Growth of Technology in Asia
Technological growth cannot be studied in isolation. Presence (or absence) of any form of growth is mainly controlled by various sociopolitical, geopolitical and economic factors. The growth of technology in any state could be the result of overall development process. There is no single, all-embracing formula explaining and evaluating the growth of technology in a particular state or a region. The same story holds good for the Asian region too.
It is said that, ‘the economic development directly translates into power’. Is the same true case in regards to technological development in Asian theatre? From consumer field to military, the technology dictates developments in every field of life. The technology spectrum with Asia is wide ranging from agricultural technologies to energy technologies to military technologies. In regard to West Asia mainly the oil factor has been the major factor for development, and also the USA influence over the region plays a vital role. The technological focus in Asia is more visible in East Asia and parts of SE Asia. Developed economies of Japan, China, Singapore and few other states in the region are the result of their technological achievements in electronics and consumer goods sector. In South Asia, India’s achievements are linked with their achievements in information technology sector.
Japan is the best example, where the Asian development suggests that absence of natural resources is unlikely to hinder growth. However, it is also important to note that the availability of technology alone does not guarantee the growth. China was technologically more advanced than Europe in many fields in the late medieval and early modern period. Yet Asia did not industrialise before the intervention of the West . The growth with various Asian states is witnessed post-1980s particularly after the process of economic liberalisation begun. Also, the process of industrialisation became a reality partly because of the technology transfer within and outside the region.
Presently, Asian states understand that for the various investments in S&T is the key. They have also learnt few things from their Western experience. Unfortunately, for many decades Asia had fallen behind mainly from the Western nations, in the field of S&T. Luckily, the twenty-first century situation is looking much brighter, and Asians have started dominating the S&T turf. There are many PhD holding scientists and engineers residing in Asia, and significant amount of research is being undertaken by various Asian states . States like China have more than doubled their earlier investments in this field. States like India have developed their own infrastructure in technology training (Institute Institutes of Technologies or IITs) which matches with the best in the world. Between 1980 and 2000, Asian states suffered from brain drain when many talented individuals had migrated to Western countries to the greener pastures. However, in the beginning of twenty-first century, the process of reverse brain drain has began for various reasons including economic crisis in the West and boosting opportunities in Asia. The quality of education in Asian states like China and India is of high standard particularly in subjects like physics and mathematics. This is giving Asian states an added advantage both for innovation as well as for adaption of new technologies.
In Asia, Japan was the early starter in regard to developments in S&T and associated R&D issues. Japan’s technological skills have always drawn worldwide respect. In the 1970s, Japan started with ‘applied R&D’ activities with help from abroad. This was more of a catch-up policy. In 1980s, the policy shifted to focus on basic research with the realisation that an indigenous science base was needed to prepare for subsequent level technology life cycles. Over the years, they have succeeded to re-establish themselves as one of the world leaders in technological capability. Relative to its labour force size, Japan has more engineers than any
leading industrial nation, except Sweden. These are concentrated in the fields of electronics and electrical engineering and in computer science with over 70% are in industry, 13% in education and about 6% in government.
China is another Asian country with strong technological base. It caters for both civilian/commercial requirements and its military modernisation programme. China’s national security and economic competitiveness has been guided by four main principles: acquisition of foreign systems by technology transfer through joint ventures, licensing and co-production arrangements, promotion of commercial initiatives in scientific labs, creation of venture capital industry towards innovative technology start-ups and promotion of greater role for industries in R&D. As a result, its industrial growth has taken off almost simultaneously with technological growth. Its vast defence infrastructure has transformed itself into a strategic enterprise with close active cooperation with research institutes and universities.
China has understood the necessity of a sustainable S&T infrastructure for a rapid economic growth. It has launched in quick succession major programmes which would be the backbone of its technological growth. They are:
• National High-Tech R&D Development Program (National 863 Program), which aims at promoting the applied research and accelerating high-tech development. China’s high-tech priorities, including IT, biotechnology and advanced agricultural technology, advanced materials technology, advanced manufacturing and automation technology, energy technology as well as resource and environment technology
• National Basic Research Program of China (National 973 Program), for the development of comprehensive and multidisciplinary basic research and also involves important cutting-edge basic research and fostering outstanding scientists with creativity
• National Key Technologies R&D Program which works to provide technical support to industrial restructuring, the sustainable development of society and the enhancement of living standards by achieving breakthroughs in key technologies, introducing technical innovation and applying high and new technologies
• Program 211 which aimed at building about 100 higher education institutions and key disciplines as a national priority to greatly enhance the teaching quality, level of scientific research and administrative efficiency of higher education institutions8
These programmes laid the foundation of what is today a thriving S&T organisation which is paying rich dividends to all major spheres including defence.
