In the October-December 2015 edition of Strategic Review, David L Carden and Montira J Pongsiri rightly highlighted how science and technology can help address looming sustainability issues for the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Clearly, there is a need for greater science and technology collaboration throughout Southeast Asia, and Carden and Pongsiri illustrate the constructive role of the US Mission to Asean in addressing issues ranging from urban sustainability to air quality to fisheries management, all of which have important benefits for health and the environment in the region.
Yet it is surprising that Asean’s own mechanisms were not mentioned for their potential to contribute, especially given that it has a long history of interaction in science and technology, and an evolving agenda of relevant research priorities. Is this because Asean’s science and technology activities are not sustainable or able to deliver meaningful research outcomes?
Enduring science and technology coordination
Asean’s formal science and technology activities date back to the establishment of its Committee on Science and Technology (COST), which first convened in 1978. The high-level body is a focal point for coordinating regional interaction on science and technology and has responsibility for developing the Asean Plan of Action on Science and Technology (Apast), which guides collaboration.
Since the 1980s, the Asean Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology has brought together the grouping’s leaders and science and technology ministers to discuss issues of significance to Southeast Asia. Ministers have met informally since 2000. Non-member states such as China, the European Union, India and New Zealand also engage with Asean in varying capacities, although the establishment of the US Mission to Asean in 2010 as a culmination of decades of bilateral interaction is perhaps the most comprehensive in science and technology.