As the Chinese economy enters the new normal with its growth rate slowing, innovation has been placed at a core position in China's overall development. China Daily recently interviewed people involved with a leading State-level innovation pilot zone, Optics Valley of China in Wuhan. This series of reports will use the valley's case as an example of what China has done to boost innovation and the difficulties and challenges ahead.
Wuhan Optics Valley, the high-tech zone in the capital city of Hubei province, is building its reputation through innovation.
Thirty years ago, the area that would become the innovation zone was merely an empty street with nothing but howling wind.
However, after favorable policies were applied, the Wuhan government's bold experiment turned the area into a high-tech innovation zone. It has been successfully revitalized and become an important driver behind Wuhan's economic growth.
A worker showcases a laser cutting machine at the 13th Optics Valley of China International Optoelectronic Exposition and Forum in Wuhan, Hubei province, in November. Xiong Qi / Xinhua
The area started focusing on the optics industry and so got its name while China's traditional industry faced its first slowdown. It was later developed into a State-level innovation zone in 2001 and attracted a wider variety of industries.
The zone received further attention from both enterprises and governments during the 2008 global financial crisis, when the demand for primary and secondary industry products dropped dramatically and the need for the third industry services to kick the economy back into action rose.
Dan Changchun, deputy director of Wuhan East Lake High-tech Development Zone, said the valley began with optics but would not stop there.
"What is more important is to emphasize the idea of an innovation high-tech cluster. We spent about 30 years finding our direction and the positioning of the zone and the Optics Valley," said Dan.
"We focus on optics, but more importantly, we enhance the concept of a 'valley'.
"More effort will be devoted to renovating the system and creating an effect that is favorable for innovation and business startups," Dan said.
Benefiting from the world's largest number of undergraduates in a single city, 1.18 million, and more than 80 higher education institutions, Wuhan provides Optics Valley the edge to host over 30,000 companies, with about 100 Fortune 500 companies. It is also ambitiously expanding its talent bank by introducing high-tech offshore trial programs, in which Chinese experts and researchers living abroad can contribute to the Optics Valley without necessarily moving to Wuhan.
Li Yanyang, general manager of Global Talents Entrepreneurship Center, said the main aim is to transform the scientific and technological achievements in Wuhan and help small and medium-sized enterprises in medicine, information technology and intellectual manufacturing to start off with strong technical support.
In 2015, corporate revenue in the Optics Valley reached 1 trillion yuan ($144.5 billion), an increase of 18 percent from 2014. Some 16,000 patents were filed in 2015, triple the number in 2010. The valley hopes to build itself into a first-class high-tech zone, create a center for innovation and startups of global influence and reach the goal of "becoming the Silicon Valley of China".