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7. The lessons from Asia: From past experience to the future


China
India
Republic of Korea
Thailand
Philippines
Japan
The geopolitical environment and the local socio-economic situation
Formal S&T structure and industry
The rural-urban relationship
Informal and formal sectors
New generic technologies
Social shaping of technology
Conscious shaping of the technology
Existing agendas for shaping technology
Concluding remarks
Notes


The countries of Asia vary widely in their social and economic characteristics, their recent histories, the different technology policies they have pursued, the different periods during which they embarked on industrialization, and the technology spectrum that was then available. The country studies that have been presented reveal the outcome of the interplay of these factors within the individual countries. Before attempting any generalizations about technological self-reliance and acquisition in Asia, it is useful briefly to recall the salient technology-acquisition experiences of the individual countries.

China

The Chinese communists, during the years of their guerrilla struggle,1 had managed to achieve some manufacturing output. By the time they took power, therefore, they had by force of circumstances developed an implicit industrial policy. Yet in the years immediately following the revolution, they followed the Soviet model, although modifying it as a result of their own unique experiences. The Soviet formal system of science and technology, with its very rigid structure, was thus transplanted to China. Soviet technology was also transferred, largely through complete sets of equipment from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. After the break with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, the small number of imports of technology that then occurred came from Japan and Western European countries.

In the late 1950s, China attempted, through its "Great Leap Forward,"2 a mass mobilization in technology acquisition, to catch up with some of the advanced countries. This partially involved "backyard" technology, and was reminiscent of the period of guerrilla struggle. During the period following the break with the Soviet Union, a policy of "Walking on Two Legs," amounting to near-autarky, was strongly emphasized. Although this latter emphasis was later modified after the 1970s, the basic strategy of combining traditional labour-intensive methods with modern technology remained a part of general Chinese technological strategy.

After 1978, with the opening to the outside world, a major transfer of technology from abroad was attempted.3 But the earlier, relatively rigid, Soviet-inspired formal system of S&T, which lacked active and organic linkages with the economy, still persisted. The R&D system lacked horizontal linkages with the economy, and the organization of the R&D institutes was over-centralized; consequently they could not develop their full potential. The system emphasized a technology "push" in the economy and was not generally responsive to demand. By the 1980s, the Chinese authorities were admitting that they were not only behind the developed countries, but also behind some of the NIEs.

The S&T system has consequently been considerably reformed in recent years, the new reforms aiming at developing organic linkages between the S&T system and the economy. These reforms have varied from changes in organization to personnel development.

By the early 1990s, at a time when new technologies such as information technology and biotechnology were beginning to transform the available technology spectrum in developed countries, China had gone through several learning phases in technology acquisition and had built up a considerable technology infrastructure. It was allocating roughly 1 per cent of its GDP to R&D, which, though low by developed-country standards, was high by developing-country standards, and by 1985 it had nearly 800,000 scientific and technical personnel.

India

In the case of India, a Soviet-inspired planning model was imposed on a mixed economy, the "commanding heights" of the economy and key industries being largely in state hands. This implied that, unlike in the Soviet Union, market signals as well as administrative guidance mediated the economy, giving rise to a potentially more flexible system.

Particularly since her second Five-Year Plan, India has emphasized the development of an S&T capacity. By the third Plan, an extensive network of institutions for pure and applied research had been established, and the state was allocating about 1 per cent of total public outlays to the S&T programme. The different plans in India resulted in a sequence of somewhat differing emphases. These included: self-reliance primarily by building up the capital goods and machine-building sector, and the use of scientific research for the "benefit of the people" (the third Plan); maximizing the use of indigenous resources, employment, modernization, capacity utilization, and energy efficiency (the sixth Plan); and consolidating and modernizing the S&T infrastructure already built up and promoting certain front-line areas (seventh Plan, 1985-1990). The later plans recognized the lack of linkages between the S&T system that had emerged and the economy, and emphasized the need for this linking.

