Originally published in Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age Book, 14 November 2017.


Opportunities Rising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Following the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015, ASEAN is now embarking on a new 10-year Vision under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, where the emphasis is very much on making our economies more innovative, dynamic and competitive, in order to move higher up the global value chain.

With the world economy now undergoing a transformational phase brought about by rapid technological and scientific advancements, this new AEC 2025 Vision could not have come at a more crucial time. The rise of megatrends and new technologies, in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), necessitates a regional and collective response.

With over 50 percent of its population under the age of 30 years old, ASEAN has the potential to leap frog into the digital age, but it needs to focus its strategies towards increasing the region’s connectivity, competitiveness and productivity. Here, addressing the skills needs of the digital economy for ASEAN is first and foremost, one of the fundamental requirements towards ensuring that our region is digital-ready. Emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) should be placed within school curriculums. In addition, investment in human capital development and reskilling, to ensure digital-literacy and technology competency, is also important for the region to continuously be able to adapt.

Aside from addressing skill sets of our labour market, ASEAN’s success in the digital age will also depend on the ability of its entrepreneurs, particularly the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), in reaping the opportunities from 4IR. As such, strategies must be in place to ensure an environment conducive for the growth of MSMEs, such as by promoting competition, flexible labour policies, support for upskilling and access to affordable and quality infrastructure.

ASEAN has already laid the foundations in preparing for the necessary environment that supports technological progress including the 4IR. This is illustrated in the AEC Blueprint 2025 and its strategic measures, where in the context of creating a connected, competitive, innovative and dynamic ASEAN, among others, by:

• Ensuring Productivity-Driven Growth, innovation, research and development, and technology commercialization:

through promotion of strategic partnerships among the academia, research institutions and the private sector towards developing capabilities and creating an effective channel for technology transfer and commercialisation; strengthening the competitiveness of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) through the application of Science and Technology tools, and placing greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and development of incubator programmes;

• Strengthening Intellectual Property (IP) Rights Cooperation:

through strengthened IP offices and enhancement of regional mechanisms to promote asset creation and commercialisation, including the development of supporting schemes for MSMEs and creative industry sectors;

• Developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT):

through further utilisation and coordination of ICT for economic development and promoting digital trade in ASEAN, and support for ICT innovations and entrepreneurship as well as new technological developments such as Smart City, and Big Data and Analytics;

• E-Commerce:

through intensified cooperation on E-Commerce, building on the e-ASEAN Framework Agreement adopted by ASEAN Leaders in November 2000, with a view to develop an ASEAN Agreement on E-Commerce to facilitate cross-border E-Commerce transactions in ASEAN.

As ASEAN pursues its economic integration agenda, it is crucial that we continue to deepen our understanding of the challenges and implications arising from these transformative and potentially disruptive technologies, so that we can fully harness the opportunities of the digital economy.

In this respect, at the 30th ASEAN Summit that was held this year on 29 April 2017 in Manila, ASEAN Leaders recognized the need for ASEAN to be well prepared and able to maximize the opportunities from 4IR, so as to foster the region’s economic growth, and promote inclusive and equitable economic development. At the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting that was held on 7th September 2017, Ministers agreed to task the ASEAN Secretariat to conduct this study to assess ASEAN’s preparedness.


ASEAN should also continue to actively engage its partners, and strengthen cooperation in the development of innovation and technology. In this respect, the support from its Dialogue Partners who are steps ahead in digital-readiness, is very much valued.


At the same time, ASEAN should also continue to actively engage its partners, and strengthen cooperation in the development of innovation and technology. In this respect, the support from its Dialogue Partners who are steps ahead in digital-readiness, is very much valued. At the same time, it is also worth noting that other regional groupings whose members include ASEAN Member States, have also put this at the forefront of their agenda.

For example, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is developing a Roadmap on the Internet and the Digital Economy that is targeted for completion in November 2017. This Roadmap is expected to be a work program that brings together the different cross-cutting APEC initiatives which promote economic growth through the Internet and Digital Economy. This Roadmap is also expected to encourage cooperation across APEC fora and sub-fora, and will build an open and cooperative environment.

Similarly, in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the 7th Economic Ministers Meeting that was held on 21st – 22nd September 2017, agreed to the “Seoul Initiative on the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which essentially recognizes the importance of ASEM-wide cooperation in order to fully understand the implications of the 4IR, and to realize maximum mutual benefits and to achieve sustainable and inclusive prosperity. An ASEM Conference to discuss the economic impact of 4IR to ASEM Economies will thus be held in Seoul in 2018.

As such, these efforts will also complement the work being pursued in ASEAN, and hopefully contribute towards greater consensus-building on policy responses from each ASEAN Member State, that are necessary towards the creation of an environment in the ASEAN Economic Community which will be conducive for the development of the digital economy.

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About The Honourable Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng


The Honourable Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng was appointed as the Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in May 2005. Since 2015, he is also a Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office. He studied Sociology/Social Anthropology at the University of Swansea and has a Master of Philosophy in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics.