National Science Foundation Opens New Office in Beijing

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a leading governmental research group in the United States, has opened a research operations office in Beijing, officials said yesterday.

The move was pitched as a logical extension of business as usual.

"China and the United States have a long history of cooperation in scientific research," said NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. "Over the years, the National Science Foundation has worked with many organizations in China to bring together world-class scientists and engineers from our two nations. These collaborations have not only advanced the frontiers of discovery, they have also established relationships of mutual respect and friendship."

But the U.S. Ambassador to China, Clark Randt, also made clear that the new office is partly a response to changes in the global research marketplace. Some experts say the United States is losing its edge in general science research and in robotics.

"With China's increasing importance as a world science and technology player, it is vital for the United States to sustain interactions with international counterparts and specifically with China's rapidly growing science sector," Randt said. "The NSF Beijing Office gives the United States a better opportunity to work jointly to seek science-driven solutions to common problems for the benefit of the globe."

The NSF has an annual federal budget of $5.6 billion, less than half that of NASA. (NASA administrator Michael Griffin is expected to visit China later this year.)

The NSF agency funds research in all 50 states and several countries (there's even a presence on Antarctica) through grants to nearly 1,700 U.S. universities and institutions, according to a statement released yesterday.

NSF also maintains research offices in Paris and Tokyo.

The new office is part of the U.S. Embassy in China and officially began operations in February.

China ranked fourth in the world with $48.9 billion research and development expenditures in 2000, the NSF reports. By 2002, China was spending $72 billion and had moved into third place behind the United States and Japan.

"It is important for the U.S. scientific community, especially young researchers, to be aware of and consider collaborating with colleagues in China in this environment," said Beijing office director William Chang.