China is building up its global competitiveness in knowledge-intensive sectors and its ambition to be a global leader in science and innovation by 2050 seems well within reach. China outperforms the European Union in terms of expenditure on research and development as a share of its GDP, and already produces about the same number of scientific publications, and more PhDs in natural sciences and engineering, than the United States.
China aspires to produce and capitalise on home-grown scientific talent, but its growth model for science still involves sending out its increasingly better locally-trained scholars to the best institutes in the world and reaping the benefits when they return in the later stages of their careers, after they have fully developed their capabilities and built their networks. The US remains the favoured destination for Chinese students, which has led to the creation of US-Chinese science and technology networks and connections that are mutually beneficial: enabling China to catch up and helping the US to keep its position at the science frontier.
The EU has much less-developed scientific connections to China than the US. The EU should take steps to engage more with China if it is not to miss out in the future multipolar science and technology world.