UK-China R&D Collaboration


A relationship to benefit both parties

Yang Xiaoguang

Yang Xiaoguang is Minister and First Staff Member at the Embassy of China in the UK, a position he has held since 2021. Minister Yang has had a distinguished career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, most recently serving as counsellor and Deputy Director General in the Department of European Affairs. Before that, he was Counsellor and Minister Counsellor in the Chinese Mission to the European Union.


  • In 1978, the UK became one of the first major Western countries to sign a science and technology agreement with China
  • Bilateral trade has increased from US$300 million to $116.2 billion
  • China-UK cooperation on science and technology has benefited both countries
  • In an age of globalisation, China-UK cooperation on research is a must for both sides
  • Research cooperation between the two countries will unlock a brighter future.

China and the UK are both permanent members of the UN Security Council. We are respectively the second and fifth largest economies in the world. Our ability to maintain the China-UK relationship well bears on not only the interests of our two peoples but also world peace, stability and prosperity.

Achieving a sound relationship is not complicated: the key is abiding by the principle of mutual respect. As President Xi Jinping emphasised in his telephone conversation with the then Prime Minister in October 2021, for China-UK relations to develop, mutual trust is the foundation, mutual understanding is the precondition and proper management of differences is the key. As long as our two countries follow the principle of mutual respect and develop partnerships on an equal footing, our bilateral relations will enjoy a bright future.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of ambassadorial diplomatic relations between China and the UK. Over the past half century, despite ups and downs, the overall relationship has kept moving forward. Bilateral trade has increased from US$300 million to $116.2 billion; two-way investment stock, which was almost zero 50 years ago, has surged to around $50 billion.

Last year, China-UK trade set a new record, and Chinese investment in the UK more than doubled. London has become the world’s biggest offshore RMB trading centre. Our two countries have also coordinated well on issues such as global development and climate change, making a real contribution to tackling common challenges facing humanity.

Cooperation on science and technology is an important part of the overall China-UK relationship. With an early start, a solid basis and enormous potential, such cooperation is gaining momentum.

In 1978, China and the UK signed the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, making the UK one of the first major Western countries to sign such an agreement with China. In 2017, the two sides formulated the Joint Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation, the first between China and a Western country. Now after more than 40 years of development, China-UK cooperation on science and technology has achieved remarkable results in modern agriculture, air pollution response, antibiotic resistance studies and biodiversity preservation. This has benefited the peoples of both countries and beyond.

China-UK cooperation on science and technology has never been one way. It has benefited both sides. The UK is a world leader in science and technology. It has built a solid foundation for science and is strong in original research. In China, thanks to greater input in recent years, innovation capabilities have seen notable improvement. Technologies from the UK have made an important contribution to China’s development and progress, and cooperation with China has also contributed to the UK’s efforts to keep and improve its research capabilities.

A recent report by King’s College London shows that in British universities, more than a fifth of research on many high-impact subjects involves collaboration with China. In 2019, China and the UK collaborated on over 16,000 research papers – up from 750 in 2000.

Boosting development

China is a founding member of the Manchester-headquartered SKA Observatory and has taken an active part in promoting and supporting its development. In biomedicine and new energy, Chinese investment has boosted development in the UK. In 2021, Chinese investment added £63 billion to revenue in the UK’s economy.

In an age of globalisation, China-UK cooperation on research is not optional, it is a must for both sides. No country can perform well all on its own in science and technology development. International large-scale installations, such as SKA, ITER and CERN, need the concerted efforts of many countries. In an age of big data, projects such as the Human Genome transcend national boundaries. Moreover, challenges such as Covid-19, the energy crisis, the food crisis, climate change and biodiversity loss do not respect borders. They are common problems and can only be addressed through the coordinated response of all countries, including China and the UK.

Through years of effort, China has become an important driver for the advance of science and technology in the world. A recent Harvard University report pointed out that China has made great progress in many cutting-edge fields and is now a global leader in many areas of innovation.

Thanks to China’s strategy of innovation-driven development, Chinese tech companies, both well-established and start-ups, have achieved continuous progress in a sound business environment and grown into multinational corporations with a global vision. They are globally competitive.

China is one of the first countries to realise the commercial use of 5G technology. It has been a global leader in the building and planning of 5G networks. As of today, there are 1.56 million 5G

base stations in China, accounting for over 70% of the world’s total. China has 40.3% of the world’s 6G patent applications, the highest share of all countries.

China also leads the world on green energy technologies. It produces 70% of solar panels and 40% of wind turbines in the global market. Another field where China leads is nuclear power technology. Hualong One technology has been widely recognised, and China’s ‘artificial sun’ holds the world record in terms of peak temperature.

In the meantime, China attaches great importance to the protection of Intellectual Property Rights, providing strong support for innovation. In just a few decades, China has established a highly efficient modern IP system. In recent years, it has topped the world in applications for both invention and patents. China ranked 12th in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index 2021 and was the only middle-income economy that made the top 30.

Surveys show that 69% of US businesses in China think that IPR protection in the country has improved, and 67% of EU businesses in China think that the effectiveness of China’s IPR protection laws and regulations is ‘excellent’ or ‘adequate’.

History tells us that openness leads to progress and exclusion results in backwardness. No matter how the world might change, China remains unwavering in its confidence and resolve in reform and opening-up. China will open wider at a higher level and enhance cooperation with all countries in a joint effort to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

Against this background, we are fully confident in the future of the China-UK relationship and believe that research cooperation between the two countries will unlock a brighter future.