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[BEIJING] China intends to restructure its research institutions to realise its ambitious goal of becoming an innovative nation by 2020, according to a senior member of the Chinese cabinet.

Chen Zhili, the state councillor in charge of science and education, revealed the plan yesterday (6 June) in Beijing at the 13th General Assembly of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Her comments follow the release in February of the State Council's long-term science plan for 2006-2010.

Under the plan China vowed to boost annual spending on research to 900 billion yuan (US$112 billion) by 2020 — increasing the proportion of its gross domestic product spent on research from 1.3 per cent today to 2.5 per cent.

Chen said that would not be enough to achieve China's goal of becoming an innovative nation, and that the sum was small compared to investments made in the West.

She said China's research institutions are too numerous and too weak, adding that policies being drafted will encourage institutions to cooperate both in research and organisation. She did not indicate whether research centres, which are often affiliated to government departments, would be encouraged to merge.

Chen added that to promote independent innovation, the government would invest in imported foreign technologies, enabling key research programmes to develop more advanced technologies based on those imported.

Liu Gengling, a senior scientist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, says that the basic funding for regular research should be increased and the evaluation systems improved.

This would avoid top researchers having to waste time competing to win state research projects and funding.

The central government's science spending will increase by 19.25 per cent this year to US$8.9 billion, the biggest rise since China adopted economic reforms in the late 1970s.