Asians Press Research, Seek to Curb Exodus to Western Labs

WHEN India took its first space satellite from the lab to an outdoor test site, the transport used was a bullock cart.

And in Taiwan a decade ago, a program was launched to develop an electric car, even before any Taiwanese farmer could afford to buy a gasoline-driven vehicle.

Throughout Asia, a pell-mell rush during the last few decades toward scientific research, unlike the slower evolution of science in the West, has resulted in many incongruities, due to the persistence of ancient cultures, poverty, or traditional ways.

Government leaders, believing that technology holds the key to development, have sought to quickly bring an industrial and scientific revolution to their societies - but often with borrowed ideas from abroad and in uneven ways.

For many nations, such as Thailand and India, the biggest problem is how to curb the exodus of their scientists to Western labs.

Some of the most active research in Asia has been in labs sponsored with Western funds, such as the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines or the International Tropical Plants Research Institute in Taiwan. Both labs have produced new high-yielding varieties that have prevented widespread hunger in Asia.

This fall, the Science Council of Japan will hold a conference of leading scientists and researchers from Asia to build ties within the region. Japan now has pursued Western-style science for a century.

South Korea, the Asian nation with the highest ratio of citizens holding advanced degrees, has closely followed Japan in trying to promote indigenous research by scientists, rather than just pursue technological innovation by engineers.

Korea's conglomerates, such as Daewoo and Hyundai, have recently seen how their technological edge in global markets can easily slip unless they invest in more basic research. In the city of Taejon, some 29 private and public labs has been built over the past decade into a "Science Town."

Korea's first tactic, however, is to persuade American and Japanese companies to "transfer" high technology through commercial deals. Korea also hopes to recruit Russian scientists and their work.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of Korea's science and technology rests in how well we internationalize R&D efforts to supplement our current R&D resources," says Yu Hee Yol, directory general of the technology cooperation bureau of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The government has begun various steps, including a fund-raising "R&D lottery," aimed at raising $1.3 billion by 1996 for a Science And Technology Promotion Fund.

By comparison, in 1990 Korea's total public and private spending was $4.5 billion, or 1/18th of Japan's. And its number of researchers was 70,000 to Japan's 480,000.

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