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[BEIJING] China intends to more than double the proportion of its science budget spent funding basic research to 20 per cent in the next 10 to 15 years, according to Cheng Jinpei, vice-minister of science.

The move is part of China's plans to become a world leader in innovation, said Cheng, speaking on 23 December 2004 at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the creation of China's key national laboratories.

Although private funding of research in China is significant — about 35 per cent of all research and development (R&D) investment — nearly all basic research in China is funded by the government and its affiliated departments.

However, despite greatly increasing public funding of R&D since the 1980s, China spends most of this money on applied research in the industrial sector, which is profitable in the short term.

According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, in 2003, the country spent 8.77 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion) on basic research. This was only about nine per cent of its total expenditure on R&D.

Chen Jia'er, former president of Peking University, called for more basic research in a seminar held in Beijing last November. He said that those who believe that China's main scientific advantage as a developing country lay in duplicating advanced technologies with lower production costs were misguided.

Although the Chinese economy has grown rapidly, said Chen, the nation lacks its own intellectual property and key technologies, ranging from electronic home appliance manufacturing to biotechnologies.

"Increasing basic research can help China master a group of key technologies and develop teams of high-quality scientists," he said.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China — the country's major sponsor of basic research — has also declared that this year, its total funding would increase by 20 per cent. The agency's total funding in 2003 was 13.2 billion yuan (US$1.59 billion); the figure for 2004 is unavailable.

Duan Yibing, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Policy and Management, told SciDev.Net that any increase in funding for basic research must be accompanied by better distribution of science budgets among regions and sectors.

According to a report released early in 2004 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) China's R&D spending increased by 16.2 per cent each year between 1991 and 2002 — the fastest increase of the 37 major countries the OECD report covered.