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[BEIJING] Six per cent of China's counties spent nothing on science and technology in 2003, according to a report released Tuesday (26 October) by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The report shows a significant regional imbalance in how much Chinese county governments are spending on science.

In total, the 2,861 county governments spent 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) on science and technology in 2003, accounting for 1.1 per cent of their cumulative budgets. 

But 170 counties, mostly in western provinces, made no science and technology expenditure in 2003, says the report.

In contrast, more than 70 per cent of the 10 billion yuan was spent in China's richer eastern provinces. Half of it was spent by just 100 of the 2,861 counties.

Based on a three-year study, the report says the gap in science and technology spending between Chinese regions is likely to widen in coming years.

The authors report that richer counties in the east are eager to increase their science and technology investment. Meanwhile, in poorer western counties, science bureau staff members sometimes have trouble obtaining their salaries from three months back.

Su Jun, a science policy researcher at Beijing-based Tsinghua University, told SciDev.Net the vast Chinese hinterland receives a very small portion of the increasing national science spending.

He believes this indicates that little money is spent on efforts to popularise science among the vast rural populations and to promote the applications of science and technologies in agricultural production.

In 2003, China's entire science and technology investment from both public and private sectors was estimated at 151.7 billion yuan (US$18.2 billion), accounting for 1.3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

By comparison, European nations spend about two per cent of their GDP on research and development, and have set themselves a three per cent goal for 2010.

Although comparatively low in total and as a percentage of GDP, China's science and technology investment has seen a two-digit growth rate for the past six years.

However, most of this money is spent in central and provincial science institutes as well as research-based companies in large cities or eastern counties.

Su says he would like to see central and local governments to increase science and technology spending in poor regions. He says this is the only way to close China's huge regional gap and to improve public understanding of science.

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