By the early 1980s, the Indian strategy had brought down the share of imports in gross capital formation to virtually a tenth of what it had been in the 1960s. This trend towards self-sufficiency was particularly noticeable in areas where the rate of technological change was not very fast. Indian firms had also developed a capacity for adapting imported technologies to the local context. And, although India still had a high percentage of illiterates among her population, she had expanded her higher and technical education to reach an estimated total of around 800,000 personnel in 1990.

However, although the relative achievements of Indian S&T were considerable, it was less successful that it could have been. The use of locally generated technology in large modern industries tended to be small and the national laboratories that had been developed had not become significant sources of industrial technology. Furthermore, despite financial incentives, the number of in-house R&D units was still small. There was no significant spill-over of S&T into the industrial economy. And, as in China, S&T tended not to be demand-driven, but to exist in isolation. In addition, studies have indicated that Indian scientific output has not been commensurate in quality and creativity with the numbers engaged in science.4

The Indian policy in S&T, like that of the Chinese, had been primarily one of import substitution. After debate, however, a general trend towards liberalization began in 1979 (as it did in China at around roughly the same time). The import of capital goods was liberalized. A significant increase in imported technology resulted after the 1980s, although the technology import policy still remained selective, targeting specific areas. New measures announced in mid-1991 pushed these tendencies further.

Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea's independent industrial development has occurred primarily since 1945, in three stages. These were: a period of instability from 1945 to 1953, taking in the Korean War; a reconstruction phase from 1954, with an emphasis on import substitution; and a period of accelerated growth since the 1960s, corresponding largely to a switch to an export-oriented strategy. The Korean economy has been developed through the implementation of a set of plans.

In the initial post-Second World War period, especially during the Korean War, there was an inflow of technology from the United States and the United Nations. Because of the Korean War, and universal military service, the military became an important channel of technology transfer, which exposed the population to a variety of modern machinery.

As the Korean economic emphasis shifted, so did its technology acquisition programme. In the 1960s, it centred on the acquisition of import-substitution technologies for consumer goods industries and export-oriented light industries. In the 1960s a primary emphasis was given to the import of advanced technologies for the industries then being set up. A law to attract technology through foreign capital facilitated this, after some initial difficulties.

With the growth of the economy, the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) was established in 1966 to give technological assistance to the heavy, chemical, and other export industries. This helped to digest and absorb imported technologies and also to bring back Korean scientists working abroad. In the 1970s, many specialized industrial research institutes were established, largely spin-offs from KIST. The adaptation and improvement of imported technology was a primary aim of S&T policy during the third Five-Year Plan (19721976) and the fourth Five-Year Plan (1977-1981).

By the 1980s, the Republic of Korea had developed her industrial infrastructure to a considerable extent and was now competing with developed countries in some high-technology industries. Unlike, say, India or China, Korea did not have a strong ideological emphasis on S&T, but its S&T system had grown up pragmatically and organically in keeping with the requirements of the economy. Over a few decades the country had built up a viable technological acquisition programme that in the 1990s was beginning to compete in some cutting-edge technologies.

Thailand

The Thai report does not cover the major historical forces and constraints and the social environment discussed in the other reports. It briefly mentions some of the external influences that affected Thailand, such as the introduction of Buddhism and, later, aspects of building technology. The study mentions the beginning of the transfer of European-derived technology in the reign of Rama V. These first transfers occurred without Thailand undergoing direct subjugation by outside powers and largely on Thai initiatives, although these very initiatives were subject to a geopolitical environment in which outside powers were jostling for power around Thailand's borders.

The study concentrates more on the effects of the Thai national plans from 1961 to 1986. It notes, for example, that, under the first National Plan, "tremendous" change occurred in transportation, roads, and railways, that is, in the growth of Thailand's infrastructure. The number of educated people also increased significantly. During subsequent plans agriculture was also developed, more by extensive cultivation than by intensive effort, unlike in many other Asian countries during this period.

During the Plan periods, the private sector was encouraged to take part in industrialization under the close guidance and control of the government. But the import of technology that this entailed was done with only a minimum of mechanisms to select, control, and adapt the imported technology to Thailand's national needs.

