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  • Global ranking reveals innovation gap in South-East Asia

[HONG KONG] Asian countries topped the global sustainable innovation and competitiveness ranking according to a report published by Swiss-Korean consulting firm SolAbility, citing information and data from World Bank and UN agencies.

But the ranking has also revealed the large gap that exists between various nations in the region, with only three South-East Asian nations placed in the top 50 most innovative countries.

Singapore was ranked first; South Korea came in second; Japan was number four; and China was placed just outside of the top ten at the 11th place.  Aside from Singapore, two other South-East Asian countries managed to place among the top 50 with Malaysia at the 40th and Thailand at the 47th place.

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The ranking measured 176 countries based on data relating to education, basic infrastructure, business environment, economic indicators, research and development (R&D) capabilities. The R&D data includes measures for research funding and patent applications.

The innovation ranking published last month was part of the overall Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index report which aims to serve as an alternative to the gross domestic product (GDP), and be used to analyze future development prospects of countries.

The report says that countries with a high score in the innovative ranking are more likely than others to develop successful economies through research and knowledge-driven industries that enhance the value of products and services.

Andy Gebhardt, chief advisor at SolAbility, tells SciDev.Net that while most countries in South-East Asia are blessed with fairly extensive natural capital, their resource efficiency, average education years and levels are low compared to countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

He says this situation leads to lower innovation and quality manufacturing capabilities, and less development of the health sector compared to leading countries.

But Norarit Bisonyabut, research fellow on development and innovation at the Thailand Development Research Institute, says innovation is not a fair model for assessing countries.

"Some countries should not be assessed using innovation because innovation will be a good investment only if a country reaches a certain stage of development," Bisonyabut says.

He says the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) consists of countries at varying stages of development, citing Singapore and Brunei as being at an advanced stage, while those such as Laos and Myanmar are still in their infancy.

"R&D is important at certain stages of development. In the early stages of development, a country does not need R&D. It needs to change its economic structure by changing its course from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy," Bisonyabut explains.

He adds that ASEAN nations need good infrastructure, especially during the current process of regional integration in the mould of European Union, and the provision of quality education should be a shared goal, although it needs time and money to create human capital.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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