LONDON, April 13 (Xinhua) -- The level of collaboration between Chinese researchers and their international peers is "improving," while the quality of China's research in some areas is "absolutely front rank," Professor Dale Sanders, director of UK's John Innes Centre, said in an interview with Xinhua.
Sanders is a frequent visitor to China as John Innes Centre has launched multiple joint research projects with institutes in Beijing and Shanghai.
"When I was doing my PhD many years ago in the 1970s, I wouldn't even dream of reading a Chinese research paper, especially in English," Sanders told Xinhua. "Now the pace of which has moved is absolutely astonishing, and the quality is astonishing as well."
"The quality of the research in my area is on a par with what goes on in Britain and the United States," he said, adding his research explores the transport of ions across plant cell membranes and the roles of ions in signaling and nutrient status.
Until 2014, less than a fifth of China's papers in the web of science were co-authored with an international peer. While China still lags behind Germany, the United States and Britain in that measure, its percentage of international papers increased to 24 percent in 2016, according to an article published in the Nature Index, a supplement of the renowned academic journal Nature.
As an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science, genetics and microbiology, the John Innes Centre was an early Western partner for Chinese scientists, providing a base for the studies of some influential figures in the current Chinese science system.
The Centre now has more than 80 Chinese scientists working or studying in its laboratories in Norwich and it maintains contact with over 80 alumni in China.
On Feb. 1, British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing, following the launch of a joint science and innovation strategy between Britain and China in December.
The John Innes Centre has strong historical links with CAAS and maintains contact with many alumni in CAAS institutes. Since 2015, John Innes Centre has had a strategic alliance with CAAS which includes joint research programs in four key areas of mutual interest.
With more and more exchange through joint projects, Sanders spends a lot of his time flying between China and Britain.
"I already do about four trips a year (to China). I am on a board of a Chinese journal, which is becoming one of the top journals in the field just within ten years of starting. So it's really impressive," he said.
The Chinese government recently issued a high-level foreign talents visa (R-visa) to Sanders. So experts like him can travel to and work in China more conveniently.
Sanders expressed his hope that this kind of collaboration can continue its pace into the future. "It would be a shame not to see it expand and it's very much in our interest to collaborate with the Chinese," he said.
"It's just that we have not only a great professional relationships, but also personal relationships with Chinese researchers," said Sanders.