Thailand's subsequent growth under rapid industrialization also gave rise to a strong rural-urban imbalance. The study notes the continuous growth of Thai industry during the period, but regrets that the industrialization was dependent on a heavy import component. The conclusion is that self-reliance was weak principally because of four factors: (1) science and technology was pushed from the top downwards, and there were (2) a lack of selection mechanisms to filter foreign imports, (3) inadequate efforts to evaluate R&D programmes, and (4) an insufficient link with the other sectors of the economy.

Philippines

If China, India, and Japan had explicit debates on science and technology, as well as on the relationships to the external world which were translated in varying degrees to action, the Philippines case showed a lack of both significant debate and significant industrialization.

The Philippines report takes into account the external environment as well as the historical sequence of technologies. Self-reliance at the macro level for the Philippines is defined as the replicative capacity of "second-wave" technologies. The latter correspond to the technologies that were developed from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up to the Second World War. Third-wave technologies comprise those that have been developed subsequently, such as information technology and biotechnology.

The report emphasizes that there was a large gap between the rhetoric of policy makers and the Philippines reality. A viable S&T policy was not a major concern of policy makers, and no serious attempt was made to introduce industrial technology. Moreover, a scientific community in the modern sense did not come into being as a functioning entity.

Cultural imperialism strongly influenced the nascent Philippines scientific community, the latter often looking over their shoulders at their mentors abroad. Furthermore, the interests of scientists were primarily in agriculture and medicine, whilst industrial research and basic research in the physical sciences were downplayed. The scientist as technician and taxonomist, rather than as discoverer, is an image that has persisted to the present.

The three major policy episodes in science and technology from the 1960s to the present had a tangible result only in education. The announced policy thrusts during these periods varied from import substitution in the 1960s, to the mission-oriented policies of the 1970s, and to the "demand-pull" strategy of the 1980s, which was accompanied by a Science and Technology Plan. Although some of these different attempts had some success, there was no significant departure from the basic framework of a dependent S&T system.

Thus, although the manufacturing sector in the Philippines grew in the initial period, it was built up on indiscriminate import substitution. The latter did not help to build organic linkages between industry and the rest of the economy. Furthermore, the proportion of scientists and engineers increased only marginally. Funding for R&D as a percentage of GNP also remained roughly stagnant.

The study attributes the weakness of the Philippines S&T capacity basically to an inability to break the colonial mould. Either the rules and regulations to filter the inflow of technology had loopholes, or the local bodies expected to do the screening did not have sufficient expertise. The Philippines is thus in contrast to China, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, where there was a national will to make a breakthrough in a technology-dependent world.

Japan

Of the countries studied in this research, Japan is the one that in a period of 100 years has made a successful transformation to the most advanced technological status. The parallels and contrasts with the other countries are therefore very instructive. Japan consciously opened up to the external world after the Meiji Restoration, and this step was taken only after considerable internal debate and a conscious awareness of, and control over, the process of opening up.5 Thereafter Japan absorbed science and technology with the same zeal that she had shown in earlier centuries in imbibing mainland Asian influences such as Confucianism and Buddhism.

In this process, she passed through four stages: pure imitation (from the mid-1800s to the end of the nineteenth century); higher industrialization, adapting technology to local conditions (from the beginning of the twentieth century to the end of the Second World War); catching up with advanced technology (from the Second World War to the early 1970s); and from "imitation to creation" (from the early 1970s to the present).

In the first period, Japan was dependent solely on foreign personnel for S&T guidance. The teachers in higher S&T institutions were almost all foreigners, who were replaced gradually by locals.

At a later period, the government brought academics and businessmen together to form research councils in various fields. And this industry-academic partnership helped actively in the mastery of science and technology.

Again, during the third period of catching up with advanced technology, the importation of foreign technology was strongly encouraged, as importation reduced the commercial risks and uncertainties of newly created technologies. This allowed Japan to make rapid advances in the newer technology. These imports were under strong governmental guidance with regard to their effects on the international balance of payments as well as their technology composition.

In the fourth and final stage, that of creative technology, a high level of R&D expenditure has put Japan on a par with the US.

