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Viktoriya Samsonova

Senior research fellow, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, RAS, RIAC expert

Cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea in the field of science and technology is a key aspect of the overall relationship between the two nations. Both nations have placed a strong emphasis on this area of cooperation in light of the possibilities to synergize Russian fundamental research in the aviation and space technology, nuclear energy, etc. sectors with Korean technologies in robototechnics, electronics, car manufacturing.

Cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea in the field of science and technology is a key aspect of the overall relationship between the two nations. Both nations have placed a strong emphasis on this area of cooperation in light of the possibilities to synergize Russian fundamental research in the aviation and space technology, nuclear energy, etc. sectors with Korean technologies in robototechnics, electronics, car manufacturing.

Science and technology as part of economic development (Republic of Korea)

ROK’s economic strategy views science-intensive industries as a pillar of growth. ROK has set a target of reaching seventh place in the global hierarchy in terms of competiveness in science and technology [1]. To achieve this goal, ROK has increased spending on R&D each year. In 2006, this nation was in fifth place in the world in terms of the ratio of R&D investments (US$29.8 bln) to GDP. Since 2008, the government of ROK has upped spending on fundamental research from 2.8 trillion won (around US$2.4 bln) to 8.1 trillion won (around US$6.9 bln) [2].

Table 1.ROK spending on R&D

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Finance for fundamental research
( in trillions of won)
2,8 3,7 4,9 6,2 8,1
Percentage of overall R&D budget 25,6 30,6 36,0 42,4 50,0

Source: Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of ROK.

At present, ROK is prioritizing the dynamic development of the following sectors of the economy: fundamental science, IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology, “green technologies”, and new types of energy and materials. The value of these sectors cannot be in doubt. Of note, the export of IT products is permanently on the rise: while in 1988 the share of IT products in overall exports was 12.25%, by 2000, it went up to 32%. In 2010, the export of IT products by ROK was worth $140 bln.

Well aware of the need to proceed with an innovation-focused mode of development, in his inaugural speech new ROK President Park Geun-hye put forward a concept of a “creative economy” aimed at a giving the nation a powerful boost by emphasizing the application of Internet-based technologies in wider contexts, from agriculture and industry to the service sector. R&D and the IT industry should be placed at the heart of the creative economy, the President said. It should be noted that in 2012, ROK was number one among 155 nations in terms of the application of information and communications technologies. This index is determined by three criteria: access to information and communications technologies, the level of application, and the skills available to employ them. ROK made it to the top of the ‘level of application’ category, secured second place in the ‘skills’ category, and placed tenth regarding ‘access to information and communications technologies’. ROK innovation-targeting policies were duly appraised by Bloomberg agency, which placed the country second on the list of the most innovative nations in 2012.

Looking for new types of energy and lowering dependence on conventional energy sources have become two of the main priorities in R&D to be achieved through a switch to “green” technologies and transition to a low-carbon economy. In 2009, the ROK government elaborated and made public its first “green” five-year plan for the years 2009-2014. All in all, this plan is backed by financial allocations in the amount of US$84 bln. Around half of these investments, or US$44.3 bln, are earmarked for the adaptation of the ROK economy to climate change and ensuring energy independence. The rest of the money is channeled into two areas. First, money is being injected into the creation of “locomotives of economic growth”, that is “green” technologies and the adaptation of industrial structure to towards “green growth”; into structural reforms of the industrial sectors of the economy; and into putting in place all the prerequisites for the transition to a “green” economy. Second, an emphasis has been placed on improving the quality of life: developing environment-friendly transportation and residential areas and introducing “green” technologies into everyday life of the citizens. According to government plans, ROK will become the seventh leading nation in terms of developing its “green” economy by 2020, and fifth by 2050.

However, despite positive factors characterizing developments in fundamental science, ROK has no reason to rest on its laurels. The pace of introducing innovative technologies is accelerating while competition from other nations is getting tough. For ROK, the main competitor is China. Although investments in R&D in China constitute 1.77% of GDP, while in ROK the relevant share is 3.74% (2012 data), the average rate of spending increases in this field over the last 15 years was 7.8% in China and 3.3% in South Korea [3].

In 2010, total investments in R&D in China reached US$104 bln, which is three times higher than in ROK. The rate of spending increases in China from 1995 to 2010 was 24% at average, which once again was three times higher than in the ROK. Moreover, in 2010 the total number of researchers in China was 1.2 mln while in ROK there were just 260.000 [4].

