The British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in a speech given to the House of Commons has stated that “the global scientific landscape is now shifting”, and she has referred to the rise of India and China as highly significant.
Speaking about how the New Scientist had posed the question - “Is India the new knowledge superpower? - Or of how the think-tank DEMOS had posed their question: “Is China the new science superpower?” Beckett spoke about how India is producing more science graduates than all of Europe combined, how China has tripled it’s spend on R&D over the previous five years, and of how Silicon Valley is underpinned by numerous Indian and Chinese workers.
The Foreign Secretary recognises the shift towards Asia, and sees it as a chance to strengthen their own scientific base, but she also recognises the competitive threat to Britain and Europe – a threat seen here in Ireland in recent days with the announcement by the American Power Conversion (APC) firm to cut jobs at its Galway plant.
British policy in this area matches Irish ambitions, with the announcement last week by the Irish government that huge sums of money are to be ploughed into Irish science research, and the need for European countries to attract the brightest and best scientists from Asia to study and work in Europe. And like Ireland, Britain is also hoping to boost the export of high-tech products. Beckett spoke about the current Indo-UK science and innovation council, which seeks to build bridges at the highest levels between scientists, business leaders and politicians.
Speaking about the growth of Chinese links with the UK, Beckett stated that the UK-China Partners in Science initiative has created “significant new bilateral links and agreements between UK and Chinese scientific funding agencies and research agencies on everything ranging from climate modelling to astronomy.” The Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) has also sponsored the think-tank DEMOS to run with a programme entitled “Atlas of Ideas”, that seeks to map the scientific progress of the Asian Tigers – China, India and South Korea.
The Foreign Secretary sees the growth in scientific development as helping with major world problems such as climate change, and she notes the beneficial aspects of science on past events – an example being the containment of TB – and other diseases. The key remains in developing working “partnerships with scientists around the globe”, not just within Asia, but also in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, areas where high-energy consumption and carbon emissions are increasing sharply. The G8’s action plan on climate change focussed on the development of new technologies.
The UK is investing £3.5 million into the EU-China partnership on climate change, an initiative which should see near zero emissions on coal, with carbon capture and storage, as China seeks to build a new generation of coal-fired power stations. The UK’s National Environment Research Council has also fired up a three-year project with Japan’s earth simulator centre in Yokohama, and British modelling is being utilised to simulate changing climate systems.
According to Beckitt, the UK FCO is engaged in “wave energy” research with the Brazilians, “monsoon monitoring” with the Indians, and “hydrogen production and storage” with the Chinese.
In closing her speech, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the need to attract young science graduates. She added that some feared the effects of science – “the world of Dr Strangelove or designer babies” – and that others equated globalisation with job losses and identity crisis, but she emphasised that her department would be at the “heart” of the positive changes wrought by the twin influences of science and globalisation.