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February 2010

Is China rising as a science superpower?

Reports from Bank of Finland:

China rising as science superpower; huge growth in research activity. A Financial Times story on Monday (Jan. 25) compiled data from Thomson Reuters and Web Science database to show Chinese researchers published about 112,000 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals in 2008. US researchers led the pack with the most published articles (333,000).

Among the BRIC countries, China has made the most impressive gains in research publications, with notable strengths in the areas of chemistry and materials science. The quality of the science in Chinese papers still is variable, but clearly the Chinese are increasingly working across borders with members of the international research community and a growing number of foreign researchers are publishing jointly with their Chinese colleagues. Generally speaking, the quality of Chinese research is improving.
Brazil has also made huge strides in increasing its out-put of scientific articles, with particular expertise shown in the areas of agriculture and bioscience. In contrast, India, and in particular Russia, failed to live up to expectations of increasing research prowess.

China’s heavy investment in education and R&D during the past decade is now coming to fruition with China joining other research leaders. The return of the Chinese re-searchers who have studied and worked in North America and Europe are playing an important role in China’s development. China has also been successful in translating basic science advances into commercial applications. This phenomenon is reflected, e.g. in the large increase in international patent applications.

Two graphs extracted from the Thomson Reuters' report on China's research output:

(click to enlarge)

China now produces the world's second most research publications, only behind the United States.

Where are China's research publications concentrated?

Eurozone’s debt contagion

Interview of Harvard professor Nail Ferguson. Will Germany-France bail out Greece, Spain and Portugal?

Remember Milton Friedman’s prediction — “Euro can’t survive a major crisis.” Let’s watch and see.

(update 1) Rolfe Winkler writes on Reuters on the same issue. He outlined three possible outcomes.

1) The PIIGS (acronym for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) cut their budgets to pay back debt. Such austerity programs are typically very difficult to get done in democracies. Deficit spending stays high long past the point that it’s possible to work off debt over any reasonable period. To successfully dig out of the hole requires cuts so deep, voters never agree to them.

2) Europe bails them out, which is the easiest solution in the short-run. Richer European countries certainly have the wherewithal to bail out a small country like Greece or Portugal. But it’s a dangerous precedent to set. What about Spain? It’s 14% of the Euro economy compared to 6% for Portugal/Ireland/Greece combined. If economies keep spending with an eye towards a bailout from the ECB, eventually you get #3.

3) The monetary union breaks apart. The customary way out of a debt crisis is to devalue one’s currency, see Argentina in 2001. It couldn’t maintain it’s dollar peg and still service its debt, so it devalued its currency and defaulted on debt. But this locked the country out of the international capital markets and drove them into a deep, though brief, Depression. For Greece to devalue, it would have to pull out of the Euro, pass a law that it’s debts are payable in new local currency and then devalue.

Beijing Consensus, no more

Yang Yao, Director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, writes on Foreign Affairs that Beijing's ongoing efforts to promote growth are infringing on people's economic and political rights. In order to survive, the Chinese government will have to start allowing ordinary citizens to take part in the political process.

In my view, this so-called Beijing Consensus never existed. It's the fantasy of some academic scholars. It should not be treated as a universal development model and applied to other developing countries.

China's development model may be very efficient, but it lacks higher moral ground. It's the outcome of three decades of gradualist policy evolution during a very special transitioning period. What China needs is more individual freedom and less government intervention in both economic and political spheres.

Read Yang Yao's piece, "The End of the Beijing Consensus".