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China Boosts Basic Research

BEIJING--China has chosen 15 projects to inaugurate one of the largest basic research programs in the country's history. The program, which will receive $300 million and run through 2003, has been endorsed at the highest level: "It is a top concern to make China prosper through science and education," says Premier Zhu Rongji.

The projects, to be announced officially next week, concentrate R&D resources in rapidly growing fields, such as information sciences and biotechnology, that officials expect to contribute significantly to the country's economic prosperity. They are the first to be awarded under an initiative called Program 973, named for the year and month (March 1997) it was proposed by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Specialist reviewers chose 25 finalists from a list of 207 proposals, and a 19-member cross-disciplinary expert panel made the final selection after hearing presentations from researchers and relevant agency officials.

Each 973 project is expected to receive between $2.5 million and $7.5 million over 5 years. The program is seen as complementing a 1991 initiative aimed at stimulating applied research in strategic areas. To encourage younger scientists, the government also required that principal investigators be less than 60 years old.

Scientists whose projects were chosen for the program welcome the additional resources. Wu Wenjun, a mathematician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Systems Science Institute in Beijing and a member of CAS, says that the new grant will quadruple funding, to nearly $500,000 a year, for his lab's work on developing expert systems. "We will be able to do things that were impossible before," he says. But the fate of the project rests in the hands of one of his students, 35-year-old Gao Xiaoshan. "It's high time to allow young people to display their talents," says Wu, who is in his 70s.