One aspect of economy policy under the DPP is its forward looking technological aspects, whereas Ma’s economic proposals, under Siew, are based on a back-to-the-future 1970s model that involves spraying concrete around Taiwan like so much fake snow at a Christmas party. A key emerging industry in world technology markets is nanotechnology, the science of “understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter; a sheet of paper is 100,000 nm),” and Taiwan has pursued it with vigor:

The government is planning to appropriate NT$23 billion (US$726 million) to fund the second stage of the “Taiwan National Science and Technology Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” slated for 2009-2014, officials at the cabinet-level National Science Council (NSC) said Tuesday.

The first stage, which began in 2003 with NT$17.8 billion in funding, will conclude by the end of this year, officials told reporters.

In the first phase, more than 4,000 science research papers have been generated to date, dozens of top-notch research teams were initiated, and ties between industry, university, and research institutions have been strengthened, they said.

Program Director Wu Maw-kuen, who is also the director of the Institute of Physics under Taiwan’s top research institute Academia Sinica, said the program office is now working on the outlines of the next phase by determining which items of research are worth further financial support.

Wu said the focus of the next stage will be nano-electronic and optoelectronic technology, nano-scale instruments, nanotechnology for energy and environmental applications, nano-scale biomedical research, and the various technologies’ utilization in potential and traditional industries.

How does this sum compare? It is about half the US$1.444 billion the US Nanotechnology Initiative is spreading across 13 US government departments for nanotech research, though Taiwan’s GDP is just a fraction of US GDP. Additionally, the Taichung Science Park was originally intended to be nanotech oriented.

The article also alludes to a key function and metric of Taiwan’s universities: producing papers for foreign consumption. Pressure to publish in Taiwan universities is excruciating — and not merely to publish, but to publish in top journals (the importance of chasing status in Chinese cultural is instrumental in this push). At NCKU where I am doing a PHD in international business, my fellow students generally try and place papers in just the top 2 or 3 journals. One can only imagine what will happen when the coming wave from China breaks over the world of academic journals.

One perennial problem in Taiwan’s development is the university- government-industry triumvirate: the first leg is only weakly linked to the second and third. The government has been working on integrating the universities more into national industrial development. Part of the problem is that the technocracy responsible for the major input into government economic and technology policy formation is not university-based, but rather holds court in the think tanks in Taipei, according to a knowledgeable person I spoke to a couple of months ago, and it sees the universities as places for producing papers Taiwan can use to validate itself on the world stage (hence the government’s proud announcement that its nanotech initiative had generated 4,000 papers). Another problem is the rigid execution so common in Taiwan’s public policy — all departments are ordered to have “industry-university cooperation” and so, by god, they shall. At one university I taught at “industry-university cooperation” in my department consisted of a proposal to teach English at a local airline. The private for-profit universities often frankly see such programs as merely another profit center.

Still other problems are the lack of high-quality universities — the so-called “universities of technology” are largely voc-ed finishing schools that generally do not have access to high quality students, especially innovative grad students, so necessary for technology development programs. The testing system tends to shunt such students into the national universities, and when profs hit the big-time, they tend to move to one of the national schools as well. The Ministry of Education is often roundly criticized by the locals, but making modernity more than just a mask in the local universities is a daunting task.