ASIA: Increase in exchange of scientists

The Japanese government has drawn up a plan to promote exchanges of scientists and joint research among 16 Asian countries to boost the level of the region's science and technology to that of the United States and Europe. The plan, proposed by Fumio Kishida, state minister in charge of science and technology policy, comes at a time when China and India are witnessing remarkable advances in both the economy and scientific research.

The plan will include the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six others: Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand and South Korea, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The plan envisages the creation of a unified database of scientists and researchers at universities and research bodies in the 16 countries. The database will help identify appropriate researchers for the planned collaborative projects. Databases on research projects carried out in the region and intellectual properties developed through the projects are also planned.

Although each of the 16 countries has its own database of domestic researchers, the databases are not interoperable. China, Indonesia and Cambodia operate their databases only in their own languages, and items listed in the databases cannot easily be cross-referenced. This has hindered the active exchange of scientists in the region.

Asia has great scientific and technological potential. There are about 1.8 million researchers in the 16 countries, compared with 1.4 million in the USA and 1.2 million in the European Union. Currently, international collaboration among the16 countries at best can be called modest as seen from the table below:
Only about 5% of the more than 35,000 papers from India and about 6% of the 97,500 papers from China in 2007, for example, have resulted from collaboration with five other leading countries of the region.

Mere number of researchers or papers is not a good indicator. What matters is how productive the scientists are and what impact their work has on science, industry and the economy. On these criteria, Asia has some way to go before it can challenge America and Europe.

The envisioned plan aims at strengthening Asia's international competitiveness, under Japan's initiative, as the third scientific and technological power after the United States and EU.