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.
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.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index is compiled from data around 12 ‘pillars’, three of which have close relevance to science and technology: higher education and training, technological readiness and innovation. In the 2017–18 index, all the Lower Mekong countries (excluding Myanmar, which is not ranked) have much lower scores for these areas than their overall ranking.2 Cambodia, for example, ranks 94th overall out of 137 countries, yet is in 124th place for higher education and training. Thailand and Vietnam score 32nd and 55th overall, yet are 61st and 79th respectively for technological readiness. Strong scores in areas such as macroeconomic environment or labor market efficiency are undone by the poor technological rankings for each country.
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.3 Given the current low base of these areas for most Lower Mekong countries, these targets should be achievable by 2030.
The ICT Development Index 20174 ranks countries on 11 indicators around use of and access to technology infrastructure and IT literacy. The scores (out of a possible 10) and rankings (out of 174 countries for 2017 and 167 for 2010) are shown below.
The index finds a strong association between economic development and development of information and communications technologies. The average index value for developed countries is 7.40 out of 10, while that for developing countries is 4.07.5
Thailand had a rapid rise in world rankings for use and access to technology between 2010 and 2017. The country adopted a digital policy framework in 2014 which set targets for infrastructure development in both broadband and mobile networking.6
While Vietnam had the most affordable fixed broadband in the region in 2015, Thailand had by far the fastest speeds, offering 10 megabits per second (Mbit/s), compared to Vietnam’s 2.5 Mbit/s, Cambodia’s 4 Mbit/s and Laos’ and Myanmar’s 0.5 Mbit/s.7
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
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 2016 ranked Thailand 51st, Cambodia 74th and Myanmar last out of 94 countries.10 While Thailand ranked the best of the Lower Mekong countries studied, the country still received low scores for openness of land ownership and government spending data. The Open Data Barometer for 2016 included Thailand (53rd place out of 114 countries), Vietnam (79th), and Myanmar (113th and second-to-last).11
United Nations reported that the three least-developed Mekong economies of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar achieved the 2015 target for full enrolment in primary education that was a key indicator of their Millennium Development Goals. However, their levels of secondary school enrolment, investment and research in science and technology education are still minimal.
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 2001.12 Only Myanmar is not a contracting party 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.13 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.
- 1. National ICT Development Authority of Cambodia was responsible for producing the “National ICT Policy” – website not accessible from February to 21 April 2016 (www.nida.gov.kh); Laos Ministry of Science and Technology 2016-2020 policy document. Translated from Lao language: http://www.most.gov.la/index.php/en/2012-06-25-04-16-48; Myanmar Ministry of Science and Technology, http://www.most.gov.mm/most2eng/; Thailand 2012-2021 policy in Thai language: http://www.sti.or.th/policy.php?content_type=9&data=1; Vietnam 2016-2020 policy translation: http://www.most.gov.vn/Desktop.aspx/Details-Article/Research-programs/Key_Directions_Objectives_and_Tasks_of_Science_and_Technology_for_the_2016-2020_period/.
- 2. World Economic Forum. The Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018. Accessed 29 December 2017. http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-index-2017-2018/competitiveness-rankings/#series=GCI
- 3. United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed 21 April 2016. http://www.unescap.org/resources/sdg-9-build-resilient-infrastructure-promote-inclusive-and-sustainable-industrialization
- 4. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2017. http://www.itu.int/net4/ITU-D/idi/2017/index.html Accessed 29 December 2017.
- 5. Ibid
- 6. Royal Thai Government. “Committee for Digital Economy and Society approves National Digital Economy Master Plan,” 8 February 2016. Accessed 25 February 2016. http://www.thaigov.go.th/index.php/en/government-en1/item/99989-99989.html
- 7. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2016 op cit. page 120
- 8. International Labour Organization. “ASEAN Economic Community 2015: Enhancing competitiveness and employability through skill development.” Accessed 25 April 2016.http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_344796.pdf
- 9. Dyna Rochmyaningsih. SciDevNet. “Mealybugs attack Asia’s cassava farms.” Accessed 25 April 2016. http://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/agriculture/news/mealybugs-attack-asia-s-cassava-farms.html
- 10. Open Knowledge. Open Data Index 2016. Accessed 29 December 2017. https://index.okfn.org/place/
- 11. World Wide Web Foundation. Open Data Barometer. Accessed 29 December 2017. http://opendatabarometer.org/?_year=2016&indicator=ODB
- 12. World Intellectual Property Organization. “Country profiles.” Accessed 25 February 2016. http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/
- 13. World Intellectual Property Organization. Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).” Accessed 2 June 2017. http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/registration/pct/