Scientists relying on foreign technology

By WANG HUAZHONG (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-10 07:12
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BEIJING: China spends billions of dollars importing high-end scientific instruments every year, and its global competitiveness in manufacturing this technology is dwindling, a survey has found.

Conducted by Peking University and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology and the National Science Library, the survey found that in some sectors scientists rely 100 percent on imported high-end instruments.

Importing these high-end instruments, including DNA sequencers and particle colliders, cost several billion US dollars in 2009, an increase of 30 percent on the previous year, the report found, without specifying an exact figure.

The report found China's reliance on imported high-end instruments - the key tools for innovation and scientific breakthrough - has grown heavier in recent years.

The scientific instruments are widely used for testing and analysis in areas such as genetic engineering, space projects, energy-saving technologies, food safety and military services.

However, the gap between China and the developed world in research and manufacturing of these scientific instruments has not closed, but widened, the survey found.

"Without scientific instruments of high-precision, a high-standard achievement is far fetched," Zhu Xing, deputy director of the national center and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee told the China Youth Daily.

"In the past 20 years, our global competitiveness has dwindled on innovation in key state-of-the-art instruments relying heavily on foreign technologies," said Zhu, who conducted the survey last year.

"A great amount of the budget for scientific research was spent on expensive imported instruments, making us lose the (financial) foundation for development of our own innovative instruments," he said in the report.

Meager and inconsistent investment from the government in scientific instruments and a weak starting point are blamed by the Ministry of Science and Technology on its website for not yielding major breakthroughs.

The ministry was not available to respond to the survey for China Daily on Tuesday.

Experts said the current situation could be solved by better allocation of resources and government guidance on appropriate use of the tools.

"Most of that shocking amount of money was wasted on unnecessary instruments. Only first-tier institutions have the need for the most high-end products," said Ma Lanfeng, deputy secretary of Shanghai Association for Instrumental Analysis.

"Too many organizations think the most expensive instruments are the best ones, and spend a lot just to keep in line with their peers or even to show off," she said. "The money should be saved for the development of instruments under the government's guidance."

She added that a mechanism which effectively binds research institutions, academies and businesses into a unit and engages business as a real innovator could improve the situation.

The Shanghai government launched a program for sharing scientific instruments in 2004.

Last year, 5,097 registered instruments worth more than 300,000 yuan ($44,000) were successfully shared more than 100,000 times.