Michael Sainsbury
August 24, 2016

Asia drives new innovation plans

Asia

Asia drives new innovation plans

Global smarts: China is the first middle-income country to become a Top 25 world innovator

The technology race across the region continues to accelerate, even as the Turnbull Government’s wheels turn far more slowly to a re-positioning of its own innovation policy under Greg Hunt.

Every week, it seems some nation in the Asia Pacific is announcing grand new plans to pour money into the sector in Asia, including China, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. They all have the pedal to the metal on the sector.

The national scale of the efforts of Asian nations puts some perspective on Australia’s National Innovations and Science Agenda. They underscore both the highly competitive policies being run by most nations with decent economies across the region, as well as the opportunities for Australian tech and innovation companies.

In last week’s Global Innovation Index (GII), issued by top tier French university INSEAD, China became the first middle-income country to make the top 25, as Australia slipped further down the list to 19th from 17th the year before, with New Zealand now ahead of us.

Technology obsessed Singapore is the highest-ranking Asian country at No 6.

“China still only spends a small share of its research budget on basic R&D in comparison to the leaders, but its expenditures are getting closer to those of rich countries. It makes a symbolic entry into the GII top 25 this year, the first middle-income country to do so,” the index’s authors noted

“The top 25 is typically comprised of high income countries. China’s progress has been remarkable in innovation quality, output and efficiency.”

Among the lower income countries, Vietnam at number 59 is singled out as having outperformed its peers in the same income group by at least 10 per cent.

“China’s progress can be seen as a harbinger for future advancements, bridging the divide between rich and poor countries, an ongoing and defining feature of the GII.”

Last week Thailand stepped up efforts in its ambitious national innovation plan that first saw the light of day in May, announced as Thailand 4.0.

“Thailand 4.0 is a new economic model to develop Thailand into a valued-based economy. The new model will change the country’s traditional farming to smart farming, traditional SMEs to smart enterprises, and traditional services to high-value services,” the Thai government’s PR department said in a statement.

In many ways that pithy statement is something similar to what we should be hearing from Mr Hunt, once he gets on top of his brief.

Thailand is unable to rely on mining like Australia and its neighbor Indonesia, but in the past 30 years Thailand has built a formidable industrial complex and remains the industrial epicenter of Southeast Asia.

But its industry is ageing and the global export malaise is hitting it hard. 

Thailand has passed through three economic development models.

“In the first model, Thailand 1.0, emphasis was placed on agricultural development. The second model, Thailand 2.0, focused on light industries, which helped upgrade the country’s economy from the low-income to middle-income status. The third model, Thailand 3.0, emphasized heavy industries for continued economic growth,” it noted.

Desperate to underpin its legacy by kick-starting growth in Thailand’s relatively moribund economy, the ruling military junta – which has promised fresh elections next year after recent “yes” vote for its new constitutional charter – has been relatively rapid-fire in unveiling pieces of its 20 year industry plan for the country.

The latest piece is promise to invest in higher education aimed at producing 12,000 more doctoral researchers for scientific endeavors by 2030.

The plans are already paying dividends, with IBM set to open the company’s second “fully-fledged innovation centre” in Southest Asia (the first is in Singapore’s Marina Bay) in Thailand later this year, which will combine its “cognitive computing technology with customer experience and design thinking.”

IBM and its Thai partner Digital Ventures will also organise the world's first IBM Watson Business Case competition here later this year to promote ‘fintech’ start-ups, English language daily The Nation had reported.

All of which serves as a timely reminder call to Mr Hunt and the government to shake a leg.

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