Norman Neureiter on Science Diplomacy

Bridges vol. 42, December 2014 / OpEds & Commentaries

By Norman Neureiter

Science Diplomacy Around the World

I didn’t plan a trip around the world. It just turned out that way. But let me start from the beginning. In previous pieces for Bridges, I have written a lot about science diplomacy. The Japanese science community has, for several years, been very interested in the interaction of scientific research and foreign policy – the key elements of science diplomacy. Very recently the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to this interest with the important decision to create inside the Ministry an office of science diplomacy – thus officially making science and science cooperation a recognized aspect of Japanese foreign policy. This decision came at a most propitious time.

For the past two years, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, the director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, has convened an international meeting named, in a highly flattering gesture to me, the Annual Neureiter Science Diplomacy Roundtable. The first one was in Washington, the second was held at The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Trieste, Italy, and Japan organized the third on November 10-11 in Tokyo. The host institution was the National Graduate (Research) Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) – a small, unique university with a large percentage of foreign students. The key drivers of the Roundtable were Dr. Tateo Arimoto, director of the Innovation, Science and Technology Policy Program at GRIPS and his deputy and advisor to the GRIPS president, Atsushi Sunami. Also represented from Japan were the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT); the Hitachi Corporation; the Japan Science and technology Agency (JST); the Bureau of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy in the Cabinet Office; the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; the International Science Cooperation Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and, very interestingly, the Korean Scientists Association of Japan.  

Southeast Asia was represented by Dr. Lukman Hakim, former chairman of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and Paul Harris, a visiting fellow at the Public Policy School at the Australia National University. From Korea came Dr. Dong-Pil Min, emeritus professor at Seoul University, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board to the UN Secretary General. Dr. Valentin I. Sergienko, chairman of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FEBRAS), represented Russian science. Additional participants were Romain Murenzi, executive director of the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS); Alan Leshner, the CEO of AAAS; and Peter Tindemans, the secretary general of Euroscience.

The meeting consisted of three sessions, one on ASEAN, one on Korea – both North and South – and one on Russia. It was very clear that there is considerable opportunity for more science cooperation with the ASEAN countries and Japan and South Korea.

While we were in Japan, there was a ten-person delegation from Japan in North Korea attempting to follow-up Prime Minister Abe’s offer of more cooperation (including in science) with North Korea. The condition was that more information had to be provided to Japan regarding people abducted from Japan by the North Koreans. At that point little, if any, new information had been provided and any improved relationship between North Korea and Japan remained elusive.

Were this to change, there would likely be considerable potential for science diplomacy with North Korea across a number of areas. It also appeared that cooperation even with South Korea was limited – perhaps reflecting the presently quite strained political relations between the two countries. There are some three million Koreans in Japan, and their loyalty has tended to be toward North Korea (DPRK). However, the behavior of the DPRK in threatening Japan and the financial sanctions against the DPRK have resulted in greatly curtailed financial aid coming from Japan, and cancellation of the ship connections that formerly existed.

There is currently still a desire of the Abe government in Japan to ease the restrictions with the DPRK, provided that more information on the abductees can be obtained. To date, however, there has been little progress.

I predict that science diplomacy initiatives by Japan can expand throughout the world – especially in the ASEAN region. It will be very interesting to see if there is some easing of tensions between Japan and North Korea and what science initiatives might be successful there. But it is far from certain that the abductee issue will be clarified to a level that will permit the Japanese Government to undertake a serious cooperative initiative toward North Korea.

I was also particularly interested in the vast range of activities described by Dr. Sergienko in the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok. He was expansive in describing the work at the Academy and seemed to welcome visits and possible cooperation. He extended an invitation and it is one that I would like to find time to accept in the not too distant future.

While preparing for the trip to Japan, it also became apparent that a long-delayed meeting of the board of the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum was going to take place on November 15, 2014. Though I had stepped down from the US co-chair position after 12 years, I still remained on the board. Furthermore, for the last 3-4 years the US staff support for the Forum had also been located at AAAS. So this Board meeting, at which there were a number of important issues to resolve, was very important for AAAS and my attendance was imperative. In addition, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) had finally agreed to hold a joint workshop in Delhi on the subject of Challenges of Emerging Infections and Global Health Safety. The dates were November 18-20, 2014 and I had been asked to be a member of the US delegation to that meeting as well.

I found out that one cannot fly non-stop from Tokyo to Delhi; one stop is essential and one of the most convenient is Seoul, the capital of South Korea. By coincidence, I had two reasons to stop in Seoul – one was to try to visit the Seoul office of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). This remarkable 600-student university in Pyongyang, North Korea, was built by its current president, President James (Chin Kyung) Kim. The Korean-American president coordinated the university with volunteer teachers, making English the only language of instruction, and relied on funds raised from contributions from around the world. It is remarkable that such an institution exists. It was officially dedicated in September 2010 with attendance growing in recent years to 600 – a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students.

I sent out emails, and when I arrived in Seoul and contacted the PUST office run by Dr. Kim’s son, Sam, I was told that his father had seen my email and was flying in to Seoul that afternoon and we could have dinner together that evening. That evening I got an update on the school’s progress, learning about the challenge western financial sanctions are creating for the funding of PUST operations, as well as the continuous expansion of the school. I was also told that some 14 North Korean students have already been able to attend a British University for up to one year. Donors have been found in the UK to make a limited number of such scholarships possible.

By the time I realized that I was circling the world halfway, I thought about going all the way around. I vaguely remembered the existence of an “around-the-world ticket” with a special fare. Not all airlines sell them – they are sold by Star Alliance, which is its own legal entity headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, and handled by Lufthansa. A business class round-the-world ticket can actually cost less than a single round trip ticket from Washington to Tokyo or even to Delhi. One has to make at least four stops, with the flexibility of changing flights or adding cities at will with little additional cost as long as one continues going in the same direction.

That ticket provided another opportunity. Leaving late at night (actually at 3:30 a.m., the next day), I arrived in Frankfurt eight hours later and started a weekend there in which I joined a German friend in Heidelberg and traveled over the weekend to Strasbourg, France. There I pursued some history of the University of Strasbourg during the period of Nazi occupation during World War II.

Monday morning I took a shuttle bus to Frankfurt and then headed off to Vienna (no additional charge) to visit IIASA, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, where I attended a session on possible research opportunities for IIASA in the Arctic and checked on my role as chairman of the IIASA endowment fund. IIASA’s Dr. Margaret Collins, on their Council for External Relations, and I made arrangements for flying to Brussels the next morning (again with no charge added to my ticket) to meet with the European Foundation Center – an institution with many European foundations as members. My goal was to gain a greater understanding of the nature and vitality of philanthropy in Europe. This was especially relevant as it might be a source of support to IIASA for research on the great problems of mankind such as energy, climate change, land use, poverty, and equity: Such are the substantive work arenas for IIASA. After one night in Brussels, I proceeded to take a flight to Boston, where my family met me for a Thanksgiving weekend. A short flight on Monday to Washington finally completed my first-ever trip around the world.

Norman Neureiter has been a senior adviser to the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the Center for Science Diplomacy (CSD) since July 2009.