According to the study, the reasons for Japan's capacity for technology mastery include its high educational standard at the beginning of industrialization, its entrepreneurial spirit, its willingness to learn new technologies and to abandon old ones, the dual structure of Japanese industry, and the guidance given to small companies by large ones. In addition, other contextual factors led to Japanese self-reliance, such as the country's high savings and investment level, and a nationalism which initially did not encourage foreign capital, though money was temporarily borrowed from abroad.

The Japanese example reveals the success of a carefully nurtured pragmatic technology policy, introduced to meet the country's own felt needs, as perceived through its own culture. In fact, the Japanese study team recommends for other developing countries the use of resourceful professionals who have been recruited from locals and are fully imbued with the country's culture. The team emphasizes that only professionals firmly rooted in these national fundamentals can make the required flexible responses in the acquisition of foreign technology.

The geopolitical environment and the local socio-economic situation

What then, are the "lessons" that we can learn from these studies of different countries? The countries have varied in terms of size, political regime, stage of development, cultural and historical background, and socio-economic conditions. Important issues that are mentioned explicitly or implicitly in the country reports will be discussed below. Issues raised only in one or a few case-studies, but considered vital for the region in general, will also be elaborated and generalized. In addition, other broader aspects and contextual issues vital for self-reliance - particularly those relating to the newer technologies which have only recently come to the fore and are not covered by the individual studies- will be taken up. In the early 1990s the cumulative results of an epoch are being experienced and a possible geopolitical turning-point in technology witnessed. Hence the need for the larger picture.

A first "lesson" is that, in the more successful cases, the groups that led industrialization and technology mastery had a strong historical awareness of, and identification with, their countries prior to embarking on industrialization. They were also aware of the socio-economic environment in the world outside, especially in the then developed countries. With that background, they could help bridge the gap between themselves and the industrialized world. There was both a committed leadership and important political and cultural debates within the country on the need for, as well as the direction of, the path of industrialization.

To the category of groups that successfully led industrialization and the mastery of technology belong the original Meiji Úlite and its successors, including the post-Second World War Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) in Japan. In the case of China and India, those who debated and responded to the Western political and economic encroachment also belong to this category. Similarly, in the Republic of Korea the Japanese subjugation and the Korean War prepared the country for a major industrialization effort. All these four countries have succeeded to varying degrees in their industrialization efforts.

The Thai report does not mention the Thai debates, but the fact that it was not colonized and that its leadership could weigh options relatively freely were undoubtedly important factors in Thailand making not inconsiderable economic and industrial progress.

It is in the Philippines case that the effects of cultural colonization and the lack of argued-out positions on industrialization and self-reliance became apparent, resulting in the country's weak commitment to effective industrialization.

Formal S&T structure and industry

When a decision-making Úlite embarks on an S&T policy, it can choose from a range of perspectives. In the case of China and India, the formal structures of science developed as the outcome of a theoretical and formal analysis of the role of industrialization in development. However, the links between these S&T structures? which included academic and industrial institutions, remained weak and partly tangential. In recent years, both China and India have attempted to supply the missing links between industry and the formal S&T structures.

In the case of Japan and the Republic of Korea, the S&T structures and industry grew hand in hand, largely in a pragmatic fashion. Quite early on in Japan, there existed joint bodies of industrialists and scientists. The organic linkages between industry and agriculture meant that advancement in one fed the other. The Japanese emphasized applied research, that is, research closely linked to industry. Today the bulk of Japanese R&D takes place within the firms themselves rather than in the public sphere,6 so that there is an immediate outlet for useful innovations, whilst, conversely, industry's demands are directly transferred to R&D groups.

In the Republic of Korea, the initial manpower training in the S&T sector aimed simply to provide technicians and engineers to operate and maintain industries. As industries developed, the S&T infrastructure developed, with constant interactions between the two. The Korean success in this strategy has been such that, in certain frontier areas such as chip manufacture, the country in the early 1990s is only a few years behind Japan.

In the case of the Philippines, in contrast to the examples of China, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, a weak scientific infrastructure had only a tangential relationship to the industrial structure.

