A Short History of the ASEAN Digital Future.

 
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Byline: Dr. Andrew Sheng

This month, Malaysia celebrates its 62nd anniversary of Independence, led by 94-year old but digitally savvy Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Singapore also celebrated its 54th National Day this month, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in Malay, Mandarin and English about how to prepare Singapore for climate change.

At the 74th anniversary of Independence, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo announced an ambitious plan to move the capital from Jakarta to Borneo. Traveling around ASEAN this month made me realize that while the rest of the world is more preoccupied with the turbulent present, Southeast Asia is already thinking and preparing for the future. The reason for this is pretty straight forward. At 600 million people with more than US$2.5 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP), ASEAN economies remain one of the youngest and fastest growing region in the world. ASEAN's success since the 1960s has been built on trade, peace and stability, and dedication to economic growth rather than politics.

Its future success hinges on its political neutrality, despite attempts by the Great Powers asking the region to choose sides. In Hanoi for a Young Scholars Initiative meeting of young academics, I was struck by how Vietnam was already planning for a digital economy by 2030 and 2045.

Having touched 7.1 percent GDP growth in 2018, and with just under 100 million population, Vietnam has been a major beneficiary of China shedding its low-cost industries and the diversification of the Asian global supply chain. In 2010, Vietnam achieved the World Bank's middle-income status and at the current trajectory, could be larger than Singapore's economy by 2029, according to a DBS study. In order to maintain its growth momentum and to provide jobs for its growing youth, Vietnam envisaged four possible digital futures, as buyer or seller of digital products and services. In the first Heritage scenario, using traditional engines of growth with low digital transformation, the additional growth could be minimal.

In the second scenario of Digital Exporter, using overseas companies hiring Vietnamese workers for exports, the projection shows some improvement, but only marginal benefits. The third scenario of Digital Consumer leverages off Vietnam's own large consumer market, but the amount of current jobs at risk would be one-third higher than the two earlier scenarios. The fourth scenario of a Digitally Transformed...

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