AEC Blueprint 2025 Analysis: Paper 25 | An Analysis of the ASEAN Cooperation in Science and Technology
by Dr. Bambang Irawan
Science & technology (S&T) is an essential sector which supports the ASEAN Community, particularly the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Under the second period of AEC development, S&T has been shifted from the Socio-Cultural pillar to AEC, emphasising its importance to the economic and business sectors in ASEAN. While the S&T sector covers many different areas of research and cooperation, the implementation side is suffering from limited commitment and resource mobilisation , which has resulted in a relatively low level of expenditure on research and development (R&D) by ASEAN member states compared to their East Asian counterparts. In addition, in terms of R&D, member states continue to work in silos as opposed to collaborating. Among the targets of the new AEC Blueprint 2025 include improvements in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and mobility of S&T professionals. Greater commitments by member states, and stronger partnerships with the relevant stakeholders (international organisations, universities, research institutes, and private sector) will be crucial if these targets are to be successfully implemented. Singapore, as the most progressive member state in this area, can set good examples for others to follow in terms of commitments by all stakeholders and application of relevant innovations to solve their daily challenges.
The AEC Blueprint Analysis series is a publication which seeks to provide insight into the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint (AEC) 2025. The publication will seek to do so by adopting a holistic approach in its analysis; creating context by examining past achievements, defining present challenges, and discussing future plans. The series will pay special attention to strategic measures outlined within the AEC’s new blueprint, providing insights with regards to the viability of regional economic integration under the AEC.
ASEAN Cooperation in Science and Technology (S&T)
The importance of S&T in supporting the ASEAN economic cooperation was already acknowledged back in 1970 when the ad-hoc Committee on Science and Technology met in April 1970 in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss enhancement of S&T cooperation. In 1997 the 2nd ASEAN Informal Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, adopted the ASEAN Vision 2020 which endorsed the vision of “a technologically competitive ASEAN competent in strategic and enabling technologies, with an adequate pool of technologically qualified and trained manpower, and strong networks of scientific and technological institutions and centers of excellence.” With a view that rapidly advancing countries have strong support from their S&T sector, ASEAN has continued to strengthen their cooperation in this area and ASEAN Community blueprints for 2008-2015 and 2016-2025 have placed a strong emphasis on the measures that need to be implemented to promote S&T cooperation and bridge the gap across the region.
In the previous ASEAN Community Blueprint 2008-2015, the ASEAN S&T cooperation was under the pillar of ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) but in the new blueprint that will guide the establishment of ASEAN Community in 2016-2025, its is included within the AEC pillar, making it more relevant in supporting economic cooperation among member states. This report will look at and evaluate the progress made to date under the ASCC Blueprint 2015, analyse the measures under the new AEC Blueprint 2025, and make some recommendations on the implementation side.
Given the long history of ASEAN S&T sector, it has covered many areas. The structure of ASEAN S&T cooperation is given in figure 2. Each area is handled by a sub-committee who regularly meets to discuss the progress and plan ahead to improve the implementation. The figure also shows the dialogue partners that have been formally supporting ASEAN in developing the sector.
A. Targets under the AEC 2015 Blueprint
S&T cooperation in ASEAN under the ASCC was specifically under the first pillar of enhancing human development in the regionThe strategic objective was to develop policies and mechanisms to support active cooperation in research, science and technology development, technology transfers and commercialisation and establishment of strong networks of scientific and technological institutions with the active participation of private sector and other relevant organisations.
The strategic actions that were envisaged to achieve the above objective include:
- Establish a network of S&T centres of excellence to promote cooperation, sharing of research facilities, technology transfer and commercialisation, and joint research and technology development by 2011.
- Establish strategic alliances with private sector to promote R&D collaboration and technology transfer and commercialisation.
- Establish ASEAN scholarship and fellowship opportunities to support the ASEAN Virtual Institute of Science and Technology (AVIST) and other related science activities.
- Heighten the awareness on applied S&T for sustainable development, develop a core set of S&T indicators that can serve as input in the development of human resource strategies by economic and industry planners.
