Interpersonal connections and mutual understanding are key to building long-term friendships with scientific collaborators, Minister of Science and Technology Chen Liang-gee (陳良基) said as he highlighted the achievements of 12 research centers in South and Southeast Asia involved in artificial intelligence (AI), healthcare, biotechnology, engineering and the humanities.
The centers have been established over the past two years in India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar — some of the 18 nations targeted by Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy.
While the ministry has established three of its 17 overseas technology divisions in Asia and Oceania — in India, Australia and Vietnam — academics funded by the ministry can act as vanguards in other nations to explore new territories or deepen existing ties, Chen said.
Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times
Understanding mutual needs and helping others solve problems are essential for promoting international cooperation, he said.
For example, engineers from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) “hit” the needs of their Philippine collaborators by helping advance their water quality monitoring and improvement techniques, the minister said.
With the ministry’s support, NCKU in May last year established the Taiwan-Philippines Joint Water Quality Research and Innovation Center alongside the Philippines’ Mapua University, and put experts from state-run Taiwan Water Corp and other environmental consultancies in touch with their Philippine counterparts.
Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times
The ministry also provided funding for National Chung Cheng University (NCCU) to establish the Taiwan-India Joint Research Center on Artificial Intelligence at the Indian Institute of Technology Ropar in July, when Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Hsu Yu-chin (許有進) was leading a delegation to India to expand collaborations with that nation.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion, and its economy are growing fast, so it is a good time for Taiwanese to boost cooperation with that nation, NCCU dean of research and development Jack Huang (黃士銘) said.
Given Taiwan’s capabilities in manufacturing and customized hardware design and India’s edge in software and computer program development, the collaboration is expected to make world-class breakthroughs in AI-related areas, Huang said.
Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Science and Technology
As many Taiwanese businesses have difficulty finding proper access to the Indian market, the AI center could serve as a beachhead to facilitate Taiwanese access to that nation, he said.
The center also hires Indian personnel, he added.
Given Taiwan’s highly acclaimed healthcare system, the ministry sponsored Taichung-based China Medical University’s (CMU) establishment of the Taiwan-Singapore Aging and Cancer Overseas Science and Technology Innovation Center in the city-state.
The quality of Taiwan’s healthcare system — including healthcare infrastructure, the expertise of its healthcare professionals, the cost and availability of quality medicines — was ranked the best out of 89 nations surveyed by the latest Health Care Index compiled by CEOWORLD Magazine, an online business magazine and news site.
Fourteen Taiwanese institutions were included in a 2012 survey of the world’s top 200 hospitals, ranking just below the US and Germany, CMU Office of Global Affairs dean Yang Liang-yo (楊良友) said.
The Singaporean government two years ago started allocating more funds to research related to aging, while CMU began to work with National University of Singapore on aging, cancer and neuroscience studies, Yang said.
Taiwan and Singapore face problems related to declining birthrates and aging populations, making them keen to explore methods to achieve “healthy aging,” he said.
While the Singaporean university has developed a reputation for genetic screening, CMU is dedicated to combining Chinese herbal medicine and the Western medical system, and they have joined hands to study what medicine might assist healthy aging, he said.
Even though Chinese herbal medicine is also part of China’s medical tradition, the CMU has an advantage, given its “evidence-based” studies and its use of Western techniques, such as blood testing, to verify the effect of herbal medicine, he said.
Most of the herbal medicine studies conducted in China are still separate from that nation’s system of Western medicine, Yang added.
While Taiwan and Singapore have similar levels of medical techniques, Taiwan’s quality medical services are available to more people, he said.
For example, some of hospital wards covered by Singapore’s national health insurance system are not air-conditioned, he said.
As the only Taiwanese university involved in the project, the CMU is also looking forward to working with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, he said.
Southbound collaborations in marine studies are proving equally vibrant.
The impact of global warming and ocean acidification on marine life, especially in tropical and subtropical areas, is a concern of many scientists, said Hung Chin-chang (洪慶章), vice dean of National Sun Yat-sen University’s College of Marine Sciences, as he explained why the Kaohsiung-based school was involved in the Taiwan-Sri Lanka Environmental Change Science and Technology Innovation Center.
While most Taiwanese are unfamiliar with the South Asian island nation, the college’s collaboration with Sri Lanka began four years ago with biodiversity and marine studies, Hung said.
Sri Lanka’s larval shrimp are of better quality than that found in Taiwan, making shrimp farming a valuable area for bilateral collaboration, he said.
With the college’s AI-assisted techniques for improving shrimp farming methods, it can help Sri Lanka mitigate the impact of ocean warming on its shrimp farming industry and boost shrimp production, he said.
The college would also help some Sri Lankan institutions establish their ocean research agencies later this year, Hung added.
Taiwanese researchers are not just unidirectionally exporting their techniques, Chen said.
“By working with other nations, Taiwanese academics can experiment with their ideas and collect data in more places, while expanding their academic networks by building ties with more teachers and students,” the science minister said.
Communication is never a problem, as English remains the most commonly used language among researchers, he said.
People would be driven to acquire local languages when they feel the need to have more cultural interaction, he added.
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