It is not only the relationships between industrial and S&T organizations that are important, but also the internal workings of the organizations themselves. The industrial organizations in the West grew up with particular structures and characteristics as a part of an organic historical process. Attempts to transfer these Western organizational features wholesale do not necessarily succeed, and, when such transfers are made, the expected technological output may not replicate the success in a Western environment, as several studies going back to the early post-Second World War period have shown.7 The studies here have not concentrated on the details of organizational social structures as a filter of technology; but, undoubtedly, these factors would have been important in the technological successes and failures of the different countries, as studies on the effectiveness of Japanese organizations demonstrate.8

The rural-urban relationship

As important a factor in industrialization and technology mastery as the relationship between the external global environment and the internal situation in a country is the rural-urban relationship within a country. It is this that affects the terms of trade and other relationships between town and countryside and between industry and agriculture, intimately colouring processes of technology absorption.

In China, the Republic of Korea, and Japan, extensive land reforms after the Second World War prepared the background for rural agricultural production and also a rural market for industrial products. In Korea and Japan, the high purchasing price of rice, several times above the world market price, enhanced this rural market pull. In Thailand, the growth of agriculture on an extensive basis developed the rural economy, although the intensity of agricultural development was less than in other countries. In India and the Philippines, although no significant agrarian reforms were made, the introduction of high-yielding varieties provided increased incomes for rural areas. The passage of technology to industry is helped greatly by enhancing the mutually rewarding relationships between town and country.

Yet, in a large country like India, even given a high degree of inequality, a large urban middle class estimated at 200 million could still provide a viable market for some industrial consumer products. In the Philippines, the relatively small size of the urban middle class, combined with factors of dependence, has largely limited the level of industrialization.

Informal and formal sectors

In contrast to the formal S&T sector, which in some countries exists as an island unconnected with economic activities, there is also the informal knowledge system. This is also the knowledge practiced by the Asian informal economic sector. This sector is responsive to immediate market demands and market openings, and uses knowledge opportunistically wherever it finds it. In the bazaars and small markets of Asia, the informal sector is thus continuously innovating.

Often, products from the formal sector are reprocessed and recycled into new artefacts. For example, an old thrown-away electric bulb and a discarded tin may be made into an oil lamp, a technological product found in many parts of South Asia. By similar innovative processes, new methods are discovered for making 30-year-old vehicles function, and new toys are made from junk. Real technological creativity occurs in this milieu and the formal S&T structure is largely tangential to this creativity.

The same informal creativity also exists at the higher ends of the technology spectrum, when repairmen and hobbyists carry out ceaseless experimentation and innovation in order to repair and modify difficult-to-obtain electronic products and parts, and to make novel customized products. To this same class of creative technology acquisition also belong those small enterprises, such as those found in Hong Kong, where new electronics-based products are constantly created on the basis of reverse engineering, product piracy, direct market pulls, and continuous inventiveness.9

It is also this type of informal creative culture which drove Silicon Valley in its heyday and which gave rise to the original10 computer "hacker" culture, both good examples of technology creativity and mastery at the highest level. It is this dynamic creative relationship that should exist between the formal S&T system and the economy. And, in the country which most successfully transferred technology, Japan, the boundary between the formal and the informal in organizations does not exist.11 In this milieu, different technological cultures can blend into each other seamlessly, synergistically.12 Here, a positive milieu for organizational technological creativity may have been created, in contrast to the more rigid arrangements seen elsewhere.

New generic technologies

The transformation from a pre-industrial economy to a technology-based agricultural and industrial economy which was attempted in many Asian countries - and which has been fully or partially achieved in several countries -occurred at a time when the developed countries themselves were undergoing a further profound technological transformation. If the beginnings of industrialization were associated with steam power and its later developments with electricity, the automobile engine, and chemical industries, the new "third-wave" technologies were those of information and biotechnology. They are more "generic" than any technology since the Industrial Revolution.13 Within the next few decades, they and their products are expected to penetrate many aspects of the economy, the workplace, and the home, and hence any discussion of technological self-reliance in Asia today must take them into account.