- Enhance and sustain the utilisation of the ASEAN Science and Technology Network (ASTNET) and other S&T networks.
- Promote the development, use and sharing of digital content among ASEAN member states.
Specifically, the ASEAN Plan of Action on S&T (APAST) 2007-2011 outlines the main strategic thrusts that aim to enhance ASEAN’s S&T capability. These include:
- Intensify R&D collaboration and technology commercialisation;
- Develop S&T human resources;
- Network S&T centers of excellence and programmes;
- Promote S&T awareness and utilisation;
- Strengthen S&T infrastructure and support systems; and
- Forge closer cooperation with dialogue partners.
Measures under the two documents (ASCC Blueprint 2015 and APAST 2007-2011) seem more or less consistent in terms of what ASEAN member states plan to do to develop this sector.
In December 2010, ASEAN introduced the Krabi Initiative with the vision of increasing competitiveness, sustainability and inclusivity in ASEAN through Science, Technology and Innovation (STI)1. The ASEAN Krabi Initiative has been used to enhance the APAST 2011-2015 and used as a reference in the formulation of the next APAST for post-2015. The initiative focuses on eight thematic tracks:
- ASEAN Innovation for Global Market
- Digital Economy, New Media and Social Networking,
- Green Technology,
- Food Security,
- Energy Security,
- Water Management,
- Biodiversity for Health and Wealth, and
- Science and Innovation for Life.
B. Significant Achievements to Date
The progress made in S&T under the ASCC Blueprint 2015 is described below.
|Establishment of network of S&T centers of excellence to promote cooperation, sharing of research facilities, technology transfer and commercialisation, and joint research and technology development by 2011.||
|Stronger collaborative R&D in applied S&T to enhance community well-being.||
|Exchange and mobility of scientists and researchers from both public S&T institutions and private sector according to the respective laws, rules, regulation, and national policies.||
|ASEAN scholarship and fellowship opportunities to support the ASEAN Virtual Institute of Science and Technology (AVIST) and other related science activities.||
|Greater awareness on applied S&T for sustainable development, and development of a core set of S&T indicators that can serve as input in the development of human resource strategies by economic and industry planners.||
|Enhance and sustain the utilisation of the ASEAN Science and Technology Network (ASTNET) and other S&T networks.||
|Promotion of the development, use and sharing of digital content among ASEAN member states.||
C. Current Issues and Challenges
Lack of resource mobilisation and funds for S&T
- There are challenges in developing the ASEAN S&T sector6. The first is commitment from various government on implementation and resource mobilisation. While member states have agreed to work together as early as 1970, the sector still has not received much attention from governments. In terms of government expenditure on R&D, Singapore is the only ASEAN country whose S&T expenses as a percentage of GDP rank among those of the advanced economies (in the Asia Pacific region)7. Figure 3 describes S&T expenditure as a percentage of GDP of major East Asian economies. Malaysia and Thailand come next after Singapore, while the Philippines and Indonesia still spend around 0.1 percent of their GDP for R&D. The remaining member states, namely BCLMV are still focusing on nation-building and infrastructure development.
Lack of collaboration
- The next challenge comes from the lack of effective coordination mechanism as member states continue to work in silos. Despite the strong commitment by the AMMST and COST, most R&D activities are still carried out by individual countries and not under the regional framework.
- The progress of the ASEAN S&T sector relies on projects implemented in collaboration with other parties. It requires a strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system to measure the progress and come up with the plan of action based on the results of the M&E. Overall, the AEC Blueprint 2025 has a more detailed yet flexible strategic action plan and list of key performance indicators (KPIs) to provide a benchmark for targets and objectives and this will serve as the M&E mechanism for the measures implemented.
Reliance on dialogue partner
- The sector has relied so much on small projects, usually in collaboration with dialogue partners and international organisations Progress in the sector will require regional initiatives to improve the cooperation and ensure that all member states are equally committed to implementing the agreed action plans. Small-scale national projects, while they can be useful, do not have the same impact as consistent and well-planned regional initiatives with common and agreed objectives. Stakeholders involved do not have strong ownership of the outcomes of the activities therefore have very little incentive to carry out follow-up activities.
