Japan's U.S. R&D role widens, begs attention

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Author: Mark Crawford
Date: July 18, 1986
From: Science(Vol. 233)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,675 words

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Japan's U.S. R&D Role Widens, Begs Attention

AT Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island a new $1-million advanced spectrometer financed by the University of Tokyo is allowing Japanese and American scientists to peer deeper into the structure of materials. On the campus of the National Institutes of Health the number of Japanese researchers receiving federal support has grown by 65% in 5 years. And at university and industry laboratories around the United States, basic and applied research is increasingly being funded by Japanese industry.

Do these situations just reflect Japan's long-term economic strategy, which calls for bolstering that country's creative skills and basic research capabilities--or is something bigger going on? A number of Japan watchers across the United States see a growing economic interdependence that is far more significant than other global trade linkages. They argue that it is being driven by a multitude of factors, including Japan's rising direct investment in the United States, political expedience, and growing ties with multinational companies based in America.

This interdependence is reflected in everyday trade between the two countries, banking, manufacturing--and in a less tangible factor known as "technology transfer.' It is defined broadly as the formal licensing, sharing, or theft of ideas, research, inventions, and know-how. But contrary to public perception, rather than being a packager of Western technology, Japan is increasingly the source of new ideas and know-how in electronics, telecommunications, materials, and biotechnology. To further this economic evolution the Japanese are overhauling their university system. They are also bolstering their ties to the American research establishment through grants, collaborations, research contracts, and independent research efforts based in the United States.

Just what Japan's growing scientific and technological prowess bodes for the U.S. economy is poorly understood. There has been little effort by Congress and the government to define and comprehend the international economic forces at work and their long-term implications. Nor has there been a thorough accounting of the growing R&D linkages between the United States and our second largest trading partner, which racked up a $49.5-billion trade surplus with the United States last year. Says Charles Morrison, a research fellow at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center, "Americans are not really aware of how dependent our economy has become on the Japanese. We don't really recognize the vast technological interdependence and how much our scientists are relying on the Japanese.'

Confronted with an overall $148.5-billion trade deficit in 1985, federal officials cannot help but be concerned about Japan's expanding technology and research interchanges and their effect on American society. To an extent, they see these trends as potential threats. Comments Joseph P. Allen, an analyst with the Commerce Department's Office of Productivity, Technology, and Innovation, "it is apparent that traditional policies allowing the research results of [federal laboratories] to become freely available to our international competitors are being used against us.'

Indeed, the response of Congress and the Reagan Administration is largely a fire-fighting action directed at the predatory information-gathering practices of industrialists in Japan and other countries....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A4329688