detail in ANNEX 2.

The study is performed by the Phemonoe Lab in the context of the “Dragon-Star” project which is funded by the European Commission.


The post-war era has witnessed the economic miracles of Japan and South Korea that managed to become substantial actors in the global high-technology market. However, both countries didn’t have the dynamism and size to transform the global economy and to control the rules of the game. Today, in the beginning of the 21st century, two new countries, China and India, both have the prospects or the potential to shift the balance of global economy.

Today China is the second biggest economy after USA, and is expected to become the largest economy by mid-century. In addition, China became the world’s largest trading nation in 2013, overtaking the US in what Beijing described as “a landmark milestone” for the country.

What is however more interesting, especially in China, is the an on-going structural change of the national economy, based on a shifting from low-labor manufacturing, to services, internal consumption and production of high tech products. This transformation of the Chinese economy is on-going and stills remain to be seen whether China will manage to become a global actor in added-value high tech products.

Will China lead? Or will it follow? For much of human history China led the world in science and technology. However, Western stereotypes of a backward and unchanging China obscured much more of that history than they illuminated

Yet during and after the industrial revolution China slipped far behind. It is only in the last few decades that it has once again caught up. Today, change is happening very fast and according to just announced data by OECD, China is ahead of the EU for the 1st time in % of GDP spending on Research and Development. But the picture is complex.

It’s true that China has primarily excelled at adopting technologies from elsewhere, as a ‘fast follower’. However, in some fields it is on the frontier of technological knowledge, and the growth of published research is extraordinary.

Still several questions need answers.  Will the Chinese research ever become a competitive world leader. Is the financial growth, the financial resources and the central planning sufficient factors to ensure growth? Are there any unforeseen risks?

Some of these aspects will be covered by the current exercise.

Trends Analysis & Evaluation

After the initial analysis of the research environment, and several brainstorming sessions, we have agreed, during this initial phase of the exercise, to focus on 16 drivers that will affect the quality and the characteristics of the research environment in China by 2025. Some of these drivers have a global character, but the majority is related with specific developments within the country.

It should be however noted, that during this scanning process, we have been looking for drivers that either will obviously affect (or are already affecting) the research environment, but more importantly we have tried to scan some weak signals and identify some less obvious factors that could potentially have a significant or even dramatic effect directly or indirectly.

This first set of drivers is presented in the following table.

16 Drivers that will affect Research in China

1. Economy. China will enjoy GDP growth until 2025.

2. Framework Conditions. The Government will provide sufficient financial support and will implement an efficient regulatory framework for research.

3. Private R&D investment. The private sector in China will invest more on R&D by 2025.

4. Energy & Materials. The need for more energy from other sources beyond coal (e.g. from renewables and nuclear) and the need for resources (e.g. alternative raw materials) will strongly increase in China by 2025.

5. Governance. China will enjoy a stable governance and peaceful society by 2025.

6. Urbanization. The urbanization process in China will continue until 2025.

7. Human Rights. In the years to come, China will see a greater openess and improvement of human rights.

8. Global Economy. The global economy is expected to grow steadily until 2025.

9. Peace & Conflict. A peaceful regional cooperation will support the growth of the Chinese Research by 2025?

10. Space & Defense. The space exploration efforts and the development of defense technologies will increase by 2025.

11. Environment. The intensity of the local environmental problems (e.g. atmospheric pollution, contaminated water) and the global environmental implications (e.g. climate change) will increase by 2025.

12. Population. The Chinese population will continue to increase by 2025.

13. IPR. The IPR regulations will be further modernized and the IPR enforcement will continuously improve in China by 2025.

14. Global Communication. The world will become more interconnected and new communication technologies will allow the stronger interaction and cooperation of the Chinese researchers with their global counterparts by 2025.

15. Language Skills. The language skills of the Chinese researchers will substantially improve by 2025.

16. Education System. The Chinese education system (primary/secondary/higher) will be radically modernized and upgraded by 2025.


Trends Evaluation

The results of the evaluation results of the 16 drivers are presented in the following graphs. The results are presented on a scale from one to ten in terms of the importance and the probability of a driver to occur.

Although most of the drivers have received a high mark both in terms of their importance and their probability (this is natural as we had preselected drivers of importance), still there are some interesting results that could be extracted by the evaluation process.

In terms of the importance of the drivers, the most influential are considered to be (see following graph):

a) the increasing need of energy and resources (No.4),

b) the structure and operation of the education system (No.16),

c) the environmental implications (No.11),

d) the framework conditions (the national regulatory framework for research) (No.2),

e) the stability of the government and societal peace (No.5), and

g) the language skills (No.15).

Sheet 5

Some other interesting remarks are the following:

  • A very low importance rating is given to the population growth and Urbanization, although its major process transforming the Chinese Society. However, it seems that the serious indirect effects, of this process on research, are not that obvious.
  • Very little importance is also given on Human Rights and on the possibility of a serious military conflict in the region.
  • The Economy and the Private Investment are also relatively low, maybe because they are taken for granted from the experts.

In terms of the probability, the following graphs presents schematically the ratings given by the experts (10 is representing the higher probability).

Sheet 6

The highest, probability is given naturally on ongoing clear trends like the rise of Global Communication and Connectivity (driver No. 14), and the Chinese Urbanization process (driver No.6). Moreover, it is broadly expected that issues like the environmental problems (No.11), the space race (No.10), and the need for resources (No. 4) will continue to play an increasing role in the future.

On the other side, it is worth mentioning that there are very low expectations for positive changes on issues like Human Rights, Governance, the Education System, and on IPR. Finally, it is also important to underline that risks are expected to affect both the Chinese and the Global Economy.

