Opinion: How Nepal can benefit from ‘Science diplomacy’. 


Chan-Mo Park is a computer scientist as well as chancellor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in the Democratic Republic of Korea. He is an American citizen with a PhD from the University of Maryland. Park is eager to introduce North Korean Scientists to a global level through science diplomacy.

After retiring from Pohang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in 2007, Park served as Science and Technology Advisor for President of South Korea. In 2015, he gave a presentation on ‘How South and North Korean scientists can enhance relation through Science Diplomacy’ at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. 

I had also attended the same conference and given a presentation on ‘Devastating Earthquake of 2015 in Nepal’. During that time, I got an opportunity to meet Park and discuss on how a developing nation can benefit from Science Diplomacy. Since then, we have always been in close contact. 

North Korea has been in disputes not only with its neighbouring country – South Korea – but also with the USA and other western nations for a very long time. After the partition of Korea into North and South, these two countries have been unable to collaborate in any activities. 

However, after the establishment of Poyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in 2009, Science Diplomacy has gained its pace. The PUST is operated jointly by both the South and North Korean government. Professors from all around the world including America, United Kingdom, Canada, China, India, France, Switzerland and many more have been lecturing students in PUST. 

Expressing his experience, Professor Park maintained that despite existing political tensions with various countries, there is no barrier in the field of Science and Technology in North Korea. “Science and Technology is playing a vital role in maintaining peace across the globe in many ways,” he added. The joint research on science and technology being carried out by the Pohang University of South Korea and Poyang University of Science and Technology of North Korea is a good example of Science Diplomacy. 

PUST has been playing the role of a bridge in improving the diplomatic relations between North Korea and other countries. Science Diplomacy has been an indispensable part of this mission. When tensions between the USA and North Korea peaked on September 1, 2017, the North Korean government banned American nationals from visiting North Korea. Since then, Professor Park has been unable to go to North Korea. However, he visits South Korea frequently. 

Even as the North Korean government has barred Americans from entering North Korea, Science Diplomacy has kept the inter-nation research activities going, which is a mere reflection of the benefits of Science Diplomacy. 

History of Science Diplomacy

The practice of maintaining creative international partnership by solving common problems through scientific collaboration is Science Diplomacy. Science Diplomacy is commonly referred to as a new term in the field of Diplomacy. Under the umbrella network of Science Diplomacy, various countries have joint hands in the field of Science and Technology, Research and Engineering etc. 

It is difficult to mention exactly when this new concept in Diplomacy developed however, it seems to have come into practice in 15th century after the colonization of American, African and Asian countries by Spain and Portugal. The countries had begun developing Arms and Weapons by the 15th century.

As the ‘Cold War’ ended, the Science Diplomacy surged to its peak in the early 2000s. The countries having political tensions began a partnership in the fields of Science and Technology giving new perspectives to international relations. Countries like North Korea, Russia and America extended hands in conducting research activities together. 

In recent years, Science Diplomacy has become a field of interest to every country as it can connect developing countries with developed one through the medium of science and technology. Nepal has also commenced discussion over Science Diplomacy in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and Nepal Academy of Science and Technology. Marking 8th National Science Day, Nepal National Commission for UNESCO under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had recently organized interaction programme on ‘Science Diplomacy’.

Science Diplomacy in Nepal is currently in the preliminary phase.

What can be Nepal’s next move?

Dr Sunil Babu Shrestha, vice-chancellor at Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) believes that Nepal must increase its horizons of Science Diplomacy and utilise it for developmental purposes. “We are a developing country as as such, it would help if we learn and import foreign technologies. We have to deal with them. In this case, Science Diplomacy can come handy.”

Nepal has a lot to do with ‘Indigenous Technology’ being practised here. Nepal is very rich in the traditional technology. Such kinds of technologies need to be studied and researched. “Nepal can earn both name and fame if we can flourish our practice of traditional technology in international level through diplomacy,” Dr Shrestha further added.

Only the economic and political issues have been a core interest of Nepal in its diplomatic missions for a very long time. The government seems unaware of the importance of Science Diplomacy. Nepal has barely involved its scientists in diplomatic missions. As a result, Nepal has been unable to negotiate and keep strong viewpoints on climate change. 

