According to a new article published by the Association for Asian Research, the Chinese government is supporting ambitious plans to develop nanotechnology at a pace second to none. They have embarked upon at least a three stage program aimed at becoming world leaders in the field. All of this has taken place only with the last few years.
Prior to 2000, the Chinese media made practically no mention of the concept of "nanotechnology" (nami jishu) or its potential for revolutionizing China's high tech industry. Today, however, dozens of major Chinese research centers and hundreds of enterprises engage in the production of nanotechnologies, which has quickly become a multibillion-Yuan industry...
The rapid development of China's nanotech industry is due in large part to the intervention of the central government. Apparently added to a list of priority technologies at the end of the 1990s, nanotech has enjoyed state funding since then through National 863 Hi-Tech R&D Plan. The plan provided huge investments for nanotech projects from both the central and local governments.
CRN has written before about the significance of nanotech as a dual-use technology, meaning it has both commercial and military uses. Apparently in China the emphasis is strongly -- though not exclusively -- on military applications.
Remarkably, developments within the industry have been both civilian and military in purpose, though the latter has, of course, enjoyed a higher degree of priority. Strategists within China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) understand perfectly well the significance of nanotechnologies in military reforms within the United States over the last twelve years. With this in mind, China has actively cooperated with leading nanotech companies in the United States and Europe. It seems reasonable to assume, also, that such cooperation is well underway with the Russian Federation.
China's economic reforms over the last two decades have opened up the country to investment and partnering opportunities with the West. This has accelerated the growth of the world's largest economy, an effect sure to increase if their ambitious aims in nanotechnology are achieved.
In November 2002, CAS launched a joint project with the U.S. company, Veeco Instruments Inc. The CAS Institute of Chemistry and Veeco agreed to cooperate in the running of a nanometer technology center aimed at providing access to Veeco-made nanotech instruments to Chinese researchers, including atomic force and scanning-tunneling microscopes...
The partnership between CAS and Veeco came amidst great optimism regarding China's nanotech potential. "China will gain the leadership position in nanotech," remarked Veeco President Don Kania at the opening ceremony...
At the present time, some thirty institutions are engaged in basic nanotech research. These include CAS Physical Institute, CAS Chemical Institute, CAS Solid Physics Institute (Hefei), Tsinghua University (Beijing), Beijing University, Hangzhou University, Nanjing University, and several universities in Shanghai. In addition, Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen have each created their own Nanotech Centers, uniting local R&D structures. In terms of basic nanotech R&D, China has reached the most advanced levels in the world, rivaling even the capacities of the United States.
We also have an indication that China may be working not just on basic nanoscale technologies, but also on molecular nanotechnology, presumably aimed at a third-stage accomplishment of molecular manufacturing.
The Center for Nanotechnologies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing opened in 2000. Uniting over a dozen CAS institutes and several university laboratories, the aim of the center was to upgrade scientific cooperation while accelerating nanotech industrial development in Beijing...
The center would also provide the Institute of Chemistry's molecular nanotech R&D division with "super-advanced" measuring and controlling devices. The Institute's chief researcher, Chen Wang, has worked closely with CAS vice president Bai Chunli to ensure support for his work on molecular nanotechnologies.
What does all this mean for the United States, Europe, Brazil, and other leading Western nations? Are they prepared to accept a new balance of power, a world in which a non-democratic government has achieved unprecedented strength through nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing? Will existing tensions in Asia reach a breaking point if China keeps advancing?
It is questions such as these that must be asked in studies of the long-term societal impacts of nanotechnology. Instead of focusing on safer risks like nanoparticles, the Royal Society, the National Science Foundation, and others must address the real issues that challenge our survival and our future as a species.