ROK has placed a strong emphasis on leadership in scientific fields, but these goals are hardly achievable if tackled alone. For this reason, government policy in the R&D area envisages intense international cooperation, allowing for the pooling of resources by various nations in order to achieve synergies. ROK considers Russia to be a lucrative partner for mutually advantageous scientific and technological cooperation. Since 1990, within the framework of RF-ROK scientific and technological cooperation, more than 90 projects have been or are currently being implemented to target R&D in some of the most promising fields of science and technology. South Korea has displayed a keen interest in research dealing with laser technology, biotechnology, the production of composite and ultra-strong materials, genetic engineering, nuclear energy, electronics, and aviation and space technology.

Promising areas for RF and ROK cooperation in science and technology

At present, ROK is prioritizing the dynamic development of the following sectors of the economy: fundamental science, IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology, “green technologies”, and new types of energy and materials.

In 1990s, when fundamental science in Russia faced enormous challenges due to a lack of financing, South Korea, as noted by Russian experts, displayed interest in capitalizing on the results of R&D carried out in Russia without committing much money to these acquisitions. After the state of affairs began to return to normal and scientific research centers started to receive public investments, RF-ROK scientific and technological cooperation became more balanced and reciprocal.

Of note, one of the very first inter-governmental agreements between the two countries was the Agreement between the USSR Government and the Government of ROK on scientific and technological cooperation signed 14 December 1990. Cooperation in these areas was subject to consultations within the RF-ROK joint committee on economic, scientific and technological cooperation. The 11th meeting of the Committee was held on 26 October 2011 in Seoul. Talks centered around the acceleration of bilateral trade, economic and investment cooperation, and special attention was devoted to scientific and technological cooperation, and in particular, to space exploration.

The parties agreed, among other things, to begin the selection of promising high-tech research projects over the course of working meetings and experts’ seminars, and to promote discussions on the best avenues of joint research, including locating financing. Certain positive results were achieved in such key areas as the legal foundation of scientific and technological cooperation. Russian representatives used to point out that ROK had applied various pretexts to avoid elaborating a legal framework to regulate the transfer of intellectual property created over the course of joint research. Finally, an agreement was reached to begin discussions on an expert level related to the draft Protocol on the principles of protection and allocation of rights on intellectual property in the area of science and technology [5].

Cooperation in space exploration

Photo: AP
The launch KSLV-1, Space Center “Naro”


Republic of Korea is very much interested in widening cooperation in the aviation and space sector.

Republic of Korea is very much interested in widening cooperation in the aviation and space sector. In 2004, an inter-governmental agreement was signed paving the way for the first cosmonaut from South Korea to orbit the earth on board a Russian spacecraft in April 2008. Russian scientists provided assistance to ROK in setting up a space center on Naro Island. Russia and ROK also agreed to collaborate to design and produce the South Korean Space Rocket Complex (SRC) with the light class Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV)-1. The contract on SRC KSLV-1 was signed in October 2004. The two signatories were the Korean Aerospace Research Institute and from the Russian side, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre, which bore the responsibility for the whole project, NPO Energomash in charge of the elaboration and production of the first stage of KSLV-I, as well Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure responsible for the development of the ground-based complex. The joint endeavor by Russia and South Korea culminated in triumph. On 30 January 2013, the Naro Space Center witnessed the successful launch of the KSLV-I with the STSAT-2C space vehicle. The first stage of KSLV-I was designed and produced by the Khrunichev Center while the Korean Aerospace Research Institute constructed the second stage.

The process preceding the launch of KSLV-I was long and marked by complications. The launch was postponed twice. Originally it was planned for 26 October 2012 but was postponed due to technical malfunctions: helium leakage was detected during the pre-start checkup of the fuel filling system. The first two launches of the KSLV took place in 2009 and 2010. Both were a disaster. Investigations of their failures confirmed that the double fault start was not related to the first stages constructed by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre. However, Cho Guan-he, head of the Rocket Technologies Department of the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, declared that ROK would cut payments to Russian partners for the KSLV (Naro-1) aborted launches by $4.2mln. As Mr. Cho explained, the withheld money constituted 2% of the total sum of US$210 mln due to be paid for the design and construction of the first stages of the space launch vehicles. Cho Guan-he reminded that the 2004 agreement stipulated decreases of payment in case of technical failures of the launches.

