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[BEIJING] China and Australia this week agreed to create a joint centre for water research, a fund for scientific cooperation and an exchange programme for young scientists.

The plans were announced on Monday (20 February) during a visit by China's science minister Xu Guanhua to Australia.

The centre for research on water resources will have branches at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

It will focus on issues such as groundwater management and improving irrigation techniques.

"Australia has more experience in developing agriculture in arid areas, which we hope China can learn from," says Wang Qiang, a senior official at China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Australia will provide US$266,000 over three years to employ a senior research fellow who will help develop the centre's joint research programme. China has yet to commit funds to the project.

Under the agreement, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation and Chinese laboratories will be able to work together directly and seek joint funding from sources outside Australia and China.

Australia's science minister, Julie Bishop, said the initiatives highlight the importance the two countries attach to scientific collaboration.