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[BEIJING] China will increase its scientific and technological aid to African countries, according to a news release from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which says the government will release guidelines on the planned cooperation in mid-November.

The news release says that CAS president Lu Yongxiang made the offer of assistance to African countries during his meeting with United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan in Beijing on Monday (11 October).

Annan reportedly welcomed Lu's offer, saying that science has played a positive role in China's development, and the Chinese experience of achieving scientific goals with low investment should be followed by other developing countries.

The news release did not give any concrete details of the assistance China is offering. But a CAS official, who asked not to be named, told SciDev.Net that "China will send experts to train local technicians in African countries, and will also host training classes and sponsor African experts to learn in China about agriculture, water power and renewable energies".

The number of African scientists that will visit China has not been finalised, but it could be hundreds per year, according to the official.

The Sino-African scientific cooperation will not only involve CAS, but also several Chinese ministries, including the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the State Administration of Environmental Protection.

As well as being president of CAS, Lu is also vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, China's legislature. This, according to the CAS official who spoke to SciDev.Net, gives Lu more opportunity to coordinate different government departments in their science and technological assistance policies.

CAS established a South-South Co-operation Fund in 1987, but it was a small-scale project. Between 1987 and 1999, 400 researchers from developing countries received funds totalling more than US$1.2 million to visit and conduct research in China.

In recent years, the South-South fund has grown considerably. During last year's Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) general conference in Beijing, CAS announced that together with TWAS it would provide 50 postgraduate and postdoctoral fellowships each year to scientists from other developing countries who want to study in China.

Since 1991, China has trained more than 400 people from 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the use of solar energy technologies. According to Xi Wenhua, director of the China Solar Energy Information Centre, Chinese scientists will train 10,000 technicians from the developing world, including Africa, in relevant skills during the next five years (see China to train developing nations in solar technologies).

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