Originally published in Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age Book, 14 November 2017.
Digitalization and Globalization: The Pillars of Growth
Whenever I visit Singapore, Bangkok and other major cities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, I am always struck by their youthful populations and economic vitality.
This huge and rapidly growing market, driven by a young workforce, is adapting digital technologies at a faster pace than many developed countries.
There is plenty of data to back up these observations: The median age in ASEAN states is 29.1, compared with Japan’s 46.9. ASEAN’s real economic growth rate in 2016 was 5.8 percent, while Japan’s was 0.6 percent. ASEAN’s total population is more than 630 million, nearly six times that of Japan. This huge and rapidly growing market, driven by a young workforce, is adapting digital technologies at a faster pace than many developed countries.
The explosive growth of internet use in Southeast Asia should not be overlooked. In the past, connections were predominantly wired, and building the necessary infrastructure was both costly and time consuming. But the mushrooming of cheaper cellular base stations paved the way for smartphones to replace PCs as the main communication tools – putting the internet within reach of far more people.
This, in turn, is giving rise to innovative new businesses that are disrupting old models. Grab, a Singapore-based ride-hailing app provider founded by Malaysian entrepreneur Anthony Tan in 2011, now has a presence in 87 cities in seven countries and competes with the industry’s biggest player, Uber Technologies of the U.S. In 2014, Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. invested 30 billion yen in Grab and became its largest shareholder. [In 2017], Toyota Motor Co. teamed up with Grab to handle maintenance and inspections of cars managed by the startup.
At Nikkei, we are keeping a close eye on pioneers like Tan. In a front page feature series of The Nikkei newspaper, titled “Asia’s future builders,” we focused on several young Southeast Asian innovators. One was Tan Min-Liang, from Singapore, whose company develops peripheral devices for games and has drawn worldwide attention. The series also featured Philippine singer Charice Pempengco, who is known as the “net-born diva” after cracking the top 10 charts in the U.S. Their impressive accomplishments suggest a future in which digitalization propels Southeast Asian countries to the global center stage.
Southeast Asian governments, too, are actively working to keep pace with the digital age. “The Eleventh Malaysia Plan” announced by the nation’s government in 2015 includes policies to expand e-commerce and improve communications links to outlying regions. That same year, the Thai government set a new nation-building goal called “Thailand 4.0.” The idea is to jump from the “third stage” of economic development, led by heavy industry and exports, to the “fourth stage,” driven by the latest digital technologies.
With the support of such policies, the digital waves that have mainly benefited urban areas will spread to the countryside and help reduce regional disparities. These policies will also contribute to the expansion of the middle class – the driving force of consumption.
We recognize the importance of accurately conveying this remarkable Asian growth story to readers around the world. To this end, we have made numerous investments over the last few years under our slogan “G & G,” which stands for “global expansion and growth.”
The readership of the Nikkei Asian Review, the English-language news service we established in 2013, continues to increase. Online and in print, it delivers the region’s economic news to a global audience – all with a uniquely Asian perspective.
In 2014, we set up Nikkei’s Editorial Headquarters for Asia in Bangkok and doubled the number of reporters spread across the region. Our goal is to be the media leader in Asia, in part through on-the-ground reporting of untold growth stories.
Alongside the Nikkei Asian Review, our strategy for regional expansion has another pillar: the Asia300. This is Nikkei’s exclusive list of 300 influential companies from 11 economies across the region, including 130 from ASEAN states.
Since the launch of the Asia300 in 2014, our reporters have been dedicating much of their time to these companies. As the next step, we launched the Nikkei Asia300 Index in December 2016 to provide a new gauge of Asian stocks. We believe these endeavors are a clear indication of Nikkei’s focus on the region, and ASEAN countries in particular.
Dovetailing with our global strategy is our commitment to digital-driven journalism. We are investing to realize a new type of journalism that will stay relevant in this fast-changing, digital world. The Nikkei Online Edition – launched in 2010, ahead of similar websites by other Japanese newspaper publishers – has grown into one of the world’s most successful news sites with a paywall, with more than 550,000 paid subscribers.
“Be an innovator, not a follower.” That is our motto. We resolved to make 2017 our “leap year” toward becoming a truly digital news organization. We have revamped the Nikkei Asian Review’s editing procedures to focus on web-oriented publishing. We have also formed an Innovation Laboratory in Tokyo, with new trends like artificial intelligence, fifth-generation mobile networks and other new technologies in mind. The objective is to start integrating the tech that will shape the way news is reported long into the future.
Nikkei’s new partner, Britain’s Financial Times, joined us in 2015. As a truly global media group, the Nikkei-FT alliance delivers unparalleled coverage of Asia to readers worldwide. Not only is the FT a trusted global brand, it is also a pioneer in the shift from print to digital media. We will continue to pool our strengths and digital experience to provide the finest reader experience.
Our emphasis on ASEAN countries, meanwhile, is not limited to news coverage. Nikkei in 2014 started working with N2N Connect, Malaysia’s largest stock trading platform provider, to distribute corporate analysis tools and Nikkei Asian Review content. We formed a capital and business alliance with StoxPlus, a leading financial information service provider in Viet Nam, the same year. Nikkei also organizes international conferences in major cities throughout Asia, inviting top executives to share their unique insights with audiences.
ASEAN and Nikkei can be considered partners in digitalization. Nikkei is ideally positioned not only to track the pulse of this vibrant, dynamic region, but also to support and accelerate its development. I am certain that this mutually beneficial relationship will last for decades to come.
About Naotoshi Okada
Naotoshi Okada is the president and CEO of Nikkei Inc. He joined Nikkei Inc. in 1976 and was a correspondent in Paris and New York, before becoming Editor-in-Chief. In 2013, he launched the Nikkei Asian Review. After being appointed president in 2015, he initiated the “Global Expansion and Growth” strategy and acquired the Financial Times the same year.