D. Plans under the AEC 2025 Blueprint
For 2016-2025, the ASEAN S&T cooperation has been moved to the AEC pillar. This is likely based on the notion8 that a single market would spur more cross-border movement of R&D professionals and therefore promote enhancement of S&T across the region, and that successful economic cooperation will greatly depend on how well member states can advance their S&T to support economic development and growth.
That notion above is further reiterated in the new AEC blueprint commitment to utilise science, technology and innovation (STI) to support and sustain economic growth and competitiveness. The ASEAN Plan of Action on Science, Technology and Innovation (APASTI) 2016-2025 and its implementation plan will be the important reference in achieving that objective. The strategic measures involved include:
- Strengthen existing networks of S&T centers of excellence to promote cooperation, sharing of research facilitates and manpower towards joint research and technology development, technology transfer and commercialisation.
- Enhance mobility of scientists and researchers from both public S&T institutions and private sector through exchange programmes and other appropriate arrangements, according to the respective laws, rules, regulations and national policies.
- Establish systems and mechanisms that will increase the engagement of women and youth in STI to promote entrepreneurship.
- Raise public awareness of the various achievements derived from ASEAN cooperation in STI.
- Establish innovative support systems to promote and manage regional STI enterprise arising from spin-offs and joint ventures.
- Establish new strategies for partnership with dialogue partners and other relevant organisations on mutually beneficial projects.
E. AEC 2025 Blueprint Analysis
Measures under the new AEC blueprint are listed in the table below with some analyses on the progress on each measure.
|Issue||Current Status and Development|
|1. Networks of S&T centres and sharing of research facilities and manpower|
Strengthen existing networks of S&T centers of excellence to promote cooperation, sharing of research facilitates and manpower towards joint research and technology development, technology transfer and commercialisation.
|2. Sustainable mineral development|
Enhance mobility of scientists and researchers from both public S&T institutions and private sector through exchange programmes and other appropriate arrangements, according to the respective laws, rules, regulations and national policies.
|3. Engagement of women and youth to promote entrepreneurship|
Establish systems and mechanisms that will increase the engagement of women and youth in STI to promote entrepreneurship.
|4. Public awareness of achievements in STI cooperation|
Raise public awareness of the various achievements derived from ASEAN cooperation in STI.
|5. Innovative support systems to promote and manage STI enterprise|
Establish innovative support systems to promote and manage regional STI enterprise arising from spin-offs and joint ventures.
|6. New strategies for partnership with dialogue partners and other organizations|
Establish new strategies for partnership with dialogue partners and other relevant organisations on mutually beneficial projects.
Singapore: Leading Technology Advancement and Utilisation in ASEAN
In November 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative with the aim of creating better living conditions for all Singaporeans. The development and adoption of technology and networks will support his by providing solutions to everyday problems in the lives of the people. . Areas where digital technology is expected to improve efficiencies include transport, home and environment, business productivity, health and enabled ageing, and public sector services. The Smart Nation initiative is a dynamic collaboration between the people, who are invited to raise ideas to solve everyday challenges, and work with the government, who are responsible for putting in place the infrastructure, policies and enabling environment to encourage this innovation.
It is important to note that the Singapore government, through the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SMDGO) under the Prime Minister’s Office, plays a crucial role in developing an environment that enables stakeholders to conveniently express their innovative ideas and begin work to fully operationalise them.
One important element that has improved the lives of Singaporeans is the use of ICT in public administration and delivery of government services. This has led to an improvement in convenience, productivity and efficiency when servicing people. The current master plan, which is the eGov2015, promotes collaboration between government, private sector and people to discover new solutions to daily challenges. This builds on the success of the previous master plan: eGov2010, which resulted in 87 percent of the people satisfied with the quality of government’s e-services, and 93 percent of them willing to recommend others to utilise the e-government services.
Governance of the e-government initiative is under the Ministry of Finance (MoF), who provides funding for e-government programmes and projects, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, which serves as the Government Chief Information Officer (CIO), as well as CIOs of government agencies. This partnership is aimed at developing and implementing e-government programmes under three strategic thrusts: (i) co-creating for greater value, (ii) connecting for active participation, and (iii) catalysing whole-of-government transformation, as described by the figure below.
