China beats out US to become Australia’s top research partner for first time

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The University of Technology of Sydney is one of Australia's top collaborators with China's researchers.

By U2B Staff 

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For the first time ever, China will beat the United States to become Australia’s biggest research partner in 2019, opening up new opportunities but also raising questions about national security.

Researchers from the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology of Sydney (UTS) determined that Australia does not have the resources or the domestic market to achieve its desire to be a leader in international technology. In lieu of domestic resources, institutes have looked beyond their borders for research collaborations with international partners.

The study, released Friday, looked at the trends in Australia-China research collaboration, how it has developed, and what are the likely challenges for the future. The figures showed, based on current trends there would be more joint scientific projects between Australia and China than between Australia and any other country by the end of 2019.


Researchers compared the number of research papers written and compared this with research from the UK, US, and Germany – historically, Australia’s biggest collaborators.

They found the rise of China in the research field to be both “rapid and dramatic,” rising from almost zero in 1998 to make up 15 percent of all Australia’s scientific research today.

The higher prevalence paired with improved quality of research means China-Australian collaborations are receiving far more recognition these days, with 400 mentions in the top one percent of most-cited articles in 2017, compared to just four in 1998.

One of the reasons behind the growth of the relationship is simply that China is producing the best tech and the best research, according to lead on the study, UTS professor James Laurenceson.

Song Liuping (L), chief legal officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, and Vincent Pang (R), Head of Corporate Communications of Chinese tech giant Huawei, attend a press conference at the Huawei facilities in Shenzhen, Guangdong province on May 29, 2019. – Huawei’s connections with international universities has raised questions about national security. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

“The natural trend for Australian researchers is to work with the best. The reality is whether we like it or not more of the world’s best knowledge will come out of China,” he told the Australian Financial Review.

“I’m not saying we don’t need to be cautious. But we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot. In the future, the best research will be done out of China.”

Laurenceson echoes the concerns of Australia’s Defence Department who have expressed concerns about national security given China’s growing involvement in a sensitive area.

The report found that while the China-Australia relationship was robust for now, the future was uncertain given this external factor, along with struggling research funding in Australia and tightening restrictions on academic inquiry in China.


Despite these concerns, the government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed to strengthen links with China, announcing AU$4.7 million worth of research grants for five joint university research centres.

The administration sees an opportunity for Australia to not only expand its scientific expertise but increase its opportunity to commericalise its valuable research,” UTS Deputy vice-chancellor for research Kate McGrath told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Australia makes up less than 2 percent of the world’s research community, so we need excellent government programs like this one to connect our best minds with those of the 98 percent and bring technology, insights and benefit to the Australian people.”