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[BEIJING] The Chinese government is to significantly increase spending on the public understanding of science, and will give tax breaks to organisations and companies that promote science communication.

The measures are part of a new package of policies to support science communication — including plans to increase annual investment in the area by 10 per cent — announced by science and technology minister Xu Guanhua yesterday (18 December).

Speaking at the third National Conference on the Popularisation of Science in Beijing, Xu said that "the popularisation of science and science innovation are two legs of one person, and neither can be lacking if a country wants to achieve progress in its science and technology.''

The proposed tax breaks would benefit science and natural history museums, planetariums and public observatories, he said. State or college laboratories that regularly organise public visits, and publishers of science books and videos would also receive favourable tax rates.

In addition, the government plans to allocate a portion of the State science fund to support the popularisation of science, and proposes that State investment in key science research projects should include a line of funding for communicating research to the public.

The new proposals are part of an extended campaign by the Chinese government to improve the public understanding of science. A science popularisation initiative, which was launched by the science and technology ministry in the early 1990s, stipulated that government should invest 0.5 yuan (US$0.06) per capita per year — or 650 million yuan (US$78.5 million) — in promoting science communication by the year 2000.

But figures revealed at the conference show that, despite China’s rapid economic growth, only a handful of wealthy Chinese regions such as Beijing and Shanghai have achieved this level of spending.

A shortage of skilled personnel has also hindered the development of the popularisation of science in China, the conference was told. In response to this, Xu said that the government will set up training centres in science communication and will sponsor research in the area.

The new package will be released soon after it is ratified by the State Council, China’s cabinet, Xu said. This could come as early as March 2003.