Ten Asian countries, including some developing countries in South-East Asia, have, as a bloc, caught up with the global leader in research and development (RD) investment, the United States, according to a US report published this week (17 January).
The total science spend of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam rose steadily between 1999 and 2009 to reach 32 per cent of the global share of spending on science, compared with 31 per cent in the US.
A major trend has been the rapid expansion of RD performance in the regions of East/Southeast Asia and South Asia, according to the biennial report 'Science and Engineering Indicators 2012' produced by the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the US National Science Foundation, which drew upon a variety of national and international statistics.
The report also mentions that the share of RD expenditure spent by US multinationals in Asia-Pacific has increased.
Asia's rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (ST) centre is chiefly driven by developments in China, says the report. But several other Asian economies (the Asia-8 [India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand]) have also played a role.
All are intent on boosting quality of, and access to, higher education and developing world-class research and ST infrastructures.
The Asia-8 functions like a loosely structured supplier zone for China's high-technology manufacturing export industries.
This supplier zone increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, a preeminent ST nation, is continuing to lose ground relative to China and the Asia-8 in high-technology manufacturing and trade, the report says.
India's high gross domestic product (GDP) growth continues to contrast with a fledgling overall ST performance.
The figures show that China, while still a long way behind the United States, is now the second largest RD performer globally, contributing 12 per cent of the global research spend. It has overtaken Japan, which contributed 11 per cent in 2009.
The proportion of GDP that China devotes to science funding has doubled since 1999 to 1.7 per cent and China's pace of real growth in RD expenditure remains exceptionally high at about 20 per cent annually, the report says.
Overall, world expenditures on RD are estimated to have exceeded US$1.25 trillion in 2009, up from US$641 billion a decade earlier.
Governments in many parts of the developing world, viewing science and technology as integral to economic growth and development, have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies, it says.
They have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop their ST infrastructures, stimulate industrial RD, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous RD capabilities. Over time, global ST capabilities have grown, nowhere more so than in Asia.
A study, published last year in Scientometrics, said South-East Asian science papers have proliferated in the past decade, suggesting a move towards knowledge-based economies in the region.
Asia's combined production of science and engineering publications is also approaching that of the United States and European Union, and Asia is already a top producer of engineering publications.
Engineering is vital to knowledge-intensive and technologically advanced economies, and many Asian economies are building their engineering capabilities, the report digest says.
China publishes 15 per cent of global engineering articles, and Asia as a whole publishes twice as many engineering articles as the United States and half again as many as the EU [European Union].