The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), driven by new advanced technologies, has brought about unprecedented, rapid, transformative, and irreversible changes to the way we produce, work, live and interact. At the 30th ASEAN Summit on 29 April 2017 in Manila, ASEAN Leaders recognised the need for the region to be well prepared and able to maximise the opportunities from the 4IR, so as to foster economic growth, and promote inclusive and equitable economic development.
A number of follow ups have been made since, the most recent of which was the holding of a Special Session on 4IR in ASEAN on 14 January 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. The event was co-organised by the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand and the ASEAN Secretariat and was held on the sidelines of the 9th Committee of the Whole for the ASEAN Economic Community. It provided an interactive platform for ASEAN stakeholders to be updated by key experts, have an open dialogue on, and provide inputs to ASEAN’s work on the 4IR.
The Special Session, which was attended by around 900 participants, opened with a welcoming remarks from the Secretary-General of ASEAN H.E. Dato’ Lim Jock Hoi and a keynote speech by Minister of Commerce of Thailand, H.E. Mr. Sontirat Sotijirawong. The event subsequently continued with two panel sessions, the first one discussed the opportunities and challenges of 4IR in ASEAN from the regional, national, industry and private sector’s perspectives, and the second one discussed thematic issues on 4IR in ASEAN, including on cybersecurity, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and the future of jobs.
Session 1, ASEAN in the 4IR: Opportunities and Challenges
Dr. Julia Tijaja of the ASEAN Secretariat informed that the ASEAN Secretariat has recently completed the Assessment Study on ASEAN readiness in 4IR. By looking at five readiness dimensions of innovation and technology, human capital, regulatory frameworks, infrastructure connectivity, and inclusive and sustainable growth, the Assessment Study reveals diversity in the levels of readiness across ASEAN Member States (AMS). Dr. Tijaja also stressed that, whilst all three ASEAN Community pillars have relevant initiatives in preparing the region to embrace 4IR, steps are needed to come up with a holistic and coherent strategy, strengthen cross-pillars/sectoral coordination, and translate various frameworks and guidelines into implementation.
Dr. Pattama Teanravisitsagool of the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council elaborates Thailand’s strategy to transform itself into Thailand 4.0. to become a developed nation. Through the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan and the 20-year National Strategy, Thailand aims to strengthen its economy by increasing the capacity of its existing industries with regard to the technologies of the future, and laying the foundation for the development of new industries based on environmentally-friendly production. The development approaches Thailand intends to pursue include: (1) the upgrading of high and advanced technology; (2) the establishment of cluster networking; (3) the creation of high quality products; (4) the distribution of investment within ASEAN; (5) the development of workforce for future industries; (6) the development of infrastructure and technology capacities; (7) implement in-depth studies to decide a proper strategy to ‘make or buy’ technology; and (8) revamping and renewing laws and regulations.
Dr. Tomas Koch of McKinsey addressed six key issues of 4IR in his presentation, namely the disparity in the levels of ASEAN competitiveness, the unstoppable momentum of the 4IR, the need for ASEAN companies to scale-up their business model (to avoid ‘pilot trap’, which may be due to difficulties in value alignment, cost of resources and efforts needed), the relative success of first movers in the region, which he refers to as the ‘lighthouses’, the need for major reskilling, and the call for action for various stakeholders to address challenges from the 4IR.
Mr. Arin Jira, the 2019 Chairperson of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC), discussed the readiness of ASEAN businesses, as well as the strategies to address 4IR-related challenges, including the availability, affordability, and accessibility digital infrastructure and the human costs of jobs displacement. In relation to this, he also referred to the 2019 ASEAN-BAC project, or the AHEAD (ASEAN Human Empowerment and Development in 4IR) Legacy project, which focuses on ASEAN human empowerment and development in the area of 4IR.
Session 2, Fourth Industrial Revolution: Thematic Issues in ASEAN
In addition to a preview of Cysco’s latest study that was published on the same day of the Special Session, Mr. Naveen Menon of Cysco System stressed three key major issues in relation to cybersecurity in ASEAN: (1) Low digital adoption as a result of budget, skills, and infrastructure constrains; (2) ASEAN as a prime target for cybersecurity threats; and (3) The need for ASEAN to develop a comprehensive rapid action framework to address national and regional security concerns.
Dr. Passakon Prathombutr, representing the Digital Economy Promotion Agency of Thailand, shared with the Forum various measures that have been taken by the Thai authorities to advance the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, which was a priority economic deliverable of the 2018 Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship, which include efforts to promote smart energy, environment, living, people, mobility, economy, and governance.
Last but not least, Mr. Christopher Ng, the Regional Secretary Asia and the Pacific, Uni Global Union – Asia and Pacific Regional Organisation (UNI-APRO), put forth several key proposals to minimise negative impacts of the 4IR on employment in the region: (1) A just and balanced transition to a digital future involving all stakeholders; (2) Managing labour market in an integrated ASEAN by putting people at the centre of development; (3) Balancing the needs of enterprises and workers; and (4) Building social partnership by forging just transition programme to a digital future.
Finally, the Special Session was closed with concluding remarks by the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for the ASEAN Economic Community, Dr. Aladdin Rillo, which underscored three key points: (1) 4IR has the power to produce positive results in the economy, but at the same time brings also negative impact; (2) To ensure that no one is left behind, technologies should be inclusive and work for everyone, whilst, at the same time, transparency is also needed to ensure its effective governance; and (3) the importance of stakeholders coordination in the digital world.
The PPT presentations of the special session on 4IR can be found here: PPT Presentations.