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The Asia Century

The Global Innovation Index describes the challenges of increasingly emergent eastern countries

In 1958, Dutch historian Jan Romein, a student of Huizinga and one of the most distinguished scholars in his country, published “The Asia Century” (translated in Italy in 1969 after his death under the title “Il secolo dell’Asia”), an essay that was well received, on the new phase that the continent was entering as the colonial era ended. It became an essential book for anyone studying Asia and the title was a sort of paradigm that pronounced that, in reality, the Asia Century was not just the 20th but also the 21st century, in which we are currently immersed. Today we understand not only that we are still in “the Asia Century” but that this continent is also emerging in the area of innovation, which had for centuries been the driver of growth for the West. At present, countries that were once predominantly agricultural sell robotics to the United States and are focusing on innovation as a constant objective. Above all, this is seen in Asia, which is a continent to watch carefully. With its pros and cons.

China has become one of the 20 most innovative economies in the world, even while the top spots are still held by European countries, with Switzerland maintaining its role as leader in the ranking. This is one of the findings of the Global Innovation Index (GII), published each year by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). After Switzerland, the top ten countries are the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Singapore, United States of America, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Ireland, thus, mostly Europe and the United States. But the presence of Singapore and China’s staggering growth should give rise to reflection.

Now in its eleventh edition, the Global Innovation Index is an extremely detailed quantitative tool that aims to help decision makers better understand how to stimulate innovative activity that drives economic and social development. The analysis is performed on 126 economies based on 80 indicators, ranging from intellectual property to the creation of applications, expenditures on education, as well as scientific and technical publications. China, which reached 17th place in the global ranking, is increasingly a surprise that indicates a breakthrough in the evolution of this enormous country. According to the report, the economy is experiencing a rapid transformation led by a governmental policy that has chosen to prioritize research and the application of creative ingenuity. The United States continue to remain an innovative powerhouse, which has produced many of the world’s leading high-tech companies and life-changing innovations, but Chinese growth is impressive especially in the development of global capabilities in the innovation sector and due to the transformation of the economy’s structural bases towards more knowledge-intensive industries that rely on innovation to maintain competitive advantages.

Published in July, the report analyses the innovation landscape for the next decade and identifies possible innovations in fields such as energy production, storage, distribution and consumption. It also discusses how revolutionary innovations occur at the grass-roots level and describes how systems that are renewed on a small scale are increasing.

Therefore, if Asia is a part of the world that should be watched with great interest, Singapore, South Korea and Japan are classified as the most innovative countries. Southeast Asia (essentially, the ASEAN countries)* is ranked third in terms of global innovation. Singapore leads the region with a high score in most of the indicators and is among the top ten countries in the world; globally it has moved up two spots from last year. Then there is South Korea, which is among the countries with high income levels that have increased investments in innovation and ranks second in Asia. The report states that the country has also improved its performance in terms of the quality of its scientific publications and its universities. Japan follows in third place, but is increasingly threatened by China, which is ranked fourth for the continent. The trajectory of dynamic innovation is abundantly clear in its multi-national research and development companies, in high-tech industries, and in the quality of its publications. Subsequently, the ranking places Thailand, Vietnam and Mongolia, countries that are developing a path of technological innovation. Malaysia is another country that posts solid performance and continues to focus on innovation.

India is in ninth place for Asia and, continuing further down the rankings, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which are the least innovative countries on the continent, while something seems to be developing in Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan. The report argues that innovation in Asia can develop as long as it is not hindered by excessive protectionism, especially in the case of high-tech sectors and knowledge flows. This represents the challenge for the coming years.

* ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has ten member countries and two with observer status.

For further information about Generali's presence in Asia visit the section about the activities of the Group in Asia.