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AAAS and Chinese S&T Organizations Sign Landmark Agreements to Build Collaboration

BEIJING—Top officials from AAAS and Chinese science and technology organizations have signed a series of agreements to collaborate on publishing and education projects and to seek future engagement in fields that could range from ethics and sustainable development to public engagement.

Under one memorandum of understanding, AAAS and the China Association for Science Technology (CAST) agreed to work together to translate and post on the CAST Web site materials provided by Project 2061, AAAS’s pioneering science education reform initiative. AAAS and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) struck a separate agreement to work jointly to select and translate 33 high-impact papers published in the journal Science during the last decade and to distribute them in China.

More China News and Photos

See other stories about the landmark AAAS visit to China here and here.

See photos from the bilateral meetings and the Workshop on Scientists’ Social and Ethical Responsibilities.

Read this article in Chinese

AAAS and CAST also signed an overarching agreement to seek collaborative projects on a range of possible issues, including sustainability; public understanding of science and engineering; science education; and creating S&T opportunities for women.

“I believe that CAST and AAAS have common issues… and we’re serving similar functions in our countries,” said Deng Nan, chief executive secretary of CAST, said in talks before a signing ceremony. “I believe that allows us to have even more cooperation in the broader fields of science.”

“Our organizations are similar and unique in their size and breadth of activities, ” replied Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of Science. “Our collaboration has advantages not only for our countries, but also for the whole world… It’s very important that we take every opportunity to collaborate on our common interests.”

With China emerging as an engine of world research and development, AAAS leaders have seen it as vital for the global scientific enterprise to establish a constructive, long-term engagement with its S&T leaders and organizations. Throughout the visit to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou from 24-29 September, officials from AAAS and their Chinese counterparts suggested they were laying a foundation for the future.

Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

The AAAS delegation also met with Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang; Chinese Academy of Sciences President Lu Yongxiang; Shen Wenqing, chairman of the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology and vice president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China; and Yang Wei, president of Zhejiang University.

The AAAS delegation included Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science; Vaughan Turekian, AAAS chief international officer; and Tom Wang, AAAS director for International Cooperation.

While in Beijing, the delegation attended a two-day conference, “China-U.S. Workshop on Scientists’ Social and Ethical Responsibilities.” The event was organized by CAST and AAAS, with Mark S. Frankel, director of AAAS’s Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program playing a lead organizing role for AAAS. The conference brought dozens of Chinese science and technology leaders together with the AAAS delegation and nine other U.S. ethics scholars, business and academic leaders, and science publishing experts. Brent Christensen, science counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, also attended the conference.

The new agreements and the conference on scientific integrity conference—resulting from months of trans-Pacific engagement and negotiation—are landmarks in an ambitious new engagement between AAAS and Chinese S&T organizations. The journal Science, which is published by AAAS, is opening its first Chinese news office in Beijing this month, to be staffed by veteran correspondent Richard Stone. EurekAlert!, AAAS’s science news service, this month formally debuted a new Chinese-language portal to serve the nation’s journalists, researchers, business and government.

“We are in an era of unprecedented global cooperation in science and technology—cooperation that not only advances the underlying sciences, but also addresses some of the major global challenges that we all face,” Turekian said. “The collaboration between Chinese and U.S. scientists, and in fact all members of the global science enterprise, will lead to more creative science and technological developments that will improve people’s lives.”

The new engagement comes at a time of remarkable growth and emergence for China. As one of the world’s ancient civilizations, it introduced crucial S&T discoveries and developments thousands of years ago. Today, following 30 years of economic reform , its economy is soaring, and strong continued growth is expected for the foreseeable future. Shanghai and Beijing have become major world centers for business, culture, and tourism; next year, the nation will host the Summer Olympics.

Science and technology are central to China’s long-term growth and development plans. Before he moved into government, President Hu Jintao was a hydraulic engineer, and today, the “Scientific Development Perspective” is one of China’s central themes for addressing complex economic, environmental and international challenges. The government is investing millions of dollars in new laboratory and research facilities.

And to address climate change, the government in June announced plans to restructure the economy, promote clean energy technologies, and improve energy efficiency. China launched its first manned space mission in 2003; it followed up on 24 October by launching its first spacecraft to orbit the moon.

In July, the China Internet Network Information Center reported that 162 million Chinese were connected to the Web; while that remains just a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people, the Center said that in the first half of this year, an average of 100 new residents per minute logged on for the first time.

