Digital Transformation in the ASEAN region

17 August 2021

During the 37th ASEAN Summit held in November 2020, the ASEAN Leaders adopted the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and its Implementation Plan, which among others, called for acceleration of inclusive digital transformation through digital technologies in order to boost the economy, improve society in post-COVID-19 era and achieve long-term resilience.

With the increasing IR4.0 technologies driving the activities and services nowadays, and added by the high digital dependence among users, greater synchronisation through a Consolidated Strategy is then needed to drive 4IR within a region that has varying levels of digital readiness. 

In addition to advancing the multitude of ASEAN’s digital work, the Consolidated Strategy on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) for ASEAN is currently being developed that also identifies specific initiatives that would contribute to the utilisation of 4IR technologies to boost the region’s competitiveness, and well-being, including by ensuring an inclusive digital transformation.  This is running in tandem with the increasing pace of digital transformation in ASEAN, particularly amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has pushed digitalisation to the forefront in ASEAN.

Therefore, various ASEAN sectoral fora have given support for digital transformation through various initiatives such as in the ASEAN Digital Masterplan (2021-2025), ASEAN Digital Integration Framework Action Plan (2019-2025), ASEAN Agreement on Electronic Commerce 2019, ASEAN ICT Master Plan 2020 and Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025.  MPAC 2025 recognised Digital Innovation as one of five Strategic Areas to achieve the vision of a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated ASEAN that will promote competitiveness, inclusiveness and a greater sense of Community. 

During the 1st ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting (ADGMIN) on 22nd January 2021, ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 (ADM2025) with the vision to transform ASEAN as a leading digital community and economic bloc, powered by secure and transformative digital services, technologies and ecosystem. The ADM2025 outlines eight desired outcomes and 37 enabling actions that will guide ASEAN’s digital cooperation from 2021 to 2025. 

The 1st ADGMIN also agreed to promote further cooperation with Dialogue Partners and to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach, where appropriate, in the implementation of digital programmes to achieve the intended objectives of the ADM2025.

The 1st ADGMIN also endorsed the Implementing Guidelines for the ASEAN Data Management Framework and ASEAN Cross Border Data Flows Mechanism, which build on the principles and initiatives of the ASEAN Framework on Personal Data Protection and ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance to harmonise data management and cross border data flows standards in the ASEAN region, raise the digital competitiveness of ASEAN Member States by establishing a trusted, transparent and accountable environment for doing business, and build ASEAN’s readiness to take up new digital opportunities. This will prepare ASEAN to work with other regional and global partners on creating interoperable data management and cross border data flows standards globally.

With the growth of digital transformation in the ASEAN region, enhancing cybersecurity cooperation is key to the security of ASEAN’s future economy and digitalisation initiatives, especially in view of the recent rise of global cybersecurity and supply chain attacks and threats. ADGMIN also welcomed the ASEAN cybersecurity cooperation through the formalising of existing ASEAN member states’ National CERT-level exchanges through the establishment of an ASEAN CERT information exchange mechanism as a core component of the future ASEAN CERT. The mechanism will support national CERTs through the exchange of information and best practices, and coordinate CERT capacity building programmes in the region.  

The 5th ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity (AMCC) on 7 October 2020, also emphasized the importance of the protection of Critical Information Infrastructures (CII) from cyber threats to ensure a safe and secure regional cyberspace, especially in light of the newer cybersecurity threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.   

 Digital technologies also offer immense potentials and benefits to foster inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development.  As such, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) is harnessed as a key regional platform to achieve greater synergy in development efforts, share experience and best practices and stimulate opportunities for innovative solutions towards smart, sustainable and development of smart cities in ASEAN.

To conclude, the digital transformation in the ASEAN region has been growing rapidly, especially in driving resiliency against and recovery from the impact of COVID-19.  With current pace of adoption of digital technologies in ASEAN, the region is well-positioned in its aspiring journey towards a leading digital community and economic bloc. 

Source: Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN was founded on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries; Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined ASEAN on 7 January 1984