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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
China's drive to promote invention
By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

Beijing medical clinic
China has begun to use its own home-grown vaccines in clinics

For China's youngest citizens, it is an eye-popping morning. It is jab day at a clinic in Beijing.

Parents line up in the corridor, each holding onto a worried-looking child. Behind a curtain, there is a nurse wearing a face mask. Beside the nurse is a pile of syringes.

One boy, Lu Junran, starts to shriek. His father holds him and strokes his hair, and the nurse gives the injection.

The vaccines this clinic uses have been developed by the Chinese company Sinovac.

China hopes that companies like Sinovac can help the country take an important step - from "Made in China" to "Invented in China".

China does not want to make other people's products forever. It plans to start inventing products of its own.

After all, that is what China used to do.

China has a strong local talent pool. People are well educated and very passionate about technology and innovation
Yimin Zhang

China is the country that gave the world gunpowder, paper and the compass.

But in recent centuries, its inventions have dried up. Now it wants to start innovating again.

Sinovac's headquarters is in an industrial park on the outskirts of Beijing. Photos in the lobby show the company's scientists taking President Hu Jintao around the laboratories.

In its labs, Sinovac scientists are trying to pioneer a bird flu vaccine - something that no other country has managed to do.

"We can't just be a factory for the world," says Sinovac's boss, Yin Weidong. "There's a huge market out there. We have to start designing our own products."

Mind-bending problems

Since 1999, Chinese spending on research and development has grown by 20% every year.

Hu Jintao has set a research and development target of 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2020.

The country's spending is now starting to have a global impact.

Young Beijing worker
Young Chinese are increasingly involved in technological innovation

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that China has now overtaken Japan's research and development spending.

In seven years time, China may also overtake the world leader, the United States.

So multinational firms are now betting that the long-term future of innovation may lie in China.

Hundreds of companies have opened research centres in Beijing and Shanghai.

Intel has its own compound in a skyscraper in Beijing, where dozens of young researchers doodle on notepads or write incomprehensible programmes onto their computer screens.

Intel's strategy is simple - sign up the best young brains in China and then get them to have a go at some mind-bending problems, such as face processing imaging, machinery application on video retrieval and ultra-mobile devices.

"We believe that China has great potential in innovation," says Yimin Zhang, who runs Intel's Application Research Lab.

"China has a strong local talent pool. People are well educated and very passionate about technology and innovation."

And there are more and more of them. Every year more than 20,000 Chinese students obtain their doctorates. Some choose to work abroad, but many are now being encouraged to stay in China.

This new generation has its orders - to start inventing.

That is quite an ambition for a country built on repetition, copying and obedience.

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