Top-tier Chinese universities—namely Peking University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tsinghua University, and Zhejiang University—lead the pack in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research. These universities are now competing with top U.S. and U.K. institutions in breakthrough development and studies. Though still not as strong, research in life sciences, medicine, and social sciences has also picked up.

Given the vast amount of research coming out of China’s universities and institutes, academic publishers are rushing to share the RD results with the relevant domestic and international academics and industries. But language barriers continue to hamper efforts to publish Chinese scholars’ STM research in English-language journals. At the same time, researchers affiliated with top universities, especially in major Chinese cities, tend to get more opportunities to be published or to collaborate with overseas counterparts. There is also a tendency for top researchers to publish with overseas STM publishers (especially Elsevier and Springer Nature) instead of choosing a locally produced journal. So, efforts among Chinese STM publishers and research institutes are intensifying to create and establish internationally influential peer-review journals to publish important papers.

These hot topics and current trends present opportunities for overseas publishers to buy Chinese titles suitable for their own markets, as well as to sell relevant original publications for translation into Chinese. Copublishing with Chinese partners is another way to leverage the vast RD efforts that are currently taking place in the country.

The Belt and Road Initiative

First proposed as One Belt One Road by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the pan-Eurasian economic initiative combines the overland Silk Road economic belt with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route of sea lanes and ports. Infrastructure investments into railways and ports form a major part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which will affect 4.4 billion people across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. So far, 68 countries have signed up for the trillion-dollar visionary blueprint for global economic development, which combines regional and global cooperation with bilateral and multilateral partnerships.

Set to reinvigorate the seamless flow of capital, goods, and services between Asia and the rest of the world through market integration and community ties, the Belt and Road Initiative is sparking publications, studies, and research in participating countries into areas beyond politics, culture, and economics. Understanding each country and its potential (and weaknesses) is deemed crucial to the success of the initiative.

The Silk Road

The Belt and Road Initiative has thrown the Silk Road—which was officially open for trade with the West from 130 B.C.E. until the Ottoman Empire closed it in 1453 C.E.—back into the focus.

For Chinese publishers, this is the time to rediscover ancient trading routes and get to know the countries along the way. The Shaanxi province is a treasure trove of materials and resources on the subject. The Han dynasty started the trading route right at Xi’an (then known as Chang’an) and stretched it to the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, and Africa. Many of the ancient cities and kingdoms are being studied and researched, such as Jingjue, Kucha, Loulan, Samarkand, Xixia, and Yutian. Of course, Shaanxi is also the burial site of China’s first emperor and his terra-cotta warriors, which continues to inspire speculation and intensive study.

Aside from unearthing new cultural, historical, and archeological materials, publishers and research institutes are busy searching and translating titles that will help Chinese readers understand the ancient route from various perspectives. Zhejiang University Press’s translation of Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads is one recent example of such efforts.

Made in China 2025

Announced in 2015, this initiative, estimated to cost eight trillion CNY, is about improving domestic industry. Broken into three periods—2025, 2035, and up to 2049—the initiative is inspired by Germany’s Industry 4.0, and is focused on adopting the latest technologies and developing domestic innovation and RD capabilities. Labor challenges are said to be the motivator for this initiative, which pursues increased levels of automation, especially robotics.

To start with, Made in China 2025 will cover 10 priority sectors: new generation information technology; numerical control tools and robotics; aerospace equipment; maritime engineering equipment and high-tech vessel manufacturing; advanced rail equipment; energy-saving and new energy vehicles; electrical equipment; new materials; biomedicine and high-performance medical devices; and agricultural machinery and technology.

Robotics and artificial intelligence is one sector that has seen plenty of progress and investment in recent months, especially in consumer finance, e-commerce, manufacturing, and self-driving vehicle applications. The U.S., which remains the #1 AI research country in the world, has much to offer in terms of publications and relevant studies.

High-Speed Rail Technology

With 22,000 kilometers of high-speed rail already built—representing 60% of the planned total—China now has the largest rail network in the world. Spending has already exceeded 2.4 trillion CNY. Another 10,000 kilometers are planned by 2020.

The export of China’s high-speed rail technology has already started. Thailand, in fact, recently approved its $157 million train project with China. The Thai route will connect the Chinese city of Kunming (in Yunnan Province) with Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand—a key Belt and Road development for Southeast Asia.

Beijing Jiaotong University leads China’s high-speed rail technology program, and its research and publications (through its university press) have been translated and copublished by overseas publishers, including Springer Nature. But research needs remain—including in engineering science, problem detection and solving, project planning, and financial sustainability. And officials now urgently need to understand challenges ranging from the operational and technical issues of exporting China’s rail technology to the financial aspects, as well as the economic, cultural, and political situations in the countries that import it.

Solar and Low-Carbon Energy Technologies

China installed more than 42 GW of solar capacity in 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. This figure represents about half of the world’s total added capacity during that period. China also has the world’s largest solar farm (12 sq. mi.), as well as the largest floating solar farm (measuring almost half a square mile and built over a collapsed coal mine). However, solar energy accounts for only 1% of the country’s total electricity demand; 60% of China’s electricity still comes from coal. But the government wants the figures changed drastically by 2050 in order to address air pollution issues.

About two-thirds of the world’s solar panels, as well as nearly half of the wind turbines, are manufactured in China, which also leads the world in hydroelectric power. So, while the country is working on boosting its solar panel industry in terms of production, research, and development, it is also busy planning to export its solar technology and start clean-energy projects in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, major manufacturers such as Sungrow, JinkoSolar, and Trina Solar are already busy redesigning solar panels for hot and dry deserts as well as humid jungles.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dalian University of Technology, for instance, have been involved in RD on solar fuels and solar cells for a long time. The search is ongoing for better photovoltaic power generation, other renewable power technologies, and newer research results on solar power.

Science, Technology, and Medicine Research

According to Elsevier’s research intelligence report, over one-fifth of China’s scholarly output between 2011 and 2016 was related to engineering (973,097 publications), followed by medicine (440,948 publications) and materials science (424,882 publications). The report foresees an increase in the number of coauthored publications produced with institutions in countries that have signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative. According to the report, Singapore is currently China’s most prolific collaborator among its Belt and Road partners—specifically in engineering, medicine, material science, and computer science. However, when it comes to physics and astronomy, Russia relegates Singapore to second place.

Springer’s Nature Index 2017 reveals that the total number of articles from China included in the index has increased since 2012. The percentage of articles with international coauthors has also continued to rise year on year. By 2016, papers with international coauthors made up more than 50% of articles from China in the index.

Currently, nanotechnology is one key focus area for scientific programs in China. In 2012, a budget of one billion CNY was allocated to the program, in which the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University are major players. More than 140 projects on nanotechnology have been carried out, with extensive research on graphene technology, green printing, and lithium batteries. All things nano—nanomedicine, nanoenergy, nanomaterials, and nanocatalysis, as well as the technology’s commercialization potential and impacts on public health and the environment—are fueling further research and publications.