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Shift of R&D to Asia, and so does the power…



Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
R&D and publication of research papers are the lifeblood of a nation’s prosperity. By fostering innovation, they fuel economic growth through new products, efficient processes, and a competitive edge in the global market. This translates to wealth creation via high-paying jobs, intellectual property, and a reputation for leadership that attracts talent and boosts international standing.

R&D and research publications don’t just benefit the economy; they fuel social progress by tackling global challenges and improving lives. In essence, strong R&D, quality research publications are the key to unlocking a nation’s full potential on the world stage.

This statement is fully endorsed when one browses through World Bank data ( can draw two conclusions; a country’s wealth, prosperity, power, and global leadership are directly proportional to the amount of spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP and from the 1990s onward, there has been a marked shift in R&D spending from the US and Europe to Asian countries, primarily led by China, South Korea, Singapore, Israel and India.

According to World Bank data, the countries that prioritize spending on R&D as a percentage of their GDP are the USA which spent 3.4%, the UK 2.9%, Sweden 3.4%, Singapore 2.16%, South Korea 4.93%, Japan 3.35%, Israel 5.56%, Germany 3.145%, and China 2.43%. Followed by at 0.65%, while Pakistan and Afghanistan are lagging behind with only 0.16% and zero percent spending on R&D, respectively.

Historically, the USA and Europe maintained their dominance during the 1970s and 1980s with Japan closely following, particularly in the automotive and electronics industries, challenging Western dominance.

However, the trend started shifting toward Asia in the 1990s when South Korea began investing heavily in R&D, particularly in electronics and semiconductor technology, leading to the rise of companies like Samsung and LG as global innovators. In the 2000s, China’s R&D landscape started to transform rapidly, fueled by government investments, a growing economy, and a focus on developing indigenous innovation capabilities. India followed particularly in the software and pharmaceutical sectors, leveraging its large pool of skilled talent.

This shift in R&D became even more significant in the 2010s when China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest spender on R&D after the USA, focusing on areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and renewable energy. Other Asian countries, including Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia, continued to invest in R&D infrastructure and capabilities especially in electronics while also investing in emerging technologies such as 5G and robotics.

In the 2020s, the COVID-19 pandemic countries like China, South Korea, and India made significant contributions to vaccine development and medical research. During this period, China’s focus on becoming a global leader in science and technology intensified, with initiatives such as the “Made in China 2025” plan aiming to strengthen domestic innovation and reduce dependence on foreign technology.

The second most important factor pivotal for achieving fast-tracked prosperity and development is the number of research publications a country can produce. The US and Europe dominated this domain for a long time, but after the 1990s, the number and quality of publications began shifting toward Asia, highlighting changes in global academic and scientific output, as well as the power centers.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the USA and Europe produced thousands of publications in fields like physics, chemistry, and medicine while Japan followed especially in electronics and automotive research.

In the 1990s, the USA consistently produced over 200,000 scientific papers annually while Japan solidified its position with over 30,000 publications mostly in engineering and technology. Meanwhile, South Korea and Taiwan began to emerge as players, each producing thousands of publications annually due to increased funding and international collaboration.

During the 2000s the USA produced 300,000 publications and Europe exceeded 500,000 publications annually. But during this period, Asia started challenging their dominance. China increased its publication to 200,000, South Korea reached around 50,000 and India followed closely by increasing its output to 50,000 by the end of the decade but with questionable quality.

In the decade of the 2010s, the USA and Europe produced approximately 400,000 and 600,000 publications, China surpassed the USA by reaching over 500,000 high quality and hi impact publications. India produced around 130,000 publications, particularly in engineering and computer science. South Korea reached around 80,000 annually, primarily focusing on fields like electronics and biotechnology.

In the 2020s, the USA produced around 450,000 publications annually, and Europe produced 700,000 publications annually. However, they were faced with a strong rival in China, which produces 600,000 high-quality publications annually, with significant contributions in fields like AI, biotechnology, and environmental science. India follows with 150,000 publications in pharmaceuticals, engineering, and IT, and South Korea with 100,000 publications annually in high-impact research, especially in technology and life sciences.

This shift is also translated into a proportional increase in their wealth, prosperity, credibility, international status, and power, transforming the world from unipolar to multipolar and breaking the hegemony of traditional power centers.

It is the time for Pakistan to rise to the occasion and contribute its share to make Asia the powerhouse of R&D and research publications. Pakistan must understand that, without substantially increasing its spending on R&D and promoting the publication of high-quality research, it has no choice but to heavily invest in R&D and higher education and create robust infrastructures for scientific research. It must bring about education reforms to substantially increase the quality and accessibility of education and produce a larger pool of researchers and scientists. Pakistan must also focus on international collaboration with top Western and Asian institutions to facilitate knowledge transfer and boost publication output, while ensuring the presence of vibrant innovation ecosystems. Failing to do so, Pakistan will remain a poor country, and its dream to bring half of the population out of the abject poverty trap and to gain a leadership role in the comity of nations will remain elusive.

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