By Dr Eric Teo Chu Cheow
Some French diplomats have spoken of the need for a new global framework for Technology Transfer and Regulations, an idea arising from the recent Iranian and DPRK crises, as well as high-tech and weapons controversies and the Airbus-Boeing dispute. This possible framework could be conceived under the auspices of the United Nations.
According to the French idea, the nuclear issue will play a central role in the global framework and help counter the perception of "double standards" among certain powerful nations, whereby developed countries can have access to peaceful nuclear technology while others, especially in the developing world, cannot. Other developing countries have also argued that some countries could acquire nuclear technology even if they did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whereas disagreement "forced" others to leave the NPT and break ranks with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
At a time of high oil prices, surging world demand for energy resources and the fear of severe environmental repercussions and global warming, the nuclear option has become not only attractive, but perhaps an economic necessity too. Thus the peaceful use of nuclear technology has become a development issue in countries such as Iran, Indonesia, China and India, as well as in developed countries like Britain and the United States.
Big nuclear reactor-producing countries like Russia and France could now be called upon to build such reactors in China and Britain in order to complement crude oil and gas needs.
The peaceful use of nuclear energy is complicated by high suspicions of "terrorist abuse," poor safeguards and the suspected related use of weapons technology, especially at a time when the Middle East appears more unstable than ever. Similar arguments could be used by Indonesia's immediate neighbors should the archipelago state proceed with its plans to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful economic use.
But there is a clear weight to the charges of "double standards," which must be resolved in a global way and in a fair manner. There is no reason why a certain country should be judged to be "safe" or "not safe" in terms of peaceful nuclear use on the basis of its political regime.
Due to the growing tussle between Boeing and Airbus, the French are suggesting including the transport sector in the global framework. Moreover, there will be new aircraft developers from emerging economies, like China, which could in the next five years compete with the two giants. But, according to framework's proponents, transport issues would also include trains, ships and ports and other WTO-related issues, which could go more and more high-tech, or even nuclear, in the coming years.
Finally, "high-IT" would regulate the transfer of sophisticated IT systems worldwide, and could even constitute a means of checking terrorism. But it could also be a double-edged sword, used as a means of economic and intellectual protectionism, and serve as a weapon against further technology transfers and outsourcing.
However, its greatest merit would be clearer international regulation and transfer of technology, with more fairness and equity so that developing countries can also develop and rise without special treatment or unfair prejudices.
The author is a council member of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs.
(China Daily August 8, 2006)