Science and technology

Thailand and Vietnam lead the countries of the Lower Mekong in their adoption, accessibility and investment in science and technology, consistent with their position as the two most developed nations in the region.

Honglada Thoetkiattikul, an ASEAN-US science and technology fellow from Thailand, contributes to improving science-based policy-making in the region. Photo by Montakan Tanchaisawat, USAID. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Honglada Thoetkiattikul, an ASEAN-US science and technology fellow from Thailand, contributes to improving science-based policy-making in the region. Photo by Montakan Tanchaisawat, USAID. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Government policy

The ministries responsible for science and technology in the governments of the Lower Mekong have all published policies1 that cover the same general goals, such as:

  • Bringing social and economic benefits to the country
  • Making the best use of natural resources
  • Staying competitive in the region
  • Caring for the environment
  • Forging partnerships with private industry and other nations.

Source: UNESCAP. SDG 9: Download G09.4-Science_technology_and_innovation_(STI). Created by ODI April 2016. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The UN’s Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2015 shows 2002 as the last year when data for all Lower Mekong countries on expenditure for research and development were available. 2011 expenditure data were also available for Thailand and Vietnam.2 This, in itself, may be indicative of the priority given to this area by thevarious governments. In 2011, Thailand spent 0.39 percent of its GDP on research and development, while Vietnam spent 0.19 percent of its GDP. By comparison, expenditure in the same year for regional neighbour Malaysia was 1.06 percent, and for Singapore 2.15 percent.3

Sustainable Development Goal 9

Target 9.5: Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors ... including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people.

Target 9.c: Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet.

The targets under Goal 9 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals set some broad benchmarks of increasing research capabilities and spending, as well as access to technology.4 Given the current low base of these areas for most Lower Mekong countries, these targets should be achievable by 2030.


The ICT Development Index5 ranks countries based on their use of and access to technology infrastructure, as well as IT literacy. The scores (out of a possible 10) and rankings (out of 167 countries) for Lower Mekong countries in 2015 and 2010 are shown below:

2015 rank

2015 score


2010 rank

2010 score


























The report notes Thailand’s rapid rise in world rankings for use and access to technology between 2010 and 2015. It attributes this, in large part, to their adoption of a digital policy framework in 2014, which set targets for infrastructure development in both broadband and mobile networking.6

Source: ITU, Measuring the Information Society Report, 2015. Created by ODI 25 March 2016. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Source: ITU, Measuring the Information Society Report, 2015. Created by ODI 25 March 2016. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

*Myanmar data on cost as a percentage of GNI per capita is an ODI calculation based on World Bank data showing a 2014 GNI p.c. of $1,270. You can see more notes on the data here in the ODI Datahub.

While Vietnam has the most affordable fixed broadband in the region when measured against GNI per capita, Thailand has by far the fastest speeds, offering 6 megabits per second (Mbit/s), compared to Vietnam’s 2.5 Mbit/s, Cambodia’s 2 Mbit/s and Laos’ and Myanmar’s 0.5 Mbit/s.7

Other technologies

Due to their advanced economies, industries in Thailand and Vietnam tend to use more advanced technologies in production and manufacturing than the other Lower Mekong countries; however, some innovative projects have harnessed technological advances for more traditional sectors, for example in agriculture and garment manufacturing.8 9 

Open data


Put most succinctly: “Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.”
Source: The Open Definition.

Several–though not all–Lower Mekong countries are following open data principles to make information more widely accessible and usable. Thailand (Thai language) and Laos (Lao and English) have dedicated, active government data portals; Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (Tiếng Việt and English) gives access to official data from various government sources; while data from Myanmar and Cambodia are limited to a few specific government websites.

While these moves are positive, independent analysis still rates the region poorly compared in terms of data accessibility.  The Global Open Data Index (GODI) included Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar in their 2015 report,10 while the Open Data Barometer included Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar in their 2015 results.11 Both ranked Myanmar in the bottom four places in the world for legal and technical openness of their data. While the GODI had Thailand in the top 50 percent of countries studied, the country still received low scores for openness of government spending and land ownership data.

Science in education

The United Nation’s reports that the three least-developed Mekong economies of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have achieved the 2015 target for full enrolment in primary education that was a key indicator of their Millennium Development Goals. However, their levels of enrolment, investment and research in science and technology education are still minimal. Thailand is the only Lower Mekong country to rank on UNESCO’s Atlas of research and experimental development.12

Intellectual property

While all five countries are members of the World Intellectual Property Organization—with Vietnam the first to join in 1976, and Myanmar the most recent in 200113—only Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are parties to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which allows a patent to be simultaneously recognised internationally, once filed in any of the countries party to the agreement.14 There is no centralized registration system for the ASEAN region, however, meaning that companies need to register intellectual property in each country where they operate.

Source: World Bank. High-technology exports (current US$). Created by ODI April 2016. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Last updated 21 April 2016


  • 1. National ICT Development Authority of Cambodia was responsible for producing the “National ICT Policy” – website not accessible from February to 21 April 2016 (; Laos Ministry of Science and Technology 2016-2020 policy document. Translated from Lao language:; Myanmar Ministry of Science and Technology,; Thailand 2012-2021 policy in Thai language:; Vietnam 2016-2020 policy translation:
  • 2. UNESCAP. Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed 21 April 2016.
  • 3. World Bank. “Research and development expenditure (% of GDP).” Accessed 25 February 2016.
  • 4. United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed 21 April 2016.
  • 5. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 2015. “Measuring the Information Society Report, 2015.” Accessed 19 February 2016.
  • 6. Royal Thai Government. “Committee for Digital Economy and Society approves National Digital Economy Master Plan,” 8 February 2016. Accessed 25 February 2016.
  • 7. International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 2015. “Measuring the Information Society Report, 2015.” Page 98. Accessed 19 February 2016.
  • 8. International Labour Organization. “ASEAN Economic Community 2015: Enhancing competitiveness and employability through skill development.” Accessed 25 April 2016.—asia/—ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_344796.pdf
  • 9. Dyna Rochmyaningsih. SciDevNet. “Mealybugs attack Asia’s cassava farms.” Accessed 25 April 2016.
  • 10. Open Knowledge. Open Data Index 2015. Accessed 25 April 2016.
  • 11. World Wide Web Foundation. Open Data Barometer. Accessed 25 April 2016.
  • 12. UNESCO. “eAtlas of Research and Experimental Development.” Accessed 19 February 2016.!/profile/WORLD/THA
  • 13. World Intellectual Property Organization. “Country profiles.” Accessed 25 February 2016.
  • 14. World Intellectual Property Organization. Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).” Accessed 25 February 2016.
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