Polar research

South Korea is intensively exploring Antarctica with the assistance of Russia.

South Korea is intensively exploring Antarctica with the assistance of Russia. A South Korean polar station has been set up there. Since January 2012, the second polar station has been under construction in the southeast corner of the ice continent, in the Terra Nova Bay. A scientific-technological complex with an area of 3300 square meters is expected to be finalized in March 2014. The station will be separated from the first Antarctic station by 4500 km. RF and ROK agreed about the need to facilitate the education and training of specialists in ice water navigation in order to manage the South Korean ice-breaker ARAON. They also agreed that Russian experts would accompany the South Korean vessel during the voyage to Antarctica, including further cooperation in training ice water navigation experts. RF and ROK have come to an agreement to foster cooperation in essential information exchange and joint research of fauna in the low-temperature environment of the Arctic Ocean.

Cooperation in pharmaceuticals

The closed (joint-stock) company Research Institute on Chemical Diversity (RICD) is interested in widening cooperation with SK Bio-Pharmaceuticals in conducting pre-clinical research and development of new medicine and also in the early stages of clinical tests. At present, RICD and the Pasteur Institute in ROK have begun a joint project on the creation of new medicine to cure tuberculosis. OOO HIMRAR is interested in setting up an alliance with DONG-A Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, a joint biotechnological production facility for pre-clinical and clinical research and the development of innovative preparations to cure Alzheimer disease and illnesses affecting the central nervous system.

Cooperation in the medical field is viewed as very promising by both sides. On 27 November 2012, the first Russian-Korean forum on the interaction for the development of the medial industry was held. Around 60 companies from ROK took part in the forum, and the number of participants exceeded 130. The plenary session culminated with several memoranda signed.

Cooperation in nanotechnologies

Photo: blog.naver.com
Russia Science Seoul, February 24, 2011

One of the advantageous areas of scientific and technological cooperation is nanotechnologies. Within the framework of the visit by the ROK President Lee Myung-bak to Russia in September 2008, the Memorandum on understanding and cooperation was signed between the Russian State Corporation on Nanotechnologies (ROSNANO) and the ROK Ministry of Education, Science and Technologies. On 11 December 2009, ROSNANO and the Korean Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS) signed the Memorandum on Cooperation. ROSNANO and KRISS joined efforts to elaborate norms and standards, enrolling research laboratories and specialists to assess the conformity and security of nanotechnologies and the products of nano-industry, and also the creation of initial conditions for commercializing the results of R&D.

On 16 June 2011, within the framework of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, ROSNANO, Korean Institute for Advancement of Technology (KIAT), the international investment company 360ip and Samho Green Investment Venture Capital (SGIVC) announced the creation of the Asian Nanotechnological Foundation. The foundation will be formed in the ROK. The Russian branch will be located in St. Petersburg. The capitalization of the Foundation is set at US$100 mln with half provided by ROSNANO Capital fund, a 100% subsidiary of ROSNANO. For its part, KIAT will invest 20 billion won (around US$18 mln). Additional support for the portfolio companies of the Foundation operating in Singapore will be provided by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) in the form of grants to the tune of US$20 mln. No less than 50% of the Foundation’s finances will be channeled to companies operating on the territory of the Russian Federation.

One of the advantageous areas of scientific and technological cooperation is nanotechnologies.

Joint scientific centers are being established at the same time. In particular, since 2005, on the basis of the techno-park in Gyeonggi-do province, the joint scientific research center SOI-Korea has been operational, established by the Korean Electrotechical Research Institute (KERI) and the public scientific center “State Optical Institute named after S.I. Vavilov” (St. Petersburg). In 2010, several new participants from Russia joined the project, and it acquired a new name: Russia Science Seoul. In May 2010, in Seoul City Hall, the Memorandum on understanding on the creation of a Russian-Korean research center was signed. The Memorandum stipulates that South Korea would provide the venue and allocate US$16 mln for the period of 2010-2014. The Russia Science Seoul center will house 73 specialists in the field of nano- and biotechnology (39 Russian and 34 South Korean researchers).

