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[BRUSSELS] Science and technology diplomacy between China and South-East Asian (SEA) countries is expected to benefit both sides, according to a forthcoming OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) report.

Rising research and development (R&D) investment on both sides — as well as a common drive towards economic growth and industrialisation — increases the opportunities for improving collaboration, especially on science, innovation and education, the report says.


  • Rising R&D spend by Asian countries offers more opportunities for collaboration
  • International training and exchanges could be used for science diplomacy
  • But current science cooperation and funding are limited

 Yet despite improvement in political and trade ties over the past two decades, the two regions still have only small amounts of science cooperation, and the SEA nations will need to invest more in science if it is to catch up technologically with China.

"The most important single development [with regards to innovation in the SEA region] is the rise of China," Gernot Hutschenreiter, of the OECD's Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, told SciDev.Net. "Overall SEA has gained, and is likely to keep on gaining, from China's growth, as it leads to a very high demand for a very broad range of goods from the SEA."

China is likely to broaden its cooperation in science — currently focused on Singapore from which it imports technology — to include other countries, the report says.

It adds that China might also increase funding for science and technology (S&T) assistance to the least developed countries in the region such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

International training projects and exchange programmes could bring benefits to local people and boost regional relations, the report says. Such diplomacy will play an increasing role in foreign relations and in dealing with issues of common concern, as it happened during the SARS outbreak in 2003, it says.

China has already been involved in the drive to eliminate malaria from Cambodia and Indonesia, in rice breeding in Myanmar, and in the promotion of agricultural technology in the Philippines, according to the report.

Yet despite improved political and trade links between China and the region since 1991, the report says that scientific cooperation remains limited and there are too few funds for such activities.

"For example, joint projects in technology for agriculture are small and scattered and it is hard to see any obvious economic and social benefits to local people," it says.

The report says that China and SEA nations run fewer joint research projects and academic conferences, produce fewer joint publications and grant each other fewer patents than they do with third parties.

For example, they co-produced only 524 papers in science and engineering in 2010 (excluding Singapore), the report says, adding that this accounts for "an insignificant share of the 472,000 Chinese scientific papers published internationally".

And while China's foreign direct investment to the region increased from US$199 million in 2003 to US$2.7 billion in 2009, just 1.4 per cent of that went into scientific research, according to the report.  

China's steadily increasing strength and output in S&T means it is leaving the SEA behind: the gap in technological power and scientific capacity between China and the region is growing, the report adds.

"The overall level of technology in SEA countries is still low owing to the [limited] level of R&D inputs and to shortages of S&T personnel, a problem that is hard to remedy quickly," it says.

Hutschenreiter presented the preliminary version of the OECD's first regional innovation report at the ASEAN-EU Year of Science, Technology and Innovation 2012 closing event in Brussels earlier this month (11-12 December). The report, entitled 'Innovation in Southeast Asia', is due to be published in the next few weeks.

The aim of the report is "to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of key elements, relationships and dynamics of innovation in the region and the opportunities to enhance them", he said. It will be a stepping stone to more detailed individual country reports, with the one on Vietnam's innovation already underway.

Hutschenreiter added that it was a challenge to collect information for the report as the data were sometimes only available in print in national languages. "It was surprising how much is unknown, how little information there is in many respects," he said.

"This is still an important problem: this very undeveloped information system. Countries are aware of that, but it is not the most popular area to spend money on. But for them to devise [an innovation] strategy, they need to know what's going on," he added.