Who are the international research collaboration partners for China? A novel data perspective based on NSFC grants
International research collaboration is vital to the success of scientific development of China, and the identification of collaboration partners is the basic unit of collaboration. While many researchers have investigated international research collaboration using publication data, grant data have rarely been used. This paper explores the international research collaboration partners of China from a new data perspective, based on grant data. Using data from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) joint grants between China and 75 countries from 2006 to 2016, this study examines the collaboration partners in three aspects: overall collaboration activity, relative research effort, and collaboration groups of countries. Some interesting results are obtained as follows. Among 75 partners, the top 15 account for 95.42% of the total grants, but they are quite uneven in collaborating grant numbers and shares. The USA ranks far ahead of the others with a share of 53.27%, but China maintained a steady, approximately average collaborative effort with it from 2006 to 2016. China shows a growing preference for collaborating with Australia, the Netherlands, and Spain, while the preferences for Japan, Germany, and Sweden are the opposite. The collaborative number of grants among five collaboration groups varies greatly because of different features of constituents’ countries. The G7 and Asia–Pacific both own more than 75% of all the grants, while the BRICS and “The Belt and Road” are relatively weak in research collaboration, but China has maintained a rising trend of collaboration with them over the past 11 years.