The Two Technology Superpowers

Assessments of Japanese status in these recent WTEC studies include both negative and positive results. The overall picture that emerges in Table 2 is that Japan remains highly competitive in almost all areas studied. Comparison to earlier assessments summarized by Shelton (1994) shows that Japanese R&D strengths are comparable to those of the U.S. and that they continue to improve (Figure 4). The leading companies in the high-technology export sector continue to support substantial investments in R&D. The Japanese Government's response to recession was to set in June 1996 a goal of doubling its contribution to R&D in five years (Nature 1997). Over about the same interval, the U.S. Government plans a substantial reduction in such investment as a means of balancing its budget. (Shelton 1997) Thus Japanese strengths in R&D are likely to improve even further relative to those in the U.S. George Heaton has explored the implications of this new technological parity of Japan with the United States:

Already the second biggest R&D performer, Japan will move further ahead of its European counterparts and closer to the United States as a result of government increases in R&D plus the inevitable rebound in industrial funding. Given the sheer volume of work Japan will be supporting, the U.S. Government and its corporations, and even individuals would be wise to intensify their engagement with Japan to take advantage of the results (Heaton 1997).

The role of other Pacific Rim countries also deserves much more careful attention from the U.S. As seen from the trade statistics, Korea, Taiwan, China, and others are following Japan's lead on the same path to prosperity. As Japan did in the early 1960s, the first steps come by licensing technologies from abroad to manufacture and export. Then investments can be marshaled for the development of indigenous technologies; as several recent WTEC reports document (Boulton 1997, Pecht 1997) Korea and Taiwan have already made considerable progress in this next phase. While international trade is not a zero-sum game, continuing substantial merchandise trade deficits by the U.S., particularly in high technology products, remain a symptom of lost opportunities for commercialization of scientific discoveries, bringing into question the wisdom of American emphasis on investment in basic research.

 Figure 4. Average assessments of Japanese technologies by WTEC panels.
Japan ahead of U.S = 4 (A), even = 3 (B), and behind = 2 (C). Also 59% of WTEC panels rated Japan as gaining on the U.S., 36% as staying even, and only 5% as losing ground in R&D.

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Presented: July 1997; HTML: 9 August 1997; WTEC Hyper-Librarian