New Science Chief in China

BEIJING--A remote sensing expert who has been in charge of promoting high-tech enterprises has been chosen to head China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). Xu Guanhua succeeds Zhu Lilan, who assumes a top legislative post within the National People's Congress.

Xu, who has been Zhu's deputy, will direct a rapidly growing science and technology budget that reached $6.5 billion in 1999. He oversees state-run scientific institutes, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), as well as funding for key basic research projects, high-technology development, scientific infrastructure, and international collaborations.

A native of Shanghai, the 60-year-old Xu was trained as a forestry scientist and spent 30 years working for the Chinese Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences before moving to CAS. In 1992, he was named an academician, a high honor in Chinese science. Xu is credited with helping to develop the country's remote-sensing industry with global information system instruments, as well as improving the research environment within CAS and nurturing young talent. "He was quite strict," says Niu Zheng, Xu's first doctoral student, who is now a research professor within the Institute of Remote Sensing Application. "But no matter how busy he was, he would always find time to discuss a scientific issue."

As executive vice minister of science and technology in charge of high-tech industries in the mid 1990s, Xu argued in a speech for "active measures to promote the venture capital market," including listing more high-tech enterprises on the country's stock exchange. He also lobbied for the application of information technology in a variety of fields, from medicine to transportation. At MOST he built up a loyal following among scientists. "He is a man of action and principle who keeps an easy-going style," says Sun Chenbei, a former MOST staffer who is now China representative for a Canadian consulting company.

Zhu, a polymer chemist, has been named vice chair of the Education, Science, Culture, and Health Committee in the national legislature.

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