Nanotechnology and Japans regional and international role

Japan has an important economic and political role in the whole East Asian region, almost all of which is investing heavily in nanotechnologies. South Korea has launched a ten year programme with around US$2 billion of public funding while Taiwan has committed over US$600 million of public funding over six years from 2002, and Thailand and Singapore are also interested. East Asian regional cooperation is generally weak, despite numerous forums, and one may only speculate whether nanotechnology developments will see increasing industrial and economic cooperation in the area.

China is devoting increasing resources to nanotechnology, possibly over half a billion US dollars from central and local governments in the five year period 2001-2005. The National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) of China was founded in March 2003 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (with Peking University and Tsinghua University as its initiators) and the Ministry of Education (ChinaNano). Its stated objective is to build a public state-of-the-art technological platform and research base open to both domestic and international users, deploying state-of-the-art laboratories for nano-proces-sing and nano-devices, nano-materials and nano-structures, nano-medicine and nano-bio-biotech, nano-structure characterization and testing, and coordination and database facilities.

China's share of worldwide publications in the field is increasing rapidly and is catching up with the EU and the USA. China will reap nanotechnology know-how from Japan. Toyota, Sony and Mitsui have deepened their investments in China since October 2002. In April 2003 Sony announced that it will shift all production of the PlayStation 2 game console to China in the next fiscal year. Toyota, which is aiming for 20 per cent of China's passenger car market by 2010, will produce luxury car engines and large trucks in China, giving it a full line of vehicle offerings there.

China's stake in nanotechnology may be seen as particularly significant in relation to the possibility or otherwise of global sustainable development, when we take into account its potential purchasing and manufacturing power, and its geopolitical position. Japan may find itself caught between the USA and China over cooperation on nanotechnology that has strategic economic or military implications. On the one hand, Japan's nationalist politicians, seeking changes to the 'pacifist' constitution, may welcome re-militarization with US support, and the USA military nanotechnology programme may become Japan's too. Already Japan is accepting missiles from USA for a supposed threat from North Korea, yet it is China that provides North Korea with energy and has the political leverage that could benefit Japan. Chinese-Japanese competition for regional political, economic and industrial hegemony could be destabilizing.

As Tamamoto points out, Japan could instead put past Sino-Japanese hostility behind it and build good will and cooperation with China, to benefit both countries and promoting a less unbalanced geopolitical situation (Tamamoto, 2005). Cooperation between China and Japan in nanotechnology may help tip the balance towards greater sustainability and peace. 'By far the most important contribution Japan can make towards international peace is the establishment of a solid and peaceful relationship with China' (Tamamoto, 2005, p16).

Furthermore, Japan must be drawn into a prominent role in the United Nations (UN). It is a fact that Japan pays nearly 20 per cent of the UN budget, has massive investments in the West, and must assume a UN role proportional to its achievements and power. The Security Council should be reformed and Japan should be a permanent member. Japan has already served as a non-permanent member of the Council eight times, more frequently than any member nation. This issue is not unconnected with nanotechnology, because there is no doubt that Japan's influence will increase as it maintains an economic lead in many areas through nanotechnological developments.

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