APRU on SCMP: China and US Lead the World on Joint Research Output but that is Changing, Warns Study
August 7, 2022
  • Sino-US co-publications, growing since 2017, saw a slight dip in 2021, report from publishers Elsevier and Pacific Rim universities body says
  • Growing bilateral geopolitical tensions in the past five years have come to a head over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit

China and the United States are the largest bilateral research collaborators globally, while each produced around 20 per cent of the world’s scholarly output in the last five years, a study by the world’s No I science publisher and a network of world universities has found.

But such co-publications, which had been “growing gradually” since 2017, saw a slight dip last year, according to the analysis of publications such as articles, books and conference papers, with the report warning of the impact of geopolitical tensions and technical battles between the two rival powers.

“The world cannot afford to divide the world’s two largest producers of published research,” report co-publishers Elsevier and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) said in a joint commentary.

Elsevier is the world’s largest scientific literature publisher, and APRU involves a network of 60 universities across the Americas, Asia and Australasia.

“The joint publication of the two countries constitutes the largest bilateral research relationship so far, sharing top research talents from both sides,’ the commentary noted.

“Geopolitical divisions around national interests and technological sovereignty may not disappear any time soon, leading to increased governance or controls related to research collaborations,” it warned.

The US and China have seen growing geopolitical tensions in the past five years, including acrimony over the search for the origins of the coronavirus behind the Covid-19 pandemic and the tech war, which started as a trade dispute but then extended into a battle for leadership in core technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

On Friday, China said it would suspend cooperation with the United States in the fight against climate change, as part of a range of measures in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier in the week, leaving the prospects uncertain for future joint research.

Anders Karlsson, vice-president of global strategic networks at Elsevier, told the Post a similar drop in co-publications was not observed between China and other countries, such as Britain, Japan and South Korea.

“That may be linked to mobility – it’s harder to travel [during the pandemic] and researchers were not able to meet. But it could also be that it’s not encouraged the same way as it was before,” he said, pointing to China-US and Britain-European Union partnerships as examples.

In February, the US Justice Department announced the end of the China Initiative, a programme launched by the Trump administration in late 2018 to fight Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft. Critics said the programme was racially biased and led to prosecutorial overreach.

The Elsevier -APRU report, published last month, found China’s research output grew steadily at 5.5 per cent annually between 2017 and 2021, with the volume surpassing the US in 2019.

Last year, China published nearly 22 per cent of the world’s overall research, compared to just over 19 per cent for the US, the report indicates.

Christopher Tremewan, secretary general of APRU, highlighted the association’s aims to preserve and advance international scientific collaboration as a neutral platform.

Universities in Asia-Pacific economies are closely linked both to China and the US in their research and have an interest in wanting bilateral collaboration to continue to the fullest, Tremewan told the Post.

“There is huge collaboration across the Pacific, but it’s under threat by geopolitical events. What can a network do to preserve collaborations in the areas which are agreed [as] not totally sensitive politically?

“That is why we focus on SDGs and on making sure we remain a neutral platform for collaboration,” he said, referring to UN sustainable development goals related to health, energy, sustainable cities and climate.

“It’s not simply the research itself, it is the relationships of trust which enable the research.”