A guaranteed way to get attention or funding, especially from US politicians is to claim that China is ahead of, or closing the gap with the US, which is just what Robert Cresanti, undersecretary for technology at the US Department of Commerce has done with nanotech.
The conclusion is based on two premises. Firstly that China’s new research plan lists nanotechnology as a major priority, describing it as an “area where China may be able to ‘leapfrog’ wealthier nations,” and secondly the observation that ‘We saw labs today full to the rafters with scientists and machinery. There has also been a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of papers on nanotechnology published by Chinese scientists.’
Coincidentally, a new survey of global R&D spending by Battelle puts China in 4th place behind India, Japan and the US. The Batelle numbers show that China has been growing at an annual rate of about 17%, compared to the 4% to 5% annual growth rates reported for the U.S., Japan and the European Union over the past dozen years, but makes no comment on the quality of the research. As David Li comments at China Law Blog, much of the research is in response to other nations rather than being truly innovative.
Should the US be worried? From what we see, probably not yet. However the world is changing and Chinese R&D will increase in global importance, so it is up to Europe, the US and Japan to make use of the vast resources becoming available in both China and India.
The results are perhaps more worrying for Europe, as China already spends a higher proportion of its GDB on R&D than Spain and Portugal (who prefer to spend theirs on building new buildings), Italy, and most of eastern Europe.