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[BEIJING] China has appointed a new science minister in a recent cabinet re-shuffle — the first non-communist party member to become a minister in 35 years.

The move could encourage more scientists to get involved in the science policymaking process in China, say policy researchers.

Wan Gang, president of Shanghai-based Tongji University, was last week (27 April) appointed by the standing committee of the National People's Congress — China's legislature — to head the ministry of science and technology.

Wan is a member of the Zhigong Party, one of the eight 'democratic' parties in the country that follow the direction of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Their membership mainly consists of intellectuals in education, culture and science.

"Among scientists, there are many democratic party members," Song Fufan, a professor at China's Central Party School which trains senior CCP officials, told the Beijing Times.

Jiang Guohua, a science policy researcher at the Beijing-based Central Institute of Education, says expanding science and technology leadership to a non-CCP member will get more people involved in the science policymaking process.

"This is progress in the Chinese style of democracy," Jiang told SciDev.Net.

The ministry of science and technology is responsible for science policy and controls large amounts of science funding. Wan replaces the outgoing science minister, Xu Guanhua, who is retiring.

Wan spent 15 years in Germany, where he finished his PhD degree in mechanics and worked for car manufacturer Audi as a senior research and development engineer for ten years.

He became the chief expert for China's new electric car programme in 2000, and has played a consultative role in Chinese politics since 2005.

On the science ministry's website, Wan says he is grateful for the CCP's trust, and will work hard to invigorate China's scientific and technological progress.

Wan was one of four new ministers appointed last week, along with appointments in the positioning foreign affairs ministry, land and resources ministry and the water resources ministry.

This week (29 April), Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper Zaobao reported that Chen Zhu, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and also a non-party member, is likely to become the next health minister in 2008, when the current minister retires.

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