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Recent Developments in China–U.S. Cooperation in Science


China’s remarkable gains in science over the past 25 years have been well documented but it is less well known that China and the United States have become each other’s top collaborating country. Science and technology has been a primary vehicle for growing the bilateral relationship between China and the United States since the opening of relations between the two countries in the late 1970s. During the early 2000s, the scientific relationship between China and the United States—as measured in coauthored papers—showed significant growth (Jin et al. in Journal of Shanxi University 30(2):295–302, 2007). Chinese scientists claim first authorship much more frequently than U.S. counterparts by the end of the decade. The sustained rate of increase of collaboration with one other country is unprecedented on the U.S. side. Even growth in relations with eastern European nations does not match the growth in the relationship between China and the United States. Both countries can benefit from the relationship, but for the U.S., greater benefit would come from a more targeted strategy.

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  1. A U.S. Department of State report, “U.S.–China S&T Cooperation,” issued in July 2012, reports by agency on cooperative activities with China.

  2. The U.S. Department of State report notes that NSF awarded more than $34.6 million to U.S. researchers engaged in collaboration with China; these funds were competitively awarded, not set aside to fund research with China.

  3. The United States government tracks indicators of international activities in science and engineering, and publishes these data in a biennial report issued by the National Science Board through the auspices of the National Science Foundation. The Science & Engineering Indicators report uses a subset of the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index (Web of Science) data, thus, their results are not directly consonant with the results herein, which draw from a broader dataset. The Science & Engineering Indicators 2014 report indicated that the United States share of Chinese international articles was close to 48% in 2012. China’s share of U.S. international articles is reported to be 16.2% in 2012, where the calculation made by the authors using WoS data showed a lower percentage share. See NSB 2014, Table 5–23. The choice of database from which the data are drawn influences the results in that the Web of Science lists fewer journals overall than Scopus, for example. The reports noted by Archambault (2010) and the Royal Society (2011) used Scopus data. INSPEC is another database that reports on engineering and physical sciences; this database was used by Kostoff (2008).

  4. A preliminary query using Scopus online revealed similar outcomes of the bilateral relationships of China and the United States during the years 2010–2013.

  5. Since 2009, version 5 of WoS allows to identify the correspondence of the order of the authors and institutional affiliations. Before that date, however, the relation between the first authors and first institutional addresses—insofar as provided—was already unambiguous (Costas & Iribarren-Maestro 2007).

  6. Russia’s ranking in the SCImago Journal and Country Rank also dropped through the decade from 9th in the world in 2000 to 16th in the world in 2012.

  7. GERD is gross expenditure on research and development.


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Correspondence to Caroline S. Wagner.

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Wagner, C.S., Bornmann, L. & Leydesdorff, L. Recent Developments in China–U.S. Cooperation in Science. Minerva 53, 199–214 (2015).

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  • China
  • United States
  • Research and development
  • Science
  • Science policy
  • Global relations
  • Russia