Beijing will make it easier for scientists to access research funding from the central government as it tries to drive innovation and catch up with the US on technology . China’s cabinet on Wednesday said it would streamline the application process and give researchers more discretion in how they use funding, state news agency Xinhua reported. It comes five months after Premier Li Keqiang pledged an extra 10.6 per cent for basic research funding in his annual work report to the legislature, with the leadership pushing for China to become technologically self-reliant . Li told the cabinet meeting that Beijing “must resolutely support basic research”, according to Xinhua. “Researchers need to fully devote themselves to their research, and do well in basic research in the same spirit as a blacksmith in the past who would spend years forging a perfect sword. This is of vital and long-term significance in boosting China’s strength in science and technology,” Li said. “The new policies being introduced are part of the response to the views and recommendations of research institutes and researchers.” China is trying to close the gap with the United States on science and technology, pouring 2.44 trillion yuan (US$375 billion) into research and development last year, compared to US$134 billion in the US. This year, the US is looking to almost double that investment to around US$250 billion. However, China’s spending on R&D is on track to exceed that of the US by 2025, according to the Aspen Institute think tank in Washington. China’s semiconductor output hits record high with support from Beijing Scientists and researchers in China have long complained about the red tape involved in applying for grants, lengthy waits for the funding, and rigid reporting procedures after it is received. Beijing says the new application process will be easier. Researchers will also potentially be able to earn more – as much as half of the grant can now be used for pay and performance-based bonuses for the research team, and up to 60 per cent in some cases. Previously, it was capped at 30 to 40 per cent of the grant. Researchers will be eligible for more housing and insurance subsidies and bigger payouts for the commercialisation of research results. Beijing also wants funding to reach researchers faster – within 30 days of a project being confirmed. A researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing welcomed the move to cut administrative tasks. But he said the governance structures of state-owned research institutes also needed to be overhauled to give academics more freedom on funding decisions. “Unlike the US system, in many Chinese universities, research funding decisions are made by a few top party cadres,” said the researcher, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. “Some aren’t scientists and some don’t have knowledge of the specific fields of research [they are making decisions about].” Separately, the China Association for Science and Technology on Wednesday released a list of 30 scientific problems it believes are key to research and development in the country, in areas ranging from semiconductors to the environment, new energy and physics.