Commentators have pointed out that, for the developing countries, information technology offered scope for "leap-frogging" in development.14 The other new technology, biotechnology, could possibly have an equally pervasive impact in agriculture and medicine.15

With major chip manufacture and computer-related industries in Japan and the Republic of Korea, the East Asian region is one of the strongest manufacturing bases for information technology. This manufacturing also exists to varying degrees in India and China and in the next generation of would-be NICS, which include Thailand and, to some minimal extent, the Philippines. Some countries, such as India, have also been developing software as an export product, and this by 1991 had become a dynamic sector.16

Several of the country reports have taken note of the implications of the new technologies. The approaches can be roughly differentiated between the Republic of Korea and Japan, where strong organic links between S&T and industry exist, and India and China, where these links are weak. With product cycles in information technology counted in a few years and changes in biotechnology that are equally rapid, the technologies change faster than the five-year or ten-year planning cycles of governments. This implies that, for these new technologies, rigid S&T structures with weak links to industry are inappropriate and that more direct and fluid mechanisms for connecting the two are the ones that will succeed.

Social shaping of technology

The country studies have revealed aspects of the social effects and implications of technology acquisition. The studies supplement a large number of others done on Western societies, covering such aspects as the relationship of technology to society and how society shapes technology and vice versa,17 as well as a smaller number of similar studies done on the Asian region. Could this combined knowledge be more directly applied to Asian societies in order to generate socially useful technologies, as well as to develop technologies that are associated with desirable social arrangements? With 40 years of experience, can one socially shape technologies in Asia in the future? In posing these questions the concept of self-reliance is crucial, since it implies the social shaping of the technology through local social and cultural needs and not through predominantly non-Asian ones.

This question is more important in that the newer technologies - information technology and biotechnology - are more socially responsive than the earlier ones. They can be "cut" and shaped socially in many more ways than the earlier technologies. Since the end of the field research for this study, a considerable number of research studies have been published on the social dimensions of the new technology. The new technologies, they indicate, are intimately coloured by the social assumptions of the societies that gave birth to them.18 As a consequence, information technology19 carries within it certain orientations and cultural assumptions arising from the way it has been socially constructed.20 The variations in social shaping are seen, for example, in the very strong differences between nations in the characteritics of their computer-integrated manufacture (CIM) systems.21 The social shaping is also seen in software, where cultural factors, including gender relations, influence the technology.22 In a similar manner, social factors directly shape biotechnology.23

Conscious shaping of the technology

Recognition of this intimate relationship between biotechnology and information technology, on the one hand, and the social system on the other can allow for conscious social interventions in the technology, instead of the implicit intervention that usually happens, bringing a fresh dimension to the concept of Asian self-reliance. As the two technologies are very flexible to social and cultural pressures, the question then will be which culture's and which society's values will be mapped within these technologies as they unfold. A consequent task in self-reliance will then be to influence this most plastic of technologies so that it reflects the best social aspirations and knowledge systems of the cultures in Asia. Already, of course, the pre-industrial technologies of Asia have been blended with the old industrial technologies.24 The problem will be consciously to guide this blending.

The Asian region is rich in non-European intellectual activity, including aspects of technology and the sciences. Some recent research indicates that these indigenous Asian aspects could become a useful adjunct to the development of new technology in Asia.

Thus, developing new biotechnology material requires access to a variety of useful genes. Plants that are unknown in developed countries have many uses that have been identified over the centuries by farmers and non-Western medical practitioners across Asia. Part of this knowledge is now being gathered by MNCs, the plants and their properties identified, and, later, the particular gene responsible for a desired property isolated and incorporated in a new genetically engineered plant.25 Scouring Asia's past formal and local traditions for useful plants, and including these in genetically engineered products, would be a useful Asian contribution to the shaping of the new technology.

At the information technology software end, too, it seems that the diversity of Asian concepts of mental processing could possibly be used as a model on which software for information processing could be written. No single model of how the mind works, Western or non-Western, yet provides a complete picture of all aspects of mental processing and hence gives a perfect model to mimic in software. In several Asian civilizations, various systems of logic, epistemology, and psychology have been developed independent of the Western tradition,26 and these could be written as software, in a way similar to that by which various competing and partial Western models of mental processing have been used as the basis of a wide array of information products. Some preliminary successes may have already been made in this direction, for example in language translation programmes that use the linguistics of the fifth-century BC grammarian Panini.27

The greatest impact on self-reliance could come from Asian answers to some of the troubling questions raised by the new technologies. The latter put doubt on some of the most cherished self-perceptions of humans. Biotechnology raises key questions about traditional concepts of what it is to be a living being, including what it is to be uniquely human, in the biological sense.28 On the other hand, information technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics human mental processes, raises questions about what it is to be uniquely human in a cultural sense. Real self-reliance will require searching answers to these questions within Asian cultural contexts.