Until now, scientific and technological cooperation between Russia and ROK took place in accordance with inter-governmental agreements and contracts concluded by major companies. However, the acceleration of cooperation requires the involvement of small and medium enterprises (SME). In fact, the new ROK government has set the goal of stimulating the development of SME and raising their profile on global markets. New ROK President Park Geun-hye highlighted the need for supporting SME in his inaugural speech.

Small and medium-sized businesses in South Korea have a keen interest in cooperation with Russia. According to a poll conducted by the ROK Ministry of economic and intellectual property, 57.1% voted for the improvement of technical cooperation with Russia (240 respondents, or 86.3% out of the total represented SME). South Korean respondents revealed the main motives for fostering this kind of interaction with their Russian counterparts:

  • Opportunity for intensive application of high-class technology (62.1%);
  • Low cost of technical design (16.5%);
  • Ingenuity of Russian scientists (10.7%);
  • Ease of interaction with Russia compared to other technologically advanced nations (6.5%) [6].

Cooperation in human resources training

Cooperation in human resources training has been gaining momentum lately, focused on managers in high-tech sectors and supported by the internship of Russian specialists at the ROK scientific and innovation centers.

Cooperation in human resources training has been gaining momentum lately, focused on managers in high-tech sectors and supported by the internship of Russian specialists at the ROK scientific and innovation centers. Programs for the exchange of college students and professors have been embraced by the Institute of Asia and Africa (Lomonosov Moscow State University), MGIMO University of the RF MFA, Moscow State Linguistic University, Far East Federal University, etc. while the South Korean side is represented by the following partners: Yonsei University, Korea University, Kyung Hee University, Korean Foreign Languages University, etc. Annually, about 100 Russian students, college professors and scientists come to South Korea under various educational programs. Within the framework of the educational program undertaken by the Korea Foundation, grants are offered for the education and R&D for Russian students and scientists.

In accordance with the Russian Government directive regulating cooperation with foreign countries in the field of education, the citizens of ROK are annually granted state scholarships for education in tertiary educational institutions in Russia with money coming from the federal budget. In recent years, the quota was fixed at 25 state scholarships per annum [7].

Forecasts for the development of RF-ROK scientific and technological cooperation are based on the mutual commitment of both sides to go further. ROK economic policy for the next 15-20 years targets entry into global markets through the creation of new products and services based on cutting edge technologies (either borrowed or ‘home-grown’). The government has elaborated the “5-7-7” program which stipulates investment in R&D at a rate of 5% of GDP, the development of seven prioritized fields and the country joining the seven most scientifically and technologically developed nations. For this purpose, ROK is developing scientific and technological cooperation with different countries, including Russia.

As for Russia, the federal government has elaborated forecasts for the transition of the national economy from a model of dependence on primary materials exports to a new economy based on innovation, fostering intellectual capital, and the prioritized development of high-tech sectors with a high degree of competitiveness on global markets. According to estimates, from 50% to 90% of GDP growth in developed countries is created by innovation and technological progress with innovation being the main driver of development in all industrial sectors as well as the service sector. In order to speed up scientific and technological development, Russia is forging alliances with various countries with a focus on modernization, and Republic of Korea is viewed as one of the most promising partners.

***

To create synergies based on scientific and technological cooperation between RF and ROK, it is essential to concentrate efforts on the following:

  • joint commercialization of the Russian scientific discoveries and technologies on the basis of institutes under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Science and R&D centers servicing various industries;
  • setting up joint production in Russia and in the North East Asia countries on the basis of Russian patents and licenses;
  • intensifying the engagement of various scientific funds and their grants to support Russian researchers in the field of exact sciences as well as natural, social and humanitarian sciences;
  • creation of joint funds to finance fundamental research.

1. Materials of the 22nd annual conference of the RAS Institute of the Far East — Center of Asia and Pacific Region of the Hanyang University in Seoul, 30 September — 1 October, 2010. V.G. Samsonova // The human factor and scientific and technology exchanges in view of the surge in innovation-focused cooperation between Russia and ROK. Page 298.

2. Ibidem.

3. Comparison of scientific and technological competitive edge between Korea and China. Page 10. HRI Economic review, March 2013. Hyundai Research Institute.

4. Ibidem.

5. Data from the Russian Ministry of Economic Development.

6. Sung Yen Won. Strengthening of RF-ROK technological cooperation with emphasis on cooperation in industrial technologies on the basis of small and medium enterprises. Russia — Republic of Korea Dialogue 2010. Page 72.

7. Data of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.

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