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The National Natural Science Foundation of China will provide 3.4 billion yuan (US$425 million) in funding for basic science, it announced last week (25 May).

"The boost has shown the government's determination for China to become an innovative country by 2020," said the foundation's vice-president Zhu Zuoyan. He added that the foundation's research funding is set to grow by about 20 per cent a year for the next five years.

"By 2010, our current level of support from the government will have doubled."

Zhu said the funds would be used in a wide range of disciplines, including physics, mathematics, chemistry, life sciences, earth science, information science, and material and engineering sciences.

China's total investment in research and development has grown rapidly in recent years. But the proportion of funding allocated to basic research fell from around 7.5 per cent in the 1990s to five per cent in 2003.

In 2005 and 2004, the foundation received US$337 million and US$300 million, respectively, from the government. The sums accounted for nearly a fifth of the government's total investment in basic research.

"China has entered a stage in its history where it must increase its reliance on scientific advances and technological innovation to drive social and economic development," said Zhu.

According to government plans, China's total investment in science and technology should reach 2.5 per cent of its gross domestic product by 2020 — a share similar to that spent by industrialised nations.

By that time, China aims to be spending about US$112 billion annually on research and development (see China announces 58-point plan to boost science).