Japan’s Nobel laureates and the Japan Business Federation had launched a campaign to press the government for the funding despite a cost-cutting drive under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Iwao Matsuda, a state minister in charge of science and technology, said Koizumi had approved a budget of 25 trillion yen (215 billion dollars) for a five-year science development program starting in fiscal 2006.
The Finance Ministry was initially against setting a specific figure for the science program, which will include research on bird flu, space and supercomputers. “We can show overseas and at home that Japan is still focused on science and technology,” Matsuda said of the budget.
Japan, once vigorous in promoting science, has recently been seen as falling behind China, which has an ambitious space program, and IT giant India. “We believe the path Japan should take is to provide a good research environment here for scientists from across the world rather than competing against other countries,” science ministry official Koki Uchimaru said.
Japan’s space program has been eyeing more ambitious projects since it successfully sent a weather satellite into space in February. That was Japan’s first launch since November 2003 when it had to destroy a rocket carrying a satellite to spy on North Korea shortly after lift-off when one of two rocket boosters failed to separate.
The failure was all the more embarrassing as it came one month after China, Japan’s neighbor and growing rival, became the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to launch a successful manned space flight. Japan earlier this week pledged 135 million dollars to help Southeast Asia fight bird flu.