According to CAST statistics, China’s total investment in research and development nearly tripled between 2000 through 2005; in the same period, R&D expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic expenditures rose from 0.9% to 1.34%. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the number of people working in R&D fields increased by 33% from 2000 through 2004. A report in 2006 by the U.S. National Science Foundation called the R&D spending increases “unprecedented for any country in recent memory.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese statistics bureau found that in 2004, engineering and science were the two most popular fields of study for students enrolled in the nation’s graduate-level academic programs.

CAST was founded in 1958 after the merger of two existing scientific associations. Today, approaching its 50th anniversary, it represents 188 national and provincial affiliates across a range of S&T disciplines. CAST and affiliated Chinese societies publish nearly 900 different journals.

The CAST-AAAS agreement-signing ceremony took place on 25 September, in an elegant hall at the Diaoyutai State Guest House complex. The complex includes a former residence of Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong; U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stayed at Diaoyutai during their historic visit to China in 1972. Currently, it is the site for the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Deng Nan, daughter of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, and CAST Executive Secretary Cheng Donghong welcomed the AAAS delegation. Deng and Leshner talked cordially for more than an hour, with the discussion ranging from China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, which was being celebrated that night, to possible areas of future cooperation.

Deng expressed confidence that the ethics conference (which was to start the next morning) would be “a big success” and “a very good example of our scientific cooperation.” Ethics and integrity in research have been “a very practical problem for China,” she said. “However, I believe it’s a challenge faced throughout the international science community.”

“Absolutely,” replied Leshner. “We all have these issues. As science becomes more global, it’s important that we have agreement among all countries so that we share common values but also common standards as well.”

Later, Deng described the ambitious China Science and Technology Museum which is now under construction and due to open to the public in the fall of 2009; it will be the nation’s the largest center to promote science and technology among citizens. Deng, noting America’s “very rich resources” in science museums, suggested such public engagement might provide another area for China-U.S. collaboration.

Leshner used the occasion to invite CAST representatives to attend the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

The agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to translate and re-publish 33 of the past decade’s most important papers from Science was signed the next day at CAS offices, in a ceremony again marked by optimism and discussion of possible future collaboration.

CAS, founded in 1949, is a dominant force in Chinese S&T. It oversees 108 scientific research institutes, over 200 science and technology enterprises, a university, a graduate school and various other units situated throughout the country. As of 2000, it had a staff of 58,000, some 39,000 of them scientific personnel. It publishes more than 200 journals.

CAS President Lu discussed with Leshner the new agreement to publish a volume of translated Science articles. Lu said he expected CAS to print 10,000 copies; he predicted that young scientists and engineers will buy it, and said it also would be made available to China’s 2,000 universities and 5,000 of its best high schools.

Lu, who also serves as vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, plays a critical role in Chinese S&T development. He trained as a mechanical engineer in China and Germany and has 25 patents in China, the United States, and Europe. He has published over 250 papers in research and engineering education and five monographs in China and abroad.

Lu and Leshner identified a number of areas for possible future collaboration. Leshner mentioned a possible lecture series or exchange program that would bring U.S. scientists to China and Chinese scientists to the United States. Lu suggested exploring areas such as nuclear energy, atmospheric science, and the workings of the brain. Both agreed on the importance of having young scientists involved.

Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang

On Thursday 27 September, the AAAS delegation met with Wan Gang, who was appointed earlier this year to lead China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST). Wan also welcomed the opportunity for further collaboration between AAAS and Chinese S&T, and he suggested that scientific integrity, the popularization of science, and sustainability all might offer opportunities for future joint projects.

Much of the conversation between Wan and Leshner focused on the value of encouraging China’s increased integration into the global S&T enterprise—and the essential role that scientific integrity plays in the relations among researchers from every nation.

Both leaders acknowledged that the S&T communities in their countries have endured troubling episodes of misconduct, and that shared values about ethics and ethical procedures are important in advancing more unified world S&T effort.

Leshner expressed admiration for China’s firm commitment to S&T as a means to progress. “It’s interesting to me that more and more people in different countries recognize the value of science and research, and how they lead to innovation and improvement in people’s lives,” he said. “China recognized this very early. I wish the United States would recognize its own tradition of innovation.”

“We consider that in the United States you are doing very well in these efforts,” Wan replied. “In China, society is undergoing a substantial change. When the economy reaches a certain point, there should be a transition from a focus on the development of the economy to the sustainable development of the human society. The United States started on this much earlier than China. And so I believe we could have more cooperation on that and China could learn from you.”

“You learn from us, and we’ll learn from you,” Leshner replied. “It’s a good collaboration, a genuine collaboration.”

Edward W. Lempinen

15 October 2007