Havana, 17 September 2023 (TDI): The President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed the issue of the technological and digital North-South divide at the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G77 & China on September 15, in Havana.

The address was centered on emphasizing the crucial role of science, technology, and innovation in overcoming the current development challenges faced by developing nations worldwide and shaping their future.

At the outset of the address, the Sri Lankan President commended Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez for convening the summit and acknowledged Cuba’s role in voicing concerns and aspirations of developing nations within various multilateral forums.

At the summit, he notified the crucial challenges faced by Global South, including the pandemic, climate change, food, fertilizer, and energy crises, which threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and exacerbate the global debt crisis.

President Wickremesinghe during the address emphasized that a new technological divide is emerging in the 21st century between developed and developing countries.

Speaking about the technological divide, he stressed the necessity of the adoption of digitalization and new technologies, such as Big Data, IoT, AI, Blockchain, Biotechnology, and Genome Sequencing, to bridge the gap.

To bridge the gap of the technological divide, he emphasized having educated manpower that is equipped with technological knowledge for the smooth flow of the needed transformations in enhancing development and catching up processes in developing nations.

Sri Lanka on technological development

The Sri Lankan President in this regard specified the initiatives by the Sri Lankan government to excel in the field of technological development.

The initiatives included the evaluation of underperforming Science and Technology Research Institutes and the establishment of a Technology and Innovation Council and a Digital Transformation Agency.

Additionally, he notified that Sri Lanka plans to create four new universities specializing in new technologies, with one being the result of technological cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.

He also mentioned the creation of the International Climate University as well.

Overcoming technological divide

In further addressing the digital divide, President Wickremesinghe cited challenges such as limited access to costly technology, insufficient digital skills and infrastructure, cultural and institutional barriers, and financing constraints.

“The brain drain from the South to the North and the resulting loss of educated manpower is another threat to the development of Science Technology and Innovation of the South.” President Wickremesinghe added.

Also, he mentioned that China, India, Japan, and South Korea have developed Science Technology, and Innovation by nurturing their manpower.

In this regard, he stressed, “Therefore we must ask for compensation from the North for the loss of our manpower.”

For the cause of overcoming the digital and technological divide, he called for effective cooperation mechanisms within the G77 and China, including the revitalization of the Consortium of Science & Technology & Innovation for the South (COSTIS).

He also called for commitment of member countries of G77 and China to earmark 1% of their GDP for the Research and Development (R&D) over a decade.

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In continuation, President Wickremesinghe also stressed the importance of collaboration between governments and the private sector .

He proposed creating technological platforms in fields like digitalization, health, medication, AI, and renewable energy including green hydrogen, inspired by the European Union’s Technology & Innovation Platforms.

He also urged increasing South-South cooperation and proposed a scheme similar to the Colombo Plan to enhance collaboration, exchange best practices and develop policies that harness the transformational potential of science, technology, and innovation.

In conclusion, President Wickremesinghe reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to supporting the new Havana Declaration and called for the collective voice of G77 and China to be heard at the international fora.