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Science diplomacy for solidarity and advancement
Published on: Saturday, September 23, 2017

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau
“My name is Wilfred Madius Tangau, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Malaysia.

Although I am not a Muslim by religion, I am very proud in taking part in this inaugural Ministerial Meeting of OIC countries for Science and Technology, on behalf of Malaysia.

We, the Malaysian people, would like to send this message that unity and collaboration go beyond religion and faith. We believe that Islam promotes solidarity, peace, harmony and moderation.”

This was my opening statement at the Ministerial Meeting of the first Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit on Science and Technology in Astana, Kazakhstan, a fortnight ago. It was a historic milestone as it brought OIC leaders of the highest level in decision-making in various fields of science and technology to highlight the member states’ contribution and support for scientific fields in the midst of violence in northern Rakhine state, which Malaysia strongly condemns.

This summit also indicates that more Islamic countries attempt to wean their economies off natural commodities and embrace an innovation-led economy. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in his speech at the summit said that Iran is doing exactly that.

“We have come here to say that ‘we can’, and that we should draw on science and technology as well as scientific diplomacy to seek common ground in order to further boost our capabilities and create complementary potentialities in the Muslim world.”

I concur with the President the need for science diplomacy. The world needs to collectively bring forth innovation and creativity in confronting socio-economic challenges that could change with time and specific to groups such as the OIC. Science diplomacy, as we will see, can function in different ways and play different roles.

On sensitive issues of national security, science diplomacy allows us to tackle them without condescending the security policy of other nations. In 2015 for example, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia facilitated an Asean discussion related to biosecurity entitled “Preparedness Against Chemical-Biological Threats: Assessment of Scientific, Prevention and Response Capabilities”. This meeting was a collaboration between the Malaysian Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Defence Threat Reduction Agency.

We also have been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) since 1970.

NAM was set up in 1961 during the Cold War to dissuade developing countries from aligning with the Western or Eastern blocs. MOSTI joined the NAM Science and Technology Centre in 1993, an inter-governmental organisation of 48 countries that was established to promote technological advancement among member countries.

Putrajaya has just hosted the 14th Meeting of the Governing Council of the NAM Science and Technology Centre early this month and our Secretary-General Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Azhar Hj Yahaya has been appointed as President of the Governing Council for the term 2017–2020. This is an honour and recognition for Malaysia in the scientific world. We will take this opportunity to enhance our South-South cooperation in science and technology, to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) with the world.

In environmental conservation efforts, we have achieved an unprecedented milestone.

In 2009, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen did not achieve a binding agreement, but in 2015, 195 countries including Malaysia adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal.

For the first time, governments came together to vow to “keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degree Celsius”. The science of climate change has provided evidence and support for the formulation of this policy.

Another role of science diplomacy is used to foster regional cooperation. By 2045, population of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will reach over 800 million, in an unimaginable technological era.

The International Labour Organisation has reported that more than half (or 137 million) of the employees in five Asean countries are not ready to face the new jobs landscape over the next twenty years.

Asean has done well in trading goods through institutional frameworks such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Asean Free Trade (AFTA). Our next emphasis should be on cooperation in a digital free trade zone. A good start was the launch of the Asean Plan of Action in Science and Technology 2016 – 2025 during the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Science and Technology almost a year ago.

Malaysia through Mosti has been proactive in securing a place in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We will be holding an Asean meeting on foresight planning toward 2050 this November.

It is only logical that we plan ahead if we do not wish to see hundreds of millions losing their rice bowls.

In the OIC, we have been a strong player in the development of human capital among member states, especially in the Halal industry. Since 2006 the Department of Standards Malaysia has been conducting annual courses on Halal standards for OIC countries. During this Ministerial Meeting I proposed a new programme to share Malaysia’s experiences in science policy, through a course called the OIC Certified Professional in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and Management.

I envision that the nature of international relations will increasingly shift toward a more scientific and technological one, as we truly are at a critical juncture where unusual forms of governance are required for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as in regulating cybersecurity, blockchain and autonomous vehicles.

In a panel at a World Economic Forum session in Dalian last June which could be accessed online, I spoke on “Science Without Borders”. I highlighted that we might have drawn physical borders that separate a nation from another but in reality, we are all sharing a single environment – the Earth and even the Universe.

We have common social, environmental, economical and security challenges that require mutual consent and cooperation on the solutions.

Science should know no borders for public good, although a major challenge every government faces in science diplomacy is its sustainability. But I believe that it is merely a matter of time for them to acknowledge that international collaboration in innovation is the way forward for all of us.

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