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ASEAN Digital Transformation

by Ouch Richard
In this chapter the digital transformation of ASEAN is examined. It provides an overview of the current state of digital transformation in ASEAN, highlighting recent trends and their impacts on digital services and adoption in the region, especially in mitigating the ramifications of the pandemic. The chapter also features policy recommendations for the Cambodian Chair to foster the benefits of digitalization.

Cambodia’s 2022 ASEAN Chairmanship takes place during a critical period as the country and its fellow member states continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Cambodia must be ready to capitalise on its position as the Chair to help drive the pandemic out of the region and the region towards recovery and prosperity. Whether 2022 will be a year of recovery or continued fighting against the pandemic is difficult to gauge as individual member states have different experiences and challenges. Nevertheless, a theme shared across the region is how digital transformation has become integral in all facets of governance and society amidst the pandemic.
Traditional avenues of business and governance are going through drastic changes as social distancing measures or lockdowns are being imposed to help combat the virus outbreaks. By using various digital indicators, such as e-commerce and internet usage, one finds that governments, companies, and people are now turning towards digital services and platforms to support their daily needs, from ordering groceries online and assembling key policymakers in online meetings to collaborating on projects using digital platforms. These new trends have resulted in an unprecedented growth of digital transformation across ASEAN.
These trends present both opportunities and challenges for the 2022 ASEAN Chair. One example is the growth of smartphones as a multifaceted tool across all the member states to help support recovery and mitigation efforts, allowing for contact tracing, managing vaccination appointments, location tracking, and periodic check-ins with those in quarantine. However, the usage of smartphones has also brought in questions of privacy and civil rights issues. This is just one of the many challenges governments face, as they are limited by cultural norms, institutional arrangements, and budgets. Moreover, reaching a common agreement on core issues, particularly on freedom of information, will be extremely difficult as each member state must balance its interests and national security. Nevertheless, collaboration should still be promoted despite the difficulty in reaching common ground.
Another opportunity lies within e-commerce where recent trends in the market have blown up and are likely to remain permanent. As a majority of the population is increasingly becoming connected to the internet, they are also increasing their participation in digital platforms, especially as the pandemic is forcing both businesses and customers to go into lockdowns or social distancing. As e-commerce is blossoming in ASEAN, challenges of consumer/company protection, network infrastructure, and the disparity in digital participation among member states will come into play.
This chapter starts with defining digital transformation, drawing from diverse sources of educational and policymaking fields. The second section provides an overview of the current state of digital transformation in ASEAN, highlighting recent trends and their impacts on digital services and adoption in the region, especially in mitigating the ramifications of the pandemic.

Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2022: Priorities and Challenges It is followed by a section on policy recommendations for the Cambodian Chair. These will include capitalising on the opportunity of mobile data and its usage for combatting the pandemic, using ASEAN as a platform for boosting digital literacy across the member states through education, and enacting frameworks to safeguard the very data used to help combat the pandemic and other crises.