‘Quad’ Summit gives impetus to research collaboration

A new ‘Quad’ Summit agreement between Japan, the United States, India and Australia to counter geopolitical challenges posed by China is extending cooperation between the countries of the group by bringing in new areas of research collaboration, while in Japan it is providing an impetus to increase and protect research activities in universities.

The in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad held at the White House on 24 September between US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed to step up cooperation on security-related technologies and research.

This includes collaboration on developing “competitive technology ecosystems” fostering interoperability, compatibility and inclusiveness; reducing barriers to data and knowledge sharing for research projects and greater innovation while protecting research security; monitoring future trends and harnessing opportunities to advance technologies to address shared objectives.

It also includes a commitment to the development of critical and emerging technology; and developing STEM talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through Quad fellowships, according to the joint statement by the four countries.

Technologies singled out in particular include 5G high-speed broadband standard sharing, supply chains of critical technologies including semiconductors, collaboration in space, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, including the sharing of satellite data.

“At this summit, I hope we can take stock of concrete progress achieved so far and discuss ways to further expand the Quad cooperation in new areas, such as infrastructure and clean energy, and to promote people-to-people exchange in science and technology,” Japan’s Suga said in Washington.

The summit agreed new ‘Quad Fellowships’ offering 100 students from Australia, India, Japan and the US – 25 from each country – the opportunity to pursue masters and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at leading universities in the US.

It will also develop a network of science and technology experts “committed to advancing innovation and collaboration in the private, public and academic sectors, in their own nations and among Quad countries”, according to the summit statement, which described the fellowships as being “operated and administered by a philanthropic initiative” by a number of private companies including Accenture, Blackstone, Boeing, Google, Mastercard and Western Digital, in consultation with a non-governmental task force from each quad country comprised of academic, foreign policy and private sector leaders.

The summit outcome reflects a major concern for the US, which called for the summit to protect the participating countries’ cutting-edge science and technology research as China’s rising geopolitical ambitions have become an international concern.

In an editorial on 27 September, the daily Yomiuri newspaper in Japan pointed to China’s increasing influence in the economic and advanced technology fields. “The outflow of semiconductors and other emerging technologies, as well as increased dependence on China for critical goods, poses security risks,” the editorial said.

Influence on stepped-up support for research

Masahiko Hosokawa, a professor at Meisei University in Japan, told University World News that official plans for stepped-up support for research in Japan is being closely linked to responding to Quad requirements.

While he noted that the increase in funds is good, tying it to geopolitics is not easy to accept. “The impact of geopolitics on academia is a mixed bag for Japan that faces its own special challenges,” he said.

Hosokawa was formerly a director general at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Japanese universities will be pursuing more projects with research counterparts in the US; “collaboration with China will weaken,” he predicted.

“Balancing of China’s regional influence in the academic field is a challenge, against rising security concerns for Japan,” Hosokawa explained.

He pointed to research collaboration with the private sector where small and medium-sized Japanese companies are viewed by the government as not having invested as heavily as bigger companies in anti-espionage measures.

The Japanese government established new regulations last year to tighten supervision and prevent campus spying. A major focus is on research on technologies that can be compromised for military purposes, known as ‘dual use’ technologies. University laboratories receiving government funding now face closer monitoring of their funding sources, research goals and partnerships.

In July, Japan adopted a draft thee-year cybersecurity strategy in naming China, Russia and North Korea as threats that required accelerated cooperation in this field with its partners in the Quad framework.

Stepped-up focus on research

The emergence of China as a rival for Japan, a close ally of the United States, underlies a new thrust for Japanese academia, according to Takahiro Ueyama, vice president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

“China’s increased capacity in global competition and the decrease in American influence in world issues are two crucial pillars that are influencing research goals in Japan,” he said.

A dramatic shift is the new basic policy on science and technology that has pledged an increase in funding for university research for the next five years, starting from April this year. The landmark measure reflects a change after almost two decades of consecutive cuts.

The new stance aims to make Japan an important international centre for university research and reverse its decline in international university rankings. China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

In terms of academic papers in natural science fields published internationally, China is also way ahead – becoming number one in the world, outstripping the United States this year, while Japan fell to 10th place behind Britain and India.

According to ministry of education data, in 2019 Japan spent JPY18 trillion (US$161 billion) on research and development (R&D), including private research, of which only JPY2.1 trillion (US$18.8 billion) was allocated to universities.

By contrast, China’s R&D spending, including public and private sectors, was a total of JPY54.5 trillion (US$487 billion).

Under the new policy, Japan’s government has a set a goal of JPY120 trillion (US$1 trillion) in funding by the public and private sectors to support Japanese universities.

Profits from a university aid fund, expected to eventually reach JPY10 trillion (US$89 billion), will support universities that have adopted reforms to support younger researchers by providing living expenses and salaries.