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Bend it like Asia

Zafar Anjum | July 17, 2008
Is Asia the new hub of innovation?

Asia is rising fast as a hub for innovation, led by countries such as China, India and Singapore.

I think it was last year when the Newsweek magazine did a cover story on how the USA was losing its edge on patents. Asia was coming up fast with new patents, threatening to knock the USA off its leadership position in this area.

Now there is some fresh evidence to make this claim sound truer.

In a report China innovation: The next big surprise CIO Asias managing editor Ross O. Storey noted that innovation will be the next big surprise out of China.

He was quoting Jack Perkowski, the chairman and chief executive officer of ASIMCO Technologies, an important manufacturer in Chinas automotive components industry.

Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Singapore, Perkowski said there is a tremendous pressure in China to find more affordable products, than those offered by the west, which will inevitably lead to innovation.

Heres the main point that he made: 400 million Chinese people, who now earn more than US$7,000 a year can afford notebook computers, but theyd rather not pay what the West pays for them.

The other 900 million people cant afford notebook computers, Perkowski said, so everyday you have 1.3 billion Chinese waking up trying to figure out how to make these things cheaper.

Helping them figure this out are the Asian researchers. This is true not just about IT but lot of other sectors.

Writing in The New York Times on May 4, columnist Thomas L. Friedman also highlights Americas losing its hold on research and innovation (Who will tell the people?):

"A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New Yorks Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapores ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and childrens play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlins luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

"How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe its because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the worlds best talent including Americans.

"And us? Harvards president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions. Today, she added, China, India, Singapore … have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere."

Can Asia really make it or will crises like the energy and food crisis and the shifting sands of global finance spoil the party?

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of the MIS Asia portal.


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