Could China become the world’s loudest voice in research?

Five reasons why China’s influence is growing

China could surpass the US and the EU to become the most dominant voice in global research within a decade, according to a new analysis released this week by research technology company Digital Science.

The analysis – conducted by Digital Science CEO Daniel Hook and VP Research Futures Simon Porter – coincides with this week’s Communist Party Congress in which China’s political and economic might are a key focus. But what of its strength in research?

Dr Hook and Dr Porter have proposed five key metrics to rank countries’ influence in the world of research. In each of the metrics, China has either already overtaken its main rivals, is close to overtaking them, or has been making a sustained challenge that could see China rise to the top within the next 10 years.

The five metrics, in increasing importance and level of difficulty to achieve, are:

  1. Percentage of GDP spent on research
  2. Gold Open Access (OA) publication volume
  3. Total publication volume
  4. Proportion of global citations
  5. Relative global influence

The authors write: “If the story of the 20th Century is one of the decline of the power and influence of the West, then the 21st Century tells the story of the ascent of Asia and more specifically China. Indeed, the era in which we live currently, with the cultural and economic dominance of the West, is something of a historical aberration.” 

They say the five metrics are chosen “to show causal development” from one metric to the next.

So, how does China fare on each of the metrics?

  1. Percentage of GDP spent on research: China (at 2.4% of GDP in 2020) is currently second behind the United States (at 3.45% of GDP in 2020. Source: World Bank.)
  2. Gold Open Access (OA) publication volume: China nudging ahead of the European Union (EU) this year, based on extrapolated partial year data. (Source: Dimensions.)
  3. Total publication volume: China overtaking the US this year and also likely to overtake the EU. (Source: Dimensions.)
  4. Proportion of global citations: China ahead of the UK and EU but behind the US. On trend, China has been steadily increasing and the US steadily declining for more than 20 years. (Source: Dimensions.)
  5. Relative global influence: China fourth, behind the EU, US and UK, but steadily rising for more than 20 years when others have either flatlined or declined. (Source: Dimensions.)

Dr Hook says: “China’s progress against all of these metrics is impressive. Within just a few years, China’s influence has developed to a point where it is clear that, if it continues on its current path, within a decade it will have surpassed the US and be vying with the EU-27 for global pre-eminence in its ability to influence the research conversation.”

See the full analysis – including charts based on data from Dimensions – here.