The United States has remained the undisputed leader in scientific research funding for years but its dominance is now being challenged by China. Each year between 2000 and 2017, U.S. R&D funding grew at an average of 4.3 percent per year while China's spending grew by more than 17 percent each year during the same period. That's according to the latest edition of the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) biennial Science and Engineering Indicators reportwhich states that total global R&D expenditure grew from $722 billion to $2.2 trillion between 2000 and 2017.
The U.S. was still the leader in funding in 2017 at $549 billion (PPP) while China is closing the gap, with its spending rising to $496 billion. Together, the U.S. and China now account for nearly half of all global R&D spending at 25 percent and 23 percent respectively. The speed of China's progress can be seen by looking at 2000 when its total R&D spending stood at just $33 billion compared to the U.S. total of $269 billion.
Even though the U.S. is the top country for expenditure, the NSF says that some smaller economies have a greater "R&D intensity", meaning they have a higher ratio of R&D expenditures to GDP. In 2017, South Korea had the highest ratio at 4.6 percent, followed by Japan's 2.3 percent and Germany's 3 percent. The U.S. ratio that year was 2.8 percent while China was 2.2 percent. The business sector was the leading U.S. source of R&D funding in 2017, accounting for 70 percent of total funding, followed by the federal government's 10 percent.