Because of these key questions, debates on ethical and cultural issues are shaping both technologies. Thus, the release of biotechnological products into the atmosphere has been debated within a framework of its potential impact on other organisms.29 And advances in medicine relating to, say, the onset of life and its termination have been hotly discussed and have influenced conventional medical technology. Developments in the new biotechnology stretch these questions very much further, raising fresh and very complicated ethical issues.30 These discussions and controversies in the cultural and social sphere influence and continuously shape the new technology.31

However, the social and medical implications of biotechnology have as yet been largely discussed only in Western countries.32 These debates have unfolded within a context that assumes Western cultural and social givens as universal; the imprint of the West's religious traditions, for example, is unconsciously brought in.33 In Asian countries there has been little debate on these matters.34 Yet, workers in the field have pointed out that Asian traditions could well give different answers to these questions,35 as for example reflected in the Japanese response to definitions of clinical death.36,37

Advances in biotechnology, including gene therapy, could reshape and reformulate, among other things, life, death, health, and beauty.38 The ethical as well as aesthetic criteria on which these are decided are deeply culture-bound and, if debated within the Asian region's different cultural traditions, would give different answers from those of the West. And this act of self-reliance would tend to give a different direction to technology.

Advanced information technology, especially AI-related technology, aims at cloning the partial behaviour of the mind. This again would raise profound questions for those parts of Asia which have strong cultural and religious traditions emphasizing the importance of the mind and mind culture. Asian inputs into debates on the ethics and nature of AI could also strongly influence the direction of information technology.

Existing agendas for shaping technology

The conscious social shaping of the new technologies, one should note, has already been attempted in a pan-European programme to develop "human-centred" technologies.39 Here, a philosophy of "anthromo-pocentric" production systems has been adopted by the Forecasting and Assessment in Science and Technology (FAST) programme of research in Europe, which has an advisory relationship with the EC countries.40

The FAST programme studies production systems which emphasize desirable human qualities, and which take cultural differences into account. It has internalized the fact that in Europe there are many cultures and that technologies should accommodate this variety. It is expected that such anthropocentric technologies, because of their human scope, will be efficient and make European industry very competitive in the twenty-first century.41

Efforts similar to FAST, which take into account the social and cultural givers, are exercises in self-reliance that could be profitably emulated in the Asian region, whose cultures diverge from each other much more than in Europe. As the region increasingly adopted the new technologies, its local cultural bent would inevitably be stamped on them, often in implicit ways. The way to a more productive and socially relevant technological future is a strategy that uses the strengths of local cultural traditions, including their knowledge inputs.

A region which is fast emerging from the shadow of Europe, and which, earlier, was also home to some of the world's most vibrant civilizations, would find such an approach congenial. Making the new technologies socially responsive, in line with this extended view of self-reliance would in addition increase both productivity and social wellbeing.

Concluding remarks

In this study we have noted some of the key aspects of the technology acquisition process in Asia. Several countries, especially the larger ones, have pursued broad-based strategies of technology acquisition. After nearly 40 years, the results are uneven. There are many notable successes, but there are also a number of shortcomings. In several countries, the potential of investment in technological acquisition has not been fully realized, and the technological system has not interacted fruitfully with the socio-economic and cultural systems.

Our study indicates that self-reliance in the mastery of technology requires cognition of, and action on, some key two-way relationships.

These are the external geopolitical environment and internal social structures, the rural-urban dichotomy, S&T formal structures and industry, the informal and formal economy, and local and imported cultural and knowledge systems.

Some of the S&T strategies that have been built up over the last 40 years have helped develop these dialogical relationships, while some others have hindered them. As a result, over the decades many lessons have been learnt and internalized. These lessons could now be used for renewed efforts in S&T development.


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