China is Norway’s biggest tech research partner – Report

Since 2019, China has been Norway’s biggest partner in technological research, outpacing both the United States and the United Kingdom, according to a recently published analysis which maps Norway’s relationship with China and South Korea within the context of global scientific collaboration.

The report, published by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education and based on scientific articles in the Web of Science, notes that after a “temporary closing down of Sino-Norwegian relations”, the importance of Norwegian research collaboration to China has risen since 2017 and, although Denmark is now a “preferred partner relative to its size, the report says “all four Nordic countries” (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway) are rising in China’s “collaboration profile”.

It notes that “China recently, in 2019, became our largest collaboration partner in technological research. The relative intensity is even higher now than in relation to the UK and the USA. The USA and the Nordic countries taken together were more important for Norway until 10 years ago. At that time, Norway was on its way to become China’s preferred Nordic partner in technological research.”

A key conclusion of the report is that China has taken over from the United States as the world’s largest research nation measured in terms of the number of articles in scientific journals. In technological research China dominates, claiming almost half of all articles published.

Nine areas of research

The study covers collaboration activity as it has developed in the period 2001 to 2022, and mainly focuses on the past 10 years. Collaboration is analysed in nine major areas of research: biology, biomedicine, chemistry, computer science, environmental sciences, health sciences, physics, social sciences and humanities (SSH), and technology.

The data source allows for a study of collaboration between the three countries within a global network representing 40 countries and 96% of the world’s scientific output. It also allows for the identification of the active institutions on both sides in bilateral relations between countries.

While Norway’s collaboration profile is dominated by the other Nordic and European countries and, in general, the engagement with Asian countries is relatively low for Norway, the role of China in Norway’s international collaboration is increasing and now represents 17% of all articles with international collaboration.

The report notes that while collaboration with China is based to a greater extent on bilateral collaboration, collaboration with South Korea is based to a high degree on multilateral collaboration involving other countries as well. “China also differs from South Korea by having a decreasing intensity of collaboration with the USA in recent years,” the report notes.

Environmental sciences

The top three areas of China-Norway research include environmental sciences, technology and computer science.

Among the environmental sciences, the following areas stand out: environmental sciences based on geophysical research, particularly in climate research; marine science and engineering; and hydrological engineering.

While technology and computer science “reflect the priorities and strengths in the research profile of China as compared to the rest of the world”, the report notes that there is little collaboration between China and Norway in the social sciences and humanities.

Norway’s collaboration with South Korea is also increasing and now represents 2.5% of all articles involving international collaboration. A total of 2,842 scientific articles were published and indexed in Web of Science in 2001-2022 with authors’ addresses in both countries.

Half of the articles were published during the last five years, 2018-2022. The collaboration is mostly multilateral and countries other than South Korea and Norway are involved in almost 90% of the articles.

While cooperation in technological research with China has become more sensitive in terms of export control and possible military applications, in Norway, and there has been a clear decline in cooperation between the US and China, the same does not currently apply to other NATO countries.

However, in August, the Norwegian Ministry of Education launched new guidelines for responsible international knowledge collaboration, as reported by University World News.

Cooling trends

Referring to the trend among Western countries towards cutting research and higher education relations with China, higher education specialist Professor Mats Benner said: “It is clear from this excellent study, and other reports, that the global scientific landscape is indeed transforming.

“The traditional Anglo-Saxon networks of small European countries like Norway and Sweden are being complemented by dense interaction with Asian countries,” said Benner who is based at Lund University and is author of Asia’s Research Dominance (2022).

“Despite geopolitical turbulence and security issues, this trend will most likely continue. China and South Korea are scientific powers to be reckoned with. In many critical areas, their investments and impact surpass those of Western countries, and collaboration with them seems inevitable.”

However, Benner said collaborations had to “consider wider interests, such as equity and openness. Striking this balance will shape research policies in the years to come.”