Chinese To Develop Sciences, Technology

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 10, 2006

BEIJING, Feb. 9 -- China announced an ambitious plan Thursday to speed development of science and technology in its industry and military, vowing to double research investment over the next 15 years to increase "overall national strength."

The strategy, outlined by the State Council, or cabinet, urged defense companies to join in development of new technologies for the civilian economy and civilian firms to participate in military research and supply the People's Liberation Army with high-tech equipment. A new mechanism will be established to foster such civilian-military cooperation and "integrate research and development forces," it said.

The Pentagon warned last week in a quadrennial report that China's military, still manpower-heavy with 2.2 million people, was swiftly striding toward development of high-tech weaponry and tactics that eventually could pose a challenge to U.S. forces in the Pacific. The Foreign Ministry countered that China's progress did not pose a threat to anyone. But the strategy announced Thursday made clear that the government intends to push ahead with military modernization as China's scientific and technological capabilities rise.

"Basic research has become part of the international competition of overall national strength," the official New China News Agency quoted the plan as saying. "As a rapidly developing country, China must put the emphasis on basic research in order to achieve national goals and solve key problems that could appear in the future."

President Hu Jintao, a hydraulics engineer, has repeatedly cited "scientific development" as one of China's most pressing needs as the country seeks a balance between official socialist doctrine and booming private enterprise. His goal has been to ensure that government decisions are based on accurate and clear-headed criteria -- whether building a chemical plant on a riverbank, for instance, would raise the danger of pollution.

The new plan was aimed more at stimulating basic research, reflecting a desire by Chinese leaders to see their country's industry move to the front line of innovation and discovery. In nearly 30 years of liberalization and reform, China's economy has grown quickly -- by 9 percent a year recently -- but still is largely founded on cheap labor assembling products conceived and designed elsewhere.

To change that, the cabinet plan listed 16 "key technologies" that should receive more support from government and private industry. These included computer software, telecommunications, nuclear energy and a military-managed space program that already has launched two manned flights. To speed progress in these areas, it said, research-and- development spending should rise dramatically to reach 2.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2020.

"China over the next 15 years will join the list of innovative countries," Hu vowed in a speech Jan. 9 before the National Assembly of Science and Technology.

In one measure of the distance to cover, however, a spokesman for the Science and Technology Ministry said he was not authorized to reveal the current level of spending on research. Another ministry official, in the statistics department, said it was 1.23 of GDP in 2004 but the 2005 level was not yet available.

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