At AAAS Roundtable, Asia-Pacific Leaders Explore Ambitious Ideas for S&T Cooperation

An ambitious set of ideas for using scientific cooperation among Asia-Pacific nations to strengthen research and innovation throughout the region emerged from a day-long meeting of leaders convened by AAAS.

The region—including nations as diverse as China, India, Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Canada—is already a science and technology powerhouse. But the AAAS roundtable, involving more than 30 leaders from the region, yielded nearly two dozen possible steps that could be taken by governments, universities, funding agencies, and businesses to strengthen cooperation.

According to a summary of the event released this month, the ideas ranged from identifying common challenges and developing shared ethical standards to making universities hubs for regional collaboration and problem-solving. The result would be “a more coherent and compatible scientific system,” better able to tap the region’s strength and address problems, the summary says.

Alice S. Huang

Alice S. Huang

The discussion showed how increased engagement of scientists and policymakers from different nations could play a vital role in supporting the Asia-Pacific research enterprise, said AAAS Board Chair Alice S. Huang. “Given the growth and potential contributions from scientific developments in the Pacific Rim countries,” she said, “the extraordinarily candid and focused discussion during this initial meeting was an extremely promising start to productive collaboration among scientists and institutions in this part of the world.”

Huang is a distinguished Caltech virologist who has consulted on science policy for government agencies in China, Taiwan, and Singapore. The roundtable brought university and research institution administrators, the leaders of scientific organizations, government science advisers, and funding agency to AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a full day of discussion on 16 February, the eve of the association’s Annual Meeting. They met under the Chatham House Rule, which encourages a frank exchange of ideas by assuring that participants will not be identified or quoted.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than 40% of the world’s population and over half of its economic output. But while important networks such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have developed, the summary suggests that more support is needed from political leaders to drive science cooperation.

In all, the summary includes 21 possible steps for enhancing cooperation around three general areas:

Higher education, talent development and mobility. The summary suggests that universities could be critically important centers for building regional S&T coherence.

“Universities provide important focal points for driving mobility and greater interactions in the region by attracting international students and professionals,” it says. “There is a need to both develop incentives and reduce barriers to international mobility and collaboration.”

The possible actions steps listed in the summary include broad efforts to build partnerships among universities, including curriculum, faculty exchanges, and tenure policies to support regional science.

Funding and priority-setting. Cross-border research cooperation “is often made more difficult by differences in national research funding systems and priorities,” the summary says. “How the region or its sub-regions develop priorities and implement funding mechanisms will be central to developing a more coherent scientific community within the Asia-Pacific region.”

Funding agencies could work with a range of partners to support regional S&T cooperation, it suggests. For example, they could work with policymakers, academics, and think tanks to identify regional issues that could benefit from joint efforts. And working with organizations that support international cooperation, they could “avoid issues of national competition by focusing cooperation in areas of pre-commercialization technologies and basic research.”

Conduct, ethics, and norms. Different nations and different cultures have different values and oversight regulations that shape the practice of science but, the summary says, shared values build the understanding and trust needed for cooperation. “These differences can be significant barriers to cooperation,” it adds, “especially if they differ to the extent of being perceived to undermine trust between collaborating partners and countries.”

Potential action steps described in the summary include initiatives led by science organizations to build compatible scientific norms and ethics that could help knit together a regional scientific culture.

In convening the roundtable, “AAAS was exercising a leadership role in bringing together important leaders from the science and technology arena of Pacific Rim countries to discuss common problems and share their solutions,” Huang said. “Feedback from the participants indicated that such candid discussions were exactly what was needed to insure that the scientific potential in all of these countries were maximized and productive.”

Links

Read the full summary of the roundtable, “Enhancing Science & Technology Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region.”

Learn more about the AAAS International Office and its Center for Science Diplomacy.