“Even if Nepal emits very less amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it has been facing huge impacts of climate change and global warming. Science Diplomacy will help to solve and negotiate this problem,” said Dr Shrestha. Scientific attaché is an indispensable part of diplomatic missions.

Any countries that are facing huge impacts of climate change with very few contributions to global warming get ‘Green Climate Fund’ as support to tackle the problem from those countries like China, America and other countries with high contribution to climate change.

The countries seeking such fund must come up with good scientific negotiation. Because of poor presentation and negotiation, Nepal has failed to get the deserved amount of ‘Green Climate Fund’. The overall scenario would have been different with the help of Science Diplomacy.

Selection of appropriate technology and its distribution

Selection of appropriate technology and its distribution for any nation based on its political and economical statues is one of the major works of Science Diplomacy for the Former Minister for the Science and Technology, Ganesh Shah. “Nepal can learn and introduce the high-tech machinery being mobilized by the developed nations in the field of production and distribution by the means of science diplomacy,” he further elaborated. 

Nepal is among one of the hardest-hit countries by climate change in the world. As a developing and economically weak nation, Nepal has been unable to take its issues of climate change to the international level. Experts believe that science diplomacy can come handy in this case.

The Nepal government had initiated ‘ Sagarmatha Sambad’ in a bid to draw the attention of international communities on the issues of climate change and environmental protection. However, the event has been suspended since March due to global COVID-19 pandemic.

Science Diplomacy can help Nepal to meet the new horizons in the field of Information Technology (IT) as well. In recent years, Nepal has also begun conducting various activities related to artificial intelligence (AI). “Science Diplomacy can be very useful in projects related AI,” maintained Shah. 

Technology is one of the most corrupted sectors in the world. Most of the poor and under-develop nation become victims of corruption while importing new technologies from the developed nation because of poor diplomacy. 

“Countries like Nepal can get rid of such problems through the medium of science diplomacy,” says Shah. 

Scientific cooperation among the scientists across the globe through the medium of science diplomacy has not only helped the developing countries in the selection and distribution of the appropriate technologies but also to maintain global peace and integrity.

COVID-19 and Scientific Partnership

Scientific cooperation is one of the key weapons in combating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The scientist of developing countries must be aware of the new invention and discoveries being made in developed and capable countries. 

The scientists across the globe must join hands and collaborate accordingly through science diplomacy. Such collaborations are today’s need to protect humankind from COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bhim Bhurtel, International Affairs Analyst, maintains that Nepali scientists must approach the international scientists and conduct research on collaborative manner. 

Science Diplomacy would be very much helpful in developing a partnership with international scientists in the fields of science, technology, public health, micro-biology, Bio-technology and many more. 

Efforts being made in the field of Science Diplomacy

Science Diplomacy has been a very new concept for Nepal. However, Nepali scientists are being curious and getting into it gradually. Various scientific forums like the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) have already started a discussion over the utility of science diplomacy in Nepal. According to the NAST, the academy had already hosted a workshop to generate awareness among the general public about science diplomacy last year. Personalities from various background including diplomats had attended the event.

The event was attended by representatives from various departments linked with science and diplomacy like the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, National Policy Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many more, recalls Shrestha.

“We were about to form a ‘Science Diplomacy Forum’ for the effective practise of science diplomacy in national and international level but have been unable to execute our plan because of COVID-19 pandemic,’’ shared Shrestha. Even though, NAST has been conducting events and programs time and again to discuss and promote since diplomacy in Nepal.

What can be done?

The government of Nepal does not have any specific department to deal with foreign countries while importing new technologies. 

First of all, the government of Nepal should form a separate department of science diplomacy which will be a part of other diplomatic departments like Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, National Policy Commission and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There must be a science advisor in every governmental department. 

The government must develop the concept of ‘Science in Diplomacy’, ‘Science for Diplomacy’, and ‘Diplomacy for Science’.

According to Former Minister Shah, the government must immediately appoint a focal person or a separate department in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to deal with science diplomacy. “This will give a formal and much-needed push to science diplomacy of Nepal in the national and international level and make the environment of partnership among international communities.”

Besides, the government must create a favourable environment for the international partnership in conducting research and projects along with their effective implements. The science diplomacy should be the common agenda of the government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Karki is with Nepal Forum of Science Journalists