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[BEIJING] The Chinese government is to increase its investment in basic research through its National Natural Science Foundation (NNSF) this year by US$12 million, or almost 5 per cent.

Making the announcement, Chen Yiyu, the newly appointed president of the NNSF, said that the money would bring the Foundation's total investment in basic research to 2.2 billion yuan (US$265 million) for 2004.

The new funds will be used to support basic research in a wide range of disciplines, including life sciences; earth, material and engineering sciences; mathematics; chemistry; and physics.

But Chen says that the new money is not enough to meet the country's needs. "In the long run, that [level of] investment is not compatible with China's fast economic growth," he says.

China's total investment in research and development has been growing rapidly in recent years. But the proportion of these funds allocated to basic research has fallen from around 7.5 per cent in the 1990s to 5 per cent in 2003.

Chen, who was appointed by the State Council two months ago, said his organisation has prepared a strategic report for China's basic research projects during the next 15 years.

"The report will be an essential part of strategic research of China's middle- and long-term science and technology development plan," he says.

Several foreign science and technology organizations, including the US National Science Foundation (NSF), will act as consultants in developing the strategy.

Speaking in Beijing at a Sino-US forum on basic science last month, deputy director of NSF Joseph Bordogna, said that "in an era of high technology, fast economic growth cannot be sustained without technological breakthroughs". These in turn depended on an adequate investment in research.

He called for China to develop a more up-to-date national strategy that looks further into the future, and fund its basic research programmes accordingly, saying that this would be greatly important to the competitiveness of China and the United States in coming decades.

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