ASEAN Summit Discusses Smart Cities Network and Trade Tensions
By Tai Wei Lim

ASEAN Summit Discusses Smart Cities Network and Trade Tensions

May. 03, 2018  |     |  0 comments

On April 25, 2018, Singapore rotated to become the host for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. Top of the agenda was ASEAN’s call to form a grid of smart cities by connecting Southeast Asia’s top tiered cities. This was a Singaporean initiative for the summit meeting and it is likely to enjoy sustained interest even after the summit. While there are world-class cities like Singapore, tourist meccas like Bangkok, metropolitan conurbations like Jakarta and iconic skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, they are ASEAN cities par excellence in and by themselves, but which are as yet lacking in interconnections. When connected, and with economies of scale, these cities can form a grid that makes dynamic economic, innovative, academic and business interconnections.

The cities can be the incubators of ideas for the entire region. After all, the slogan for the 32nd ASEAN Summit was ‘Resilient and Innovative.’ The ability to adapt to new cutting-edge technologies and to prosper economically are the hallmarks of the successful economies of the future. There are other ways to connect cities in ASEAN as well, for example through human flows and people-to-people exchanges. In the recent past, ASEAN countries had wanted to encourage the mutual recognition of qualifications to assist with the borderless flows of human talent.

In the case of the Rohingya refugee crisis, ASEAN is maximizing its help in economic assistance and providing supplies for the refugees to urge Myanmar to resolve its internal issues. Another issue in the background is the maritime dispute in the South China Sea. ASEAN is now looking at the prospect of ironing-out and including all important issues into a single document. This is recognized as an achievement in itself. All stakeholders have to be patient in this matter as it involves the issue of sovereignty in a dispute that involves many countries.

A number of concrete decisions, measures, declarations and issues were confirmed at this meeting. First, a statement was released on behalf of the ASEAN Chair that the regional organization was concerned about the trade tensions between the US and China against the backdrop of trade protectionism and anti-globalization feelings. The Chairman’s statement noted that the ASEAN members are supportive of a fast wrap-up of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks which is one of the ways to ensure the doors of globalization remain strong and open despite rising protectionism.

The ASEAN Chair’s statement also reiterated the regional organization’s desire for the non-military resolution and exercise of self-control on all stakeholders in the South China Sea dispute. The Chairman’s statement also noted that the Summit embraced pragmatic ways to mitigate conflict and avoid clashes in the turbulent waters of the South China Sea, including setting up hotlines to lessen the potential for misunderstandings, and taking steps towards procedural prevention of accidents and unintended encounters.

ASEAN officially welcomed the detente in the Korean Peninsula and for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit. Pledges for a nuclear-free zone in the Peninsula (the process of denuclearization) as well as lasting peace more than half a century after the Korean War were also welcomed at the Summit. ASEAN on its part reaffirmed the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty and the ASEAN Charter. As a sign of growing togetherness, the Summit noted through the Chairman’s statement that ASEAN looks forward to the completion of the new ASEAN Secretariat Building in 2019.

The setting up of two institutional efforts within ASEAN — Singapore’s ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program and the Bangkok-hosted ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre — were major milestones in combating the problems related to cybersecurity.

Besides macro security concerns that involve geopolitics and weapons of mass destruction, ASEAN is also aware of other dangers that are more insidious and lurking within communities, such as the radicalization of some members in ASEAN societies. Traditional security concerns continue to prevail with the grouping embracing the February 2018 Joint Statement by the ASEAN Defence Ministers on Countering Terrorism in ASEAN as the foundation for increased collaboration to fight, mitigate and guard against terrorism and extremism.


No less significant, conventional and existing normative principles related to functional cooperation were reaffirmed. Internally within ASEAN, the group reaffirmed their cooperative stance and common vision, ASEAN’s commitment to foundational principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Externally, ASEAN is keen to maintain good relations with all its neighbors. Amongst the other ASEAN bilateral events like the ASEAN-India and ASEAN-Australia Summits, ASEAN-Japan Dialogue, the Chairman’s statement noted that the grouping looks towards to the 15th anniversary of ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership.


In terms of new initiatives, a clear Vision for a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN through initiatives — including linking up ASEAN Smart Cities to form a network — were among the deliverables of the summit. ASEAN understands the different needs of its diverse member-states, and so city-level conditions will be taken into account when it comes to smart cities’ connections and linkages.


Technology, the group feels, will be a component of this connectivity, alongside the benefits of digitalization. The Summit took note of the ongoing ASEAN Secretariat study on ASEAN’s preparedness for the 4th Industrial Revolution. This indicated that the disruptions brought about by digital and other cutting-edge technologies are very much on the minds of the participating governments in the Summit.


Other concrete measures included issuing a common statement on cybersecurity cooperation to strengthen collaboration in this area. Ministers from all ASEAN member-states working on this issue will coordinate and recommend workable ways to coordinate cybersecurity policy within the group. Data protection was highlighted. The Cybersecurity ministers from respective ASEAN countries will be making progress in their own dedicated conference. Personal data protection is high on the list of items related to cybersecurity.


The setting up of two institutional efforts within ASEAN — Singapore’s ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program and the Bangkok-hosted ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre — were major milestones in combating the problems related to cybersecurity. In terms of the fight against crime, cybersecurity was not the only issue tackled. The Model ASEAN Extradition Treaty (MAET) was also institutionalized, boosting legal procedures within the regional grouping. The fight against trans-boundary crime and also the rule of law can be enhanced further with this common consensus.


Singapore also forwarded its own contributions. In line with its desire for more youth exchanges and interactions between the next generation of leaders, the Singapore-ASEAN Youth Fund was reinvigorated with a SGD 5 million top-up from Singapore. For its part, Singapore is keen to share its legal expertise with other ASEAN members through schemes such as the ASEAN Law Academy program.


All in all, the 32nd ASEAN Meeting held from 25-28 April 2018 achieved a number of tangible items through discussions and consensus. Perhaps some of the most important ones came from Singapore the host. In terms of functional economic cooperation and constructivist interactions, Singapore has led the way to show how ASEAN member-states can better connect with one another at the city level, and through legal platforms and youth exchanges. Finally, it is possible to mix functional cooperation with pleasure. Intensifying cultural exchanges in the tourism industry, boosting the regional service sector, and increasing economic exchanges were reiterated in the ASEAN Summit through the ASEAN Joint Declaration on Cruise Tourism. This signals the commitment to increase intra-regional tourist arrivals and to attract people from other parts of the world to visit the region.

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