To maintain sustainable economic growth, China has created a national innovation system (NIS) and strengthened the central status of firms. Our data show that the effect of turnover growth in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on China’s aggregate Gross Domestic Product (GDP)growth is significant, but the status of SMEs in the NIS and related policies is not significant. To determine whether there is a correspondence between the sustainability of innovation in SMEs and the support of China’s NIS, we developed a framework for China’s innovation policy under the NIS framework, taking into account its transition characteristics, to examine the texts of SME innovation policies and reveal the sustainability of SMEs’ innovation. The relevant national government policy texts were collected from the yearbooks of Chinese SMEs between 1999 and 2017 and government notices between 1994 and 2017. On this basis, we also compared with some other countries’ innovation systems. The findings indicate that China’s NIS pays little attention to the sustainability of SMEs’ innovation activities for two reasons. First, the scope of the NIS is very narrowly defined. Second, the top-down, government-oriented Research and Development (R&D) system that focuses on large state-owned firms leaves little room for innovation policies in SMEs.
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