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National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Asia's Rising Science and Technology Strength: Comparative Indicators for Asia, the European Union, and the United States



Science and technology (S&T) are changing the world in profound ways. Governments, having recognized the contributions of S&T to economic growth and societal well-being, are thinking strategically about their innovation systems and acting to make these systems more effective and efficient in an increasingly interdependent and competitive world. Policies that seek to strengthen countries' education infrastructure, the institutions that carry out research and development (R&D), and the innovation environment have become commonplace.

The major development over the past decade or more has been the rapid emergence of Asian[1] economies outside Japan as increasingly strong players in the world's S&T system, with South Korea and Taiwan being joined by Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and others. Although the world has experienced ubiquitous market- and policy-driven expansion of S&T capabilities, nowhere has this been as rapid and dramatic as in Asia.

The largest and fastest-growing actor is China, whose government has declared education and S&T to be the strategic engines of sustainable economic development. China has already become an important player in high-technology markets, has attracted the world's major corporations, and was a major recipient of foreign direct investment in 2004.

Fragmentary data on India suggest that it, too, is seeking rapid technological development. India is focusing on knowledge-intensive service sectors and biotechnology.

Numerous indicators point to Asian growth outside of Japan. In high-technology manufacturing, the European and Japanese world shares are eroding, while the United States continues to maintain its position. In high-technology exports, however, all three leading economic regions/countries—the European Union (EU), the United States, and Japan—are losing market share to other Asian economies, and the U.S. high-technology trade balance has recently turned negative by several measures.

Closer to the science base, multinational firms are moving R&D functions and laboratories to Asian locations. In doing so, they seek not only lower costs but also solid access to markets and well-trained personnel. Asian governments also are boosting their R&D investments.

According to figures published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), by 2003 China had become the third largest R&D-performing country, behind only the United States and Japan, in part reflecting the growth of R&D performed by foreign-owned firms based in China. Although data uncertainties make the actual magnitude of China's R&D spending subject to interpretation, the rapidity of China's emergence as a major S&T player is unprecedented in recent memory. In recent years, China managed to boost the percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) spent on R&D—a commonly used measure of research intensity—even as its GDP expanded at near double-digit rates.

In basic scientific research, China has yet to approach parity with major science-producing nations; its academic research budget remains below 10% of its total R&D spending. However, its scientists and engineers are collaborating broadly with their counterparts across the globe and in Asia, and their international patenting and publishing activities, although modest, are on accelerating upward trajectories similar to those observed in the past decade for other high-technology indicators in China.

Well-trained labor forces are expanding rapidly in developing and newly developed countries. The number of people in the world with a post-high-school education has nearly tripled since 1980, with the fastest growth occurring in Asia, including a doubling of both China's and India's percentages. Along with Europe, Asia made especially rapid strides in the graduation of new degree holders in engineering and the natural sciences, and these two regions are producing the bulk of doctorate holders in these fields.

The story, then, is of the emergence of Asia as a powerful S&T region in its own right, whose rise is producing changes in the international S&T order and is, to some extent, beginning to displace some traditional powers.

This report provides a range of standard indicators of S&T infrastructure and performance to highlight the growth of Asia's S&T enterprise. Where possible, it provides comparable information for Asia (Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand), the EU,[2] and the United States. Japan is also shown separately, as are other major Asian economies, for specific indicators. The aim is to give the reader a quick glance across a broad set of S&T indicators, with trends or multiple data points wherever possible.

The indicators cover:

  • Education and advanced training

  • Science and engineering (S&E) workforce and mobility

  • R&D expenditures and foreign direct investment

  • Scientific publications, collaboration, and citations

  • Patents

  • High-technology manufacturing and exports, services, and trade in technical know-how.

Each indicator is introduced with a brief description accompanied by several bulleted observations. The bullets present key points illustrated by the data and occasionally provide added information. Figures provide both global and regional comparisons. The global data compare Asia (often with Japan broken out), the EU, and the United States. The regional view displays Japan and (for selected indicators) other large Asian economies. Sometimes, an additional view provides data for Asia excluding Japan. Tables with selected data are also included (see footnote 1).

The reader is reminded again that the limited definition of Asia used in this report reflects only the major Asian S&T-producing economies. However, these economies are likely to represent a large share of total Asian S&T capabilities, infrastructure, and activity.

Some of the Asian data discussed in this report are not strictly comparable, and some may not fully conform to international statistical standards. Nevertheless, for any given country/economy, one can observe reasonably consistent activity across a range of indicators. Accordingly, the reader is advised to focus on the overall patterns and trends, rather than seeking precise point-to-point comparisons.

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[1] Asia, other than Japan, here consists of China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. The selection was, for the most part, based on the pragmatic consideration of limited data availability and the general level of S&T activity as evidenced by the specific types of data at hand. For specific indicators, data may be available for a more limited number of locations, as noted.

[2] Unless otherwise specified, EU-15 refers to the 15-member Union before its major enlargement: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom. For some series, the data refer to the EU–25 after enlargement, adding Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Asia's Rising Science and Technology Strength: Comparative Indicators for Asia, the European Union, and the United States
Special Report| NSF 07-319 | August 2007