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[BEIJING] China plans to boost research in fields previously considered 'lesser areas', by creating extra funds and tax breaks.

The decision, which will affect scientists in the fields of agriculture, health, hygiene and environmental protection, was made at China's national science and technology congress, which ended on 11 January.

Yesterday (12 January), science minister Xu Guanhua told a meeting of senior officials that the four areas will get a significant increase in funds over the next 15 years, but gave no specific figures.

Funding will also increase for the basic sciences, including genomics, and for developing technologies that meet societal needs, such as sewage disposal and software for disabled people.

Xu added that China plans to build several "advanced national-level laboratories" to specialise in interdisciplinary and cutting-edge sciences.

The new measures signal a substantial adjustment to China's scientific and technological strategy. They resulted from three days of closed-door meetings between officials and research experts charged with redesigning China's blueprint for science and technology development for the next 15 years.

Altogether, 16 sectors have been identified as the country's research priorities. Although no information is yet available about these, president Hu Jintao did indicate in his opening speech to the congress that energy, water resources and environmental protection would become priority areas.

Calling for China to become an innovative nation, Hu said that businesses should lead the way, and would be encouraged to do so by new policies of tax reduction, and government funding. Again, details of these policies remain elusive.

Speaking to SciDev.Net on condition of anonymity, a source privy to the discussions said the draft plan includes big tax breaks for high-tech companies.

Yesterday, China upgraded the status of 118 local business's technological centres, entitling them to more state funding.