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Politics; science, technology, and innovation (STI); religion; policy; STI diplomacy; ASEAN Community; povert


"Science" and "politics" have been interwoven since the beginning of civilization, especially for a mighty nation. Science, technology, and innovation (STI) are now three major ingredients of knowledge creation and utilization. Global trends on techno-globalism, open economy, and the emergence of modern society have increased the degree of involvement of scientists in public controversies, as well as social participation in the scientific world in Southeast Asia, following four decades of successful industrialization. The 2010s is the beginning of the latest tipping point in the politics of STI, particularly on the reinterpretation of the benefits from technological innovation for social modernity and wealth creation from the religious angle, a paradigm shift in policy framework from STI development into STI for development, and Glocalization of STI diplomacy under the forthcoming ASEAN Community platform.

Scenarios and Early Indicators

Politics of preaching: A reason and faith divide

Southeast Asia is home to three of the major World religions, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), along with Hinduism and Ancestor worship. There are two major streams of religion and politics in this region – the politics of Islam and the rest. Three crucial points in this relationship are: 1) the increased public role of religion in politics and civic life, 2) the way religion engages with national politics and posits itself as one of the pillars of the nation, and 3) how religion frames and harnesses modernity and capitalism with particular ideological (or spiritual) interpretations (Chong, 2010). For the first point, technological advancement in ICT and logistics are accelerating the interaction and visibility of STI and religion with the general public. Both religions and the scientific community in Southeast Asia apply ICT for their preaching and knowledge diffusion purposes; religion uses scientific knowledge to conserve the important sacred relics and documents, e.g. all of the major Southeast Asian language versions of the Bible are already available online, including 24 hours satellite channels for religions, while scientific programs have less representation. In this sense, the scientific world is falling behind their holy counterparts.

The contemporary adversaries between STI and the three dominant religions can be observed from the second and third points, which are partly an outcome of the first. Religion still plays a very crucial role in all Southeast Asian culture. For the case of Islam, around 95% of Muslims in Thailand consider religion to have a very important role in their lives, the highest in Asia, and two percent higher than in Indonesia and Malaysia (PEW Research Center, 2012). These three Southeast Asian nations have higher percentages when compared with South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan), which are significantly higher than those in the Middle-East & North Africa. Although there is a strong public support for STI among leading countries in Southeast Asia, issues on public understanding and engagement in STI are still being marginalized. In the case of Malaysia, the reflection from MASTIC’s biennial public awareness survey findings illustrate that there are also dissenting views regarding acceptance of modern STI, particularly among the Malay-Muslim community (Hazim, 2004). So far, there have not been similar observations from Buddhism and Christianity angles.

Year 2012 can be considered as having a very active political campaign from some religion leaders against the scientific world. Reason and faith debate in Southeast Asia will be more dynamic than ever. For Buddhism, an on-going religion strike back campaign on "Ignorance of science" led by Thai celebrity Buddhist Monk from the orthodox Theravāda sect, has affected and influenced his 900,000 Facebook fans and 600,000 Twitter followers, and is already impacting the social thinking on STI. For Catholics, in early August 2012, with fierce opposition from the country’s influential Catholic bishops, the Philippines House of Representatives ended debate on a reproductive health bill to move forward for a house floor vote next year (2013). The bill is part of President Benigno Aquino III’s antipoverty policy. For Islam, the Indonesian court jailed an atheist activist for 30 months for posting Prophet Mohammed cartoons on his social network, and the government is in the process of launching an Islamic version of Facebook in the near future.

Policy inclusivity: Emergence of new generation of innovation systems

A new paradigm of knowledge and innovation policy has emerged, whereby the late-coming policy maker can learn from his/her neighboring partner. At the end of the last millennium, national innovation systems (NIS) of less successful developing countries in Southeast Asia were rather weak and fragmented, except for Singapore (Intarakamnerd & Chairatana, 2002). The new millennium marks a U-turn in paradigm shift among policy makers. Most new or up-coming policy will have an extensive technology foresight to extend the time period, including an integration of innovation into the scope of policy, except the national science and technology policy of the Philippines (2002 – 2020).

Most of the new and up-coming STI policy in key Southeast Asian countries started in the early 2010s. These include ‘Vision and Mission 2025’ of Indonesia, the forthcoming Malaysia National Science, Technology and Innovation policy (towards 2020)Singapore Research Innovation and Enterprise Plan 2015 (RIE2015) has a shorter time period as it mainly focuses on commercial innovation.

There has been a shift of philosophy and goal of the policy from development of STI to STI for development. This new generation of STI policies treats society and environment as two new core functions. The new process already has already taken private enterprise as its key partner. Still civil society and poverty dimension continue to be under- represented. The issue on social inclusion is included in the policy, but it still lacks clear and dedicated pathways to eradicate inequality.

The new generation of NIS has already emerged with a distinctive coalition of actors, but main objectives still have an imbalance between economic and social development and human development. Pro-poor, egalitarian, and fair innovation processes are not systematically included into the core of policy, The "human development innovation system," may need to be developed in parallel to the expanded version above (Cozzens, 2008). This means that the inclusive door for the poor and vulnerable is open, but there has not yet been developed enough lighting and a better corridor leading to the feast.

President Barrack Obama of the USA and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand. Some rights reserved by Prachatai

Politician new challenge: STI Diplomacy in the ASEAN Community era

In the beginning of the 2000s, a negotiation among the biodiversity rich Southeast Asia and the host countries of global pharmaceutical companies on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health could be seen as the first STI-related diplomatic exercise to define regional foreign policy goals to have their own ‘independent and active’ agenda, but it had not actively engaged the member countries to translate this initiative into a strategy (Hau, et al, 2012). With a long range vision of the European Union (EU), SEA-EU-NET (2008-2012) has been established as a platform for S&T cooperation between Europe and Southeast Asia under the EC’s Seventh Framework program (FP7). This is the first bi-regional STI diplomacy that includes policymakers and researchers in key strategic fields, namely energy, food, and health technology at the ASEAN-EU level. A major outcome from this diplomatic mission has been the scenario future SEA-EU S&T cooperation 2020 (Degelsegger & Blasy, 2011).

Until June 2012, the general public in Southeast Asia still did not realize that STI diplomacy had already penetrated into security and non-traditional security arenas. The report on the U.S.-Thailand alliance published by the National Bureau on Asian Research in June 2012, recommended the development of a regional hub for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at the Thai military base of U-tapao, and the establishment of a bilateral dialogue on China and the impact of rising powers in the Asia-Pacific region (Dalpino, 2012). It was the same time that the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) requested to use this particular airport for a six week atmospheric research study, between August and September this year Thai politicians, security agencies, environmental scientists, and the general public had a very extensive discussion on this incident. Finally, with geopolitical tension, the Thai government postponed consideration until it passed a viable start date and NASA withdrew the proposal. This was the first time that the scientific community and ordinary people started to rethink the importance of "STI diplomacy". This plane just left the tarmac!


Religions & STI

Buddhism version of Penance for abortion a contemporary interpretation of sin and virtue in Thailand

STI policy by the poor

From bottom to the top STI diplomacy

Drivers & Inhibitors



By: Dr. Pun-Arj Chairatana
When: 7/2/2014

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