BEIJING—The United States and Japan are not the only countries hoping that a massive windfall for science will help rescue their economies. In response to the global financial crisis, China is upping its R&D spending in 2009 to $25.7 billion, a hefty 25.6% increase over 2008, says Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology here. With this increase, China is rapidly closing the science funding gap with Japan, which this year has allotted $37.1 billion for R&D.
Much of China’s boost, revealed in an announcement at a trade fair
last month that has received little publicity, will go to applied
research. The government plans to spend $4.8 billion on 16 special
S&T projects, including software development, infectious disease
research, and a homegrown commercial airplane industry. Such funding
levels for individual S&T projects are unprecedented, says Zhao
Wang, director of the Institute of Natural Medicine at Tsinghua
University in Beijing.
The new push complements an initiative
unveiled in February by China’s State Council: a “key industrial
adjustment and revive plan” to lend a helping hand to corporate
R&D. Major initiatives include emissions reductions,
semiconductor-based lighting, and energy-saving vehicles. Demonstration
projects will be organized in 13 cities. China also plans to speed up
development of high-tech clusters, such as the Zhongguancun Life
Science Park in Beijing.
Some scientists are skeptical about
the budget bonanza’s likely impact. China’s science spending “is just
so much less than America,” says neuroscientist Guosong Liu of the School
of Medicine at Tsinghua University. And it is skewed too far toward
applied research, he says.