How China’s Belt and Road Initiative is shaping global research collaboration


On November 6-7 China’s Chongqing Municipality hosted the first Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange. Set up in five major sections, including roundtables and results display, theme activities and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) sci-tech innovation ministerial meeting, the conference focused on seven key areas: inter-governmental cooperation in science and technology, paradigm change in scientific research, people-to-people exchanges in science and technology, industrial innovation and development, open science, big data and future medicine. More than 300 participants including Nobel Prize winners, industry experts, university presidents and academics from over 70 countries and international organizations were invited to the conference.

In a world fraught by geopolitical tensions and escalating rivalries – fuelling a fast-fragmenting world – a threat to global research collaborations – China, on the other hand demonstrates unflinching commitment in establishing win-win cooperation in various fields including promoting scientific research collaboration between countries and international organizations. Having established intergovernmental science and technology cooperation agreements with more than 80 partners under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China, committed to deepening scientific research cooperation with all parties worldwide has also introduced the Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange, an avenue that brings together notable researchers, government officials and academics from around the globe.

Through the Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange, China provides an important platform that enables scientists from various countries including those in resource-poor regions to exchange ideas across disciplines, share data and findings, learn new skills, improve access to research funding and together pursue high-quality research.

In the case of scientists from developing or less research-intensive countries, science and technology cooperation agreements under the BRI which includes the newly introduced Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange makes available additional invaluable resources for tackling daunting challenges including inadequate research funding and limited access to modern equipment and knowledge that impede high-quality research.

In fact, in a bid to eliminate formidable barriers to quality scientific research especially in low-and middle-income countries, China under the BRI fills unmet pressing needs including infrastructure, the effort ultimately strengthens research capacities of various countries – enabling scientists worldwide to expand their research networks, upgrade equipment and knowledge, pool resources and expertise and potentially speed up discovery – promoting a more inclusive, collaborative and transparent world of research, which undoubtedly is indispensable to addressing pressing interconnected global challenges and possibly achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

For example in Africa, where diseases cost the region’s GDP a whopping US$2.4 trillion annually, China under the BRI provides unwavering support to tackle formidable decades-long health challenges in a continent home to 25 percent of the world’s disease burden yet has only 3 percent of the world’s health workforce characterised by weak and largely underfunded healthcare systems. As part of efforts to address Africa’s daunting health-related challenges, China, under the BRI not only encourages Sino-Africa scientific research collaborations but also provides essential resources and avenues for health-research strengthening and capacity development across countries on the continent.

To highlight a few recent examples, on January 11, 2023 the first phase of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquarters, the first of its kind on the continent was completed and unveiled. The well-equipped China-aided Africa CDC, a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU), supports public health initiatives of Member States and strengthens the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats.

In another example, the Belt and Road Tropical Medical Alliance, an international alliance established in 2018, led by Hainan Medical University also serves as a unique platform that promotes tropical medicine research collaboration and capacity development along the belt and road – through concerted efforts, the Belt and Road Tropical Medical Alliance joined by more than 120 universities, medical institutions and research institutes from over 30 countries and regions has so far, successfully organized five medicine forums and trains health professionals for BRI participating countries in areas such as public health, health management and medical research – playing a crucial role in promoting healthy collaboration in scientific research and capacity development between countries and international organizations, which ultimately contributes significantly in providing lasting solutions to health-related challenges along the belt and road.

At the recently organized third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, President Xi Jinping indicated that China will advance scientific and technological innovation under the BRI – continue to implement the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan. In a keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the forum, he announced that China will hold the first Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange, which took place from November 6-7, – he also revealed that in the next five years, China will increase the number of joint laboratories built with BRI partners to 100 and support young scientists from other countries to work on short-term programs in the country.

In fact, the consistent and colossal contribution from China, the global leader in research output and quality including emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, renewable energy, advanced materials and key quantum technology – leading the world in 37 out of 44 critical technologies enhances research capacities in BRI participating countries. China, under the BRI supported by more than 150 countries is shaping global scientific research, making it more collaborative, inclusive and transparent – a sharp contrast to the entrenched position adopted by the United States and its allies, which increasingly eschews research collaborations with selected countries including China to satisfy their interest at the expense of global research benefits. Certainly, this is not the ideal approach to address global challenges in a world where countries are interconnected socially, economically, environmentally and politically. Considering the positive impact of the BRI on global research collaborations, it is imperative for policymakers, scientists and relevant stakeholders worldwide to jointly support the China-led effort to unlock the full potential of the project.  

About the Author

Alexander Ayertey Odonkor is a global economist with keen interest in the social, environmental and economic landscape of both developing and developed countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and Europe.

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