In regard to development in technology, India has witnessed various ups and downs. Particularly, because of its nuclear policies (nuclear tests carried out during 1974 and 1998), India had to face technological apartheid for many years. Political establishment gave support for scientific progress in spite of financial constraints.
Till 1990s, India’s economic situation was not very healthy. Even by the year 2003, the expenditure on S&T in India was about US$5 per capita compared to US$240 for South Korea and US$705 for the USA. As per the global research report on science and engineering research currently in India, the government spending on science research is 0.9% of GDP which is expected to go up to 1.2% in 2012. However, the availability of qualified researchers has not kept pace with intended enhanced spending. A growth in scientific publications of 80% in 7 years, however, places India at only 3% of the world output, far below that of Japan. China which had slumbered through 1980s/1990s has shown a dramatic growth after 2003 . India has done remarkable progress in the field of information technology sector. The country is also taking lead in the field of biotechnology.
South Korea is another country in Asia which is developing a broad technology base. Till 1980s, the state was the major contributor for R&D projects, but subsequently since 1990s, private industry is found involved in various technologies development arenas except core technologies. South Korea was assessed in 2007 to be about 6-7 in world ranking in terms of science competitiveness and technologies by the International Institute of Management Development. Presently, it has risen to 5 in science competitiveness while falling to 14th position in technology competitiveness. To regain the lost ground, they are following a model of outsourcing and technology integration as a means of boosting R&D capability.
Post-Iranian revolution in 1979 followed by the sanctions by the West forced Iran to pursue a path of self-sufficiency. This required Iran to develop its technological base mainly without any outside support. Particularly, under its second 5-year plan (1995-2000), S&T was declared as a top national goal with stress on infrastructure, research and education. The emphasis on R&D centres was on three key fundamental areas—metallurgy, electronics and aerospace. The aim of state funded centres was to develop a scientific and professional technical community anchored within the country. At the same time support for S&T education was given a major boost with expansion in Iranian academia. All of this combined to give a major boost to S&T in Iran.
Pakistan’s focus on S&T achieved a 6.25 fold jump from 1965 to 1995 in terms of numbers of scientists and technologists in the workforce. About 47 universities and 237 R&D institutes are engaged in S&T. One important R&D unit is National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) which reportedly is a civilian controlled scientific and research organisation carrying out research in many engineering and scientific areas, with focus on the design and production of the defence systems.
Overall in Asian context, it has been viewed that historically every country was not very closely affiliated to the scientific pursuits. However, in recent past, such states are found making significant efforts to develop scientifically and technologically. As an example, Iran’s case could be considered. Historically, Iran was not a knowledge-oriented society. Naturally, issues related to science and technology had either political or economical patronage. There was not much motivation of inventions. Also, Iran’s role in the invention of science and technology at the international level was very low. There were no efficient national and legal
mechanisms for safeguarding the material and intellectual rights of scientists and technologists.9 However, this situation is changing. Particularly, post-1995 Iran is found making investments into various fields of existing and emerging technologies. Government and to certain extent private industry is also found supporting scientific research and development.
It is important to appreciate the fact that scientific research and technological progress always has a military dimension to it. Historically, it has been observed that many a time technologies are developed essentially for military purposes and subsequently they find their usefulness in the civilian field. Most commonly known examples of this are computer and internet. This pattern appears to be reversing in present times. Presently, market economics is pushing the technological development and various new inventions are getting introduced for their industrial and/or consumer project utility. Subsequently, military technologists are identifying their defence usefulness.
Post-World War II various discoveries in various fields like mathematics, physics, meteorology, material sciences, communication, electronics, aerodynamics and physical sciences have taken place. Particularly, nation-states have invested significant amount of resources towards development, testing and production of various missile systems for their armed forces. This overall development of various technologies has directly or indirectly helped the development of rocket science in few Asian states. Also, it is important to note that this technology growth need not have happened indigenously alone. Significant amount of help has been received from the Western states for such developments.