In September 2016, Professor Wei Shaojun received a notice to make a presentation at a collective study about five weeks later of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau on Oct 9. The topic was implementing the strategy of building an internet power.[Special coverage]
"Among collective studies of the Political Bureau since the 18th CPC National Congress, only a small part focused on natural sciences. And the study that I attended was the only one on information and internet technology. So the Central Committee paid a lot of attention to it," Wei, vice-president of Tsinghua University's School of Information Science and Technology, told China Daily before the start of the 19th CPC National Congress.
Though the theme was set, there were almost no limitations on the content. Wei said he was given only a few general requirements and the content should be correct and not mislead. The figures should be genuine and accurate.
"Based on the requirements, we could tell that the Political Bureau held quite high expectations for the study. They wanted to learn the facts."
Wei and a team of 12 people worked for five weeks to prepare. "As the content involved data and information from quite a wide range, we were short of hands. Aside from teachers from Tsinghua, we also utilized various resources including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the National Bureau of Statistics. It was an arduous process, and every word was measured."
They also prepared for questions that might be raised. The team prepared for over 30 possible questions.
On Oct 9, all Political Bureau members able to attend came. The presentations went smoothly. A colleague who recorded the time told Wei he talked for 57 minutes, while he had been allocated an hour. The fervor of the question and answer session went beyond his imagination. The Q&A, originally set for 15 minutes, took more than half an hour.
"Four Political Bureau members asked 11 questions. Not just the member in charge of related affairs. Some members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau also raised questions, which were of high quality. Frankly speaking, as a professional, I had to think a little bit before replying."
At the end, General Secretary Xi Jinping made a speech. He stressed that China should "strive for building an internet power".
"The leadership took the opportunity to deliver some important thoughts to the outside world and to scientific and technological circles," Wei said. He noticed that Xi mentioned "accelerating the plan of domestic, independent and controllable alternatives" and "building up a nationally integrated big data center", which responded to Wei's suggestions made in the presentations.
"It was the first time the leadership mentioned the two points. The message that we wanted to convey was accepted by the general secretary. The domestic substitution plan is ongoing, while the integrated big data center, which will take quite some time to build up, is being planned."
At the end of the session, some Political Bureau members told Wei that the presentations had gone well.
Wei said his presentations covered "all the latest developments in the field, both at home and abroad, in technology and trends. They kept up with all these things and uncovered problems. It was not easy because part of the content was very complex."
"I had the feeling that they possessed a vast store of knowledge, and followed the latest developments closely. For instance, one Political Bureau member asked my view on quantum communication and how long it would take to actually apply it. The question came with the background that last year we launched a quantum science experimental satellite. It was a topic at the frontiers of physics. People who do not do quantum research are not likely to know much about it.
"The 11 questions they raised had many facets. Some of the issues they raised were not only of concern to them, but also troubled us."
He said the session was a precious opportunity for the leadership to have an in-depth talk with frontline scientists.
"At times I have been able to meet the leaders on certain occasions, but there has been no time for such clear and detailed reports and discussion."