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Securing East Asia via Silk Road for science, technology and innovation

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

01-25-2016 15:59 BJT

By Mathew Maavak, a doctoral researcher in Security Foresight at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

While various Silk Roads have highlighted by China for a "Greater Eurasia" economic integration, it is time to look beyond infrastructure, trade and economics. A lasting foundation can buttress the building blocks of tomorrow, especially in science, technology and innovation (STI).


With the world likely entering a prolonged-period of economic slowdown, as well as increasing volatility and uncertainty, Greater Eurasia – particularly its East Asian pivot – remains a zone of relative stability.

Yet such stability is contingent upon maintaining a level of economic autarchy, a robust and credible medium of transaction (i.e. Global Yuan) and qualitative leaps in hi-tech innovation and exports to offset the fallout of a shrinking global market.

East Asia can no longer rely on extra-regional exports to fund its future engines of growth. The region must leverage its internal strengths to maintain sustainable growth; to focus more on the regional rather than the global.

Increasing regional interconnectivity therefore necessitates information and R&D collaborations at an unprecedented pace to "colonize" the future.  

China can lead STI Silk Road

While China-initiated New Silk Routes which are referred as the "Belt and Road" initiative, to create and merge trading, financial and infrastructural nodes, there remains a critical need to build and synergize regional STI capacity.

Trade without concomitant upgrades in national STI capabilities may lead to rentier-yoked economies in relatively backward regions of East Asia (e.g. in Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar etc).

An STI Silk Road levels the playing field by combining expertise, exchanging critical knowledge and exploring solutions to fill national developmental gaps.
Such regional undertakings may not entail costly investments. Apart from already extant infrastructure, newly-laid fibre optic cables and transponders along many silk routes can be used to facilitate a regional, internet-facilitated STI Silk Road.

The central nodes in each nation would be its universities, science and technology parks, government agencies and indigenous Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), which should be open to participation from all strata of society. 

An Open Source approach can gauge what the people want, need and aspire in terms of their immediate development. 

The central nodes in each nation may act as gatekeepers, while a pan-regional cluster of nodal institutions may accelerate solutions to myriad developmental imperatives.

Through a process of give and take, citizen-level aspirations can be aligned to national and regional strategic needs. Citizens must not only take credit, but share the blame as well, for the decisions they make.

Unlike the developmental plans of the West, the people of East Asia will be the co-stakeholders and engineers of their future development.

The sheer magnitude of contradictions and chaos roiling the West now shows what happens when the "people factor" is reduced to a "paper tiger." This elitist trap, marked by myriad fundamental and fractionating inequalities, should be avoided at all costs. 

Insulating the East's future

The STI Silk Road would be the regional insulator and stabilizer. The China-led Belt and Road (B&R) initiatives can be aligned to national STI clusters. This knowledge-centric approach helps ensure that no particular East Asian nation will predominate at the expense of another.

The STI Silk Road will leverage strengths of constituent nations and institutions to ensure a sustainable regional equilibrium, with societies, nations and regions doing what they traditionally do best.

In terms of holistic development, the sciences can bridge the rural-urban divide, the core and periphery, and haves and have nots within the region. The ideas of children will be just as important as those of expert adults.

This is an emerging axiom of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), Open Innovation and Open Government paradigms.

Where high-speed broadband cables are missing, portable and rechargeable solar packs and satellite dishes may ensure adequate connectivity, bringing the region into a single knowledge matrix. 

The English language – once an artificial transplantation into the region – would smooth over linguistic divides. Asia has had the capacity to absorb the blows of colonial outsiders, learn from bitter experience, and turn the tables to its advantage.

Securitizing Asia's Future

Asian media leaders are already working on an "information Silk Road" in tandem with the main Silk Road initiatives to promote Asia as "a community of shared destiny." Why not fortify that shared Asian destiny via an Open Source matrix for science-based development?

Such an interlinked cluster can be used for trans-boundary crisis management as well. A plant pathologist may need inputs from lecturers or experts in various sub-domains to map out the impacts of a detected rice fungus half the world away.

Since rice is the primary diet of East Asia, such a threat needs to be detected and prioritized through an OSINT-based early warning system. 

Experts from within the STI Silk Road may consult each other to draw up a contingency management plan i.e. what action plans need be formulated, and which Silk Road university or institution should lead the rapid response project. An emerging threat can be neutralized.

An STI Silk Road therefore focuses on opportunities and development, and it "securitizes" our future. Apart from hi-tech innovation, citizens in an economically depressed world can be empowered to exchange forms of regional jugaad (frugal) innovation.

Inaction is not an option if the region is to avoid a repeat of the East Asian financial and currency crises of 1997. The coming crisis is slated to be far worse than preceding ones in recent memory.

China can therefore help secure the future of East Asia by adding yet another golden strand into the Silk Road tapestry. It is time for an STI Silk Road.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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