0324ctt-Li-lores China’s Premier Li Keqiang (shown above at the 2010 World Economic Forum) is investing in the country’s science programs with a budget that increases funding for research and development by 8.9 percent. Credit: World Economic Forum on Flickr (Creative Commons License).

China is counting on science to propel its economy forward and is betting big with a new budget that will help get it done.

Just recently, Premier Li Keqiang delivered a budget—his first—that ups science and technology expenditures by 8.9 percent, or $43.6 billion (267.4 billion yuan renminbi). “Megaprojects” that focus on engineering and applied research will receive $8.1 billion, and the country’s basic research spending will see a whopping 12.5 percent—or $6.6 billion—increase.

Other allocations include:

  • $3.1 billion for the National Natural Science Foundation of China for studies of “biodiversity, air pollution, supercomputers, and scientific equipment”
  • $488 million for studies in drug discovery and infectious diseases
  • $211 million for nanotechnology, quantum physics, stem cells, and protein science
  • $423 million for “strategic priority projects” by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

In speaking at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Keqiang “reassured the community by stressing the importance of scientific innovation to economic growth—and by pledging hard cash” (i.e., put China’s money where his mouth is).

With that pledge, he’s also committing to making his country a world leader in R&D.  

Though the US invests more in R&D than any other nation (a projected $465 billion in 2014 that equates to 2.8 percent of the US GDP), China is likely to surpass US R&D spending by 2022, according to the 2014 Global R&D Funding Forecast (PDF). And given reports that show research spending at its federally funded labs has declined (and will likely remain that way in 2015 as the proposed budget keeps R&D spending mostly flat), the US isn’t going to keep them at bay for long.

However, though they have no problem finding funds to devote to science, China seems to have a big problem when it comes to using those monies appropriately. According to an October report by China’s National Audit Office, close to 50 percent of the nation’s research funding has been misused. (Click here to read more on the corruption plaguing the country’s science communities.)

Also, because so little of those funds have been devoted to basic science or applied research, their studies “have limited value in developing an innovative economy,” says Su Jun, a policy researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

“The Chinese government is aware of the problems and institutional reforms are firmly on the agenda of the congress to boost R&D efficiency,” says CAS President Bai Chunli, who notes that investments in basic and applied research and reforms that will create transparency in awarding research grants “will be crucial for Chinese science to reach the next level.”

Given reports that manufacturing in China fell to an eight-month low in March, “next level” development is just what China needs.

Feature image: The Chinese Academy of Sciences Library. Credit: Tricia Wang on Flickr (Creative Commons License).