Big tax cuts in the mainland budget come at the price of spending restraint in other areas. Science and research is a notable exception. It now accounts for 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product compared with 2.18 per cent last year, a year ahead of target despite a slowing economy. This is more than in some leading developed countries, though it still lags the United States and Germany. In the short term, the boost may reflect eagerness to reduce dependence on foreign technology. In the long run, it reflects a sense among the leadership that more investment is needed to close the gap with the West. But two key factors in realising the value of it emerged from discussions among delegates from the science community at the recent session of the country’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference . They are the need for less red tape and for more basic research. Scientists called for a bigger say over research funding under a stifling bureaucratic application system. Yuan Zhiming, an agricultural scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, said he spent so much time filling out funding applications that he did not have time for any research. Senior officials responded that they understood the need to speed up research for China to transform itself into an innovation powerhouse. Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang said the government would overhaul funding management to give researchers more incentives. There was also a consensus among delegates on the need for more funding for basic research to achieve innovative breakthroughs, as opposed to applied research to gain quicker results and benefits. Indeed, it was because of a tradition of basic research that the US had Silicon Valley, and not the other way around. According to Chinese scientists, basic research accounts for just 5 to 5.6 per cent of overall spending compared with 18 per cent in the US, and 15 to 20 per cent in other innovation leaders. In terms of the size of its population and economy, China is not only lagging the US but has to address a lot of shortcomings in its education and research system. But when it sets course to remedy them and commits a bigger share of resources, it could become a leading scientific power within a decade.