Examples of important outcomes of the e-government program include:
The Singapore Personal Access, introduced in March 2003, allows access to government e-services through a single platform, providing security for users and allowing the relevant ministries/agencies to leverage on it. In 2015, the SingPass was enhanced with options to customise the SingPass ID, mobile-friendly features, and stronger security capabilities.
Launched in 2011, the portal provides access to publicly available government data and applications developed using government data. More than 60 government agencies contribute to the datasets, covering themes such as business, economy, housing, urban planning, etc. These datasets are free to use and are expected to support and encourage development of innovative ideas to solve challenges faced by Singaporeans.
The portal was introduced in 1999 to provide information on government services. It introduced the concept of cross-agency, citizen-centred government services, through one single platform. It has made the way in which people access and transact for government services more efficient.
F. Conclusion: Moving Forward with the AEC 2025 Plans
In the younger member states of ASEAN, funding may be an issue as the governments’ priorities are more on other sectors of the economy, particularly infrastructure. As a result, fully relying on government budget to develop the S&T sector may delay the progress that could otherwise be achieved. This is why ASEAN has established the ASEAN Science Fund and the ASEAN Innovation Fund. Utilisation of these funds must ensure that the targets set out in the plan of action can be systematically attained to realise the contribution of STI to the AEC.
Member states should strengthen the linkage between R&D and its applicability to business and industry. This could be improved via joint research that involves personnel from all the stakeholder groups , including businesses who have a better understanding of markets and consumer preferences. If such synergy can be established, commercialisation of R&D outputs will no longer be an issue, and R&D will be an important contributor to the success of the private sector. ASEAN can learn from Singapore’s success in managing the sector and creating policies that support the progress.
The gaps in the progress of R&D in the ASEAN region could be addressed by allowing the S&T professionals to move freely across the region for better distribution of talents. To achieve this, the ASEAN bodies on S&T professionals must start to work on an MRA to facilitate freer mobility, which in the end could accelerate more even development of the sector across the ASEAN region.
Governments should have stronger dialogue and cooperation with the private sector who is the most important user of R&D. This could bridge the gaps and encourage greater progress through more efficient allocation of resources and implementation of the outlined AEC action plans.
1 ASEAN Krabi Initiative, National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Office (Thailand)
2 Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union: Past Achievements and Future Prospects, EU Commission, 2008
3 United States Agency International Development
4 R&D Collaborative Programs with ASEAN, presentation by Osamu Kobayashi of the Japan Science and Technology (JST) Agency, March 2014
6 ASEAN Cooperation in Science and Technology: towards Building the ASEAN Community, Alexander Lim, 2014
7 Current Status on Science and Technology in ASEAN Countries, CDRS, Japan Science and Technology Agency, September 2015
8 Asian Scientist, UNESCO: ASEAN Economy Community Likely To Spur Scientific Cooperation
9 Current Status on Science and Technology in ASEAN Countries, CDRS, Japan Science and Technology Agency,
10Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN women entrepreneurs to harness technology and innovation for growth
11 Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, Malaysia Champions ASEAN Young Entrepreneurship Agenda
Through The 1st Asean Young Entrepreneurs
12 Science and Technology Innovation in food, energy, water and related topics for ASEAN development
ASEAN Secretariat (2008). ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). A Blueprint for Growth ASEAN Economic Community 2015: Progress and Key Achievements
ASEAN Cooperation in Science and Technology: towards Building the ASEAN Community, presentation by Alexander Lim at Symposium on ASEAN Integration and Regional Collaboration in S&T, Tokyo, Japan, March 2014
ASEAN Krabi Initiative, National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Office (Thailand)
Current Status on Science and Technology in ASEAN Countries, CDRS, Japan Science and Technology Agency, September 2015
R&D Collaborative Programs with ASEAN, presentation by Osamu Kobayashi of the Japan Science and Technology (JST) Agency, March 2014
Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union: Past Achievements and Future Prospects, EU Commission, 2008