Summary of Results – Trend Impact Analysis (TIA)

The following graph sums the outcome of the evaluation process, indicating or suggesting specific drivers that are of high importance and high probability to occur.

In the following graph the X axis represents the probability ranking marks (1 to 10), while the Y axis represents the ranking marks (1 to 10) for their importance on affecting the research environment.

The trends in the upper right corner are reported by the experts as certain and important. The Trends in the tope left are reported as uncertain (or less certain) but highly important. Thus the trends that will be studied in this first phase are presented at the following chart:

Main Trends

Uncertain (or less certain)


  • Education System (primary, secondary, high)
  • Governance and Social Peace
  • Research Framework Conditions
  • National Economy
  • IPR
  • Global Economy
  •  Need for Energy & Materials  (Resources)
  • Environmental Problems
  • Global Communications
  • Language Skills
  • Private R&D Investment
  • Space and Defense


The rest of the trends, in the lower part of the graph, will be examined in a later stage, as issues like a potential regional conflict could have a serious effect on the Chinese research environment.

Brief Description of main Trends

 Energy & Materials. The need for energy from other sources beyond coal (e.g. from renewables and nuclear) and the increasing need for resources (e.g. alternative raw materials) will be an important driver that will affect the intensity and the focus of Research in China by 2025 (read more in ANNEX 4).

Environment. Local environmental problems (e.g. atmospheric pollution, contaminated water) and global environmental implications (e.g. climate change) will affect the research in China by 2025. Moreover, China is expected to become a test bed for new environmental technologies.

Global Communication. The increasing global interconnection, and the continuous upgrade of the communication technologies will allow the stronger interaction and cooperation of the Chinese researchers with their global counterparts. This will have a positive effect on the growth of the Chinese research by 2025.

Language Skills. The improvement of the language skills of the Chinese researchers will have a positive effect on the growth of the Chinese research by 2025. Research in China is top down driven which means that having more higher ranking researchers with foreign language skills, will have a substantial effect on Research.

Private R&D investment. For the growth of Research in China by 2025, it is important to have strong investment on R&D by the private sector in China. Private corporations have initiated since the last decade, and more actively the last years, a strategic process to move away from low-wage manufacturing to high-added value production, with Chinese Branded innovative products. This effort is expected to be an important driver especially in areas like electronics, and new materials.

Space & Defense. The space exploration and the further development of defense technologies are going to be important drivers for the Chinese research by 2025. China, recently, became the third country to guide a spacecraft onto the moon, while has even more ambitious plans for a manned mission to moon. At the same, the strategic upgrade of the operational capacity of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), will boost defense related research (read more in ANNEX 4).

Global Economy. A flourishing global economy means more exports for the Chinese companies and more investment by the western multinational corporations in China. A stable global economy will facilitate the growth of the Chinese Research by 2025.

(Chinese) Economy. A stable GDP increase and a continuous development, will support the growth of the Chinese Research. Directly with more funds for research, and indirectly through different routes.

Governance. For the growth of Research in China by 2025, it is important to have a stable governance in the country and peaceful society. Greater openness and respect to citizens rights will be a positive catalyst for research.

Cross Impact Analysis (CIA)

After analyzing and valuating the (first-set) of trends/factors affecting the Chinese research environment, we are focusing on explaining the interconnection between these factors, through a Cross Impact Analysis (CIA)

The CIA is a process that can clarify the interrelations between the important drivers/factors of the system under examination. Thus, the CIA supports the identification of the most important factors to deal and examine in more details.

In the first step of the CIA analysis, the influence of every factor/trend upon the other factors was evaluated (Check Annex 5).

The analysis has highlighted some important findings, like the strong role of Government and of the National Economy, and the independence of other factors like the Global Communications and Population Growth.

However, the graphical presentation of the results of the cross impact analysis on diagrams (check also ANNEX 5), throws the light on a several new issues.

The main outcomes of the CIA analysis are the following:

  • The National Economy, and Governance have the strongest interrelations with the other factors.
  •  Urbanization/Population Growth and Global Communications are strong drivers, but quite independent from the other factors.
  • Several factors with a strong effect on our focal question are strongly dependent by the Governance (check also the Casual Loop Analysis Diagram):

Human Rights

-IPR issues

-Space & Defense policy

-Language (foreign) skills

  • The Environment and the Education system are strongly dependent by other factors.   Governance for the case of education, and the non-sustainable use of resources (Energy/Materials) for the case of Environment.

Finally, a Casual Loop Analysis (CLA) (see Annex 5), presents schematically the main interrelations between the different factors affecting the Focal Question, and will be utilized as catalyst for the discussions with experts but also demonstrates the strong role of Governance and of Social Peace in the future development of Research in China.

And the Future is

This first scoping process, was important to identify and study a first set of factors, but also through the online questionnaire has initiated a discussion with a broader group of experts, who have already suggested some more issues to consider (like the role of foreign Academic Institutions in China).

Some initial outcomes could be kept by this first analysis, and could support some first assumptions for the Future of Research in China by 2025:

  • A strong Government Policy and Investment will continue to guide the research, but will also limit it, unless important framework changes are going to take place. In the case of social unrest, the research will also be affected. Moreover, the governmental policies in areas like Foreign Relations and the Space race, is expected to put some focus on defense/space related research.
  • The expected Growth of National and Global economy will also support the research, however more financial risks are expected to affect and slow the development of the research environment.
  • The quest or resources and the environmental problems (local and global) will continue to be an important driver, and we could safely expect new technologies on alternative materials, new-generation nuclear plants, as well as on renewable energy.