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[BEIJING] China has announced plans to decentralise its scientific powerhouse — the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) — in a bid to boost regional economies.

The academy announced on Sunday (17 September) that it will create five new research institutes in collaboration with the governments of five coastal cities.

So far most of CAS's 91 institutes are located in the capital Beijing or in Shanghai, China's largest city.

"Increasing cooperation between CAS and prosperous coastal cities can harmonise economic development and scientific capacity building, so as to benefit the nationwide innovative system," said CAS president Lu Yongxiang.

The five institutes will cost 1.5 billion yuan (US$189 million), with more than two thirds of the money coming from the cities' governments.

Lu made his comments at a ceremony to sign an agreement for one of the new institutes: the Suzhou Institute of Nanotechnology and Nanobionics in Suzhou in eastern China's Jiangsu province.

The other four institutes will focus their research on issues including biofuels, sustainable coastal development and the urban environment.

They will be set up in Yantai and Qingdao in Shandong province, Xiamen in Fujian province — all in eastern China — and Shenzhen in Guangdong province in the south of the country.

While the plans will increase China's research capacity outside of Beijing and Shanghai, there are concerns that the strategy will increase the disparity in science resources between eastern China and the poorer western region.

"As CAS expands, the central authorities should consider distributing science resources among Chinese regions more evenly," says Ji Fusheng, an independent policy analyst and former director of high technology at the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Ji told SciDev.Net that CAS should also ensure that the move to boost applied research in the regions does not divert resources from key studies in the basic sciences.