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[BEIJING] China is to invest 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) in basic scientific research over the next three to five years, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) announced this week.

The investment, which fulfils promises made earlier this year by China's minister of science and technology Xu Guanhua (see China plans $600 million boost for high-tech projects), will be used to fund research in 12 key areas.

Projects include the development of integrated circuits and computer software, electric vehicles, food security, new drugs, irrigation and the modernisation of traditional medicine. It is estimated that Chinese institutes and researchers will obtain more than 2,000 patents as a result of the initiative.

In addition to funding research, the money will also be used to industrialise projects, according to Shi Dinghuai, secretary general of the MST. The aim is to boost China's competitiveness in international markets, improve standards of living, especially with regard to food security, and break foreign monopolies over certain technologies, he says.

For example, Shi predicts that China will overcome the control foreign computer companies have on integrated circuits, such as computer chips. And in areas such as telecommunications — where China is not lagging far behind Western countries — massive investment and government support could help the country vie for a share of the world market, he says.

More than US$750 million of the funding will come directly from the Ministry of Finance, with the remaining US$1.8 billion from related ministries, local governments and businesses.

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