Public-private collaboration ‘critical’ for digital economy growth: ASEAN

By Huawei

Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng and ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General Nararya S Soeprapto were among speakers at the Huawei Digital and Intelligent APAC Congress highlighting public-private partnerships to boost the growth of digital economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General Naraya S Soeprapto were among the speakers at the Huawei Digital and Intelligent APAC Congress. Image: Huawei.

ASEAN's digital economy is expected to grow to US$1 trillion by 2030, but roadblocks such as the digital divide between and within countries remain, said Nararya S Soeprapto, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for Community and Corporate Affairs.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of Huawei Digital and Intelligent APAC Congress 2024 on 29 April, where he noted that ASEAN’s digital economy was valued at approximately US$300 billion in 2022.

"With ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) that is expected to be completed in 2025, our business community and society [will be] empowered to unleash the full potential of digital services and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing,” he said.

ASEAN is home to 480 million active Internet users, 80 per cent of whom are digital consumers. As such, digital technologies can be a transformative and powerful driver of growth for the 10-country bloc, which he said was the world’s third-largest Internet-based economy.

DEFA aims to outline the obligations for member states to cooperate on over the short, medium, and long term to achieve ASEAN’s digital transformation and digital economic integration.

However, Soeprapto noted that there remains a digital divide across ASEAN’s member states. Some countries, such as Indonesia and Singapore, have more advanced digital economy metrics than others, such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

He added that about 28 per cent of Southeast Asians still lack Internet access, which curtails access to information, access to communication, and access to education and economic, leading to economics disadvantages overall.

Critical private-public collaborations

Huawei's Deputy Chairwoman of the Board and CFO, Sabrina Meng, touted Asia-Pacific as a rolemodel for other regions when it comes to digital economy growth. Image: Huawei. 

To ensure a successful digital future throughout the region, Soeprapto said that it was “critical” for governments, the private sector, and all key stakeholders to “adopt [a cohesive] approach to bolster digital connectivity.”

This would bridge the developmental disparities among ASEAN member states, help to develop skills and drive “fair and equal” digital transformation within the region.

Earlier, Sabrina Meng, Deputy Chairwoman of the Board and CFO of Huawei, said in a pre-recorded video speech that the Asia-Pacific had become “a role model for other regions trying to go digital and grow their digital economies.”

She added that Huawei will continue to “do our part to bring the benefits of digital and intelligent technologies to the people” in the region and collaborate with customers and partners to provide 5.5G, cloud, digital power, and other technologies.

Thailand's Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Prasert Jantararuangtong, highlighted the country's cloud first policy and AI development for digital ID as key priorities for its digital economy. Image: Huawei.

Jointly organised by Huawei and the ASEAN Foundation, the Congress was attended by more than 2,000 people from 15 Asia-Pacific countries. According to Huawei, the firm has supported the digital transformation of more than 100,000 enterprise partners in Asia Pacific.

Among the public sector leaders who spoke at the event was Prasert Jantararuangtong, Minister of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand, who highlighted the “Growth Engine of Thailand” policy and flagship initiatives such as the Cloud First Policy and AI Development for Digital ID.

“Our priorities are the acceleration of digital and intelligent transformation… to develop the digital economy as a main engine enhancing Thailand's level of competitiveness,” he said.

“This will also help strengthen safety and security for electronic transactions and improve the country's overall digital human capital.”

Fulfilling the potential for growth

During his address, Soeprapto said that foreign direct investment in the ICT sector in ASEAN had surged from US$5.9 billion in 2021 to US$10.5 billion in 2022, and that telecom operators are projected to invest US$259 billion in networking infrastructure, particularly for 5G infrastructure, in Asia-Pacific from 2023 to 2030.

For ASEAN’s digital economic growth to reach the US$1 trillion target, or even double the target  given the potential of DEFA, he identified three key areas to drive a sustainable and inclusive digital future.

Firstly, it is crucial to address the affordability and accessibility of digital infrastructure and services to ensure digital inclusivity.

Apart from the lack of Internet access for certain segments of Southeast Asian society, accessibility to fixed broadband and next-generation mobile connectivity also varies across the region, he said.

However, this presents an opportunity for growth, as the number of 5G subscriptions in ASEAN is projected to exceed 200 million by 2025, with data consumption expected to increase sevenfold by 2030.

Talent development and decarbonisation

Secondly, Soeprapto said that private and public stakeholders need to form stronger partnerships to enhance the region's human capital through digital reskilling and upskilling initiatives, such as the Seeds of the Future ICT talent development programme that Huawei and ASEAN Foundation have collaborated on since 2008.

“Talent is indispensable for digital transformation, but their acquisition requires concerted efforts on both the public and private sector,” he said, adding that artificial intelligence would not just eliminate or create jobs, but also “change the way we work across society.”

Huawei has recently signed Memoranda of Understanding on talent development with Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, and with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Thirdly, Soeprapto highlighted the continuing need to focus on driving decarbonisation strategy through digital policy implementation.

One of the strategic priorities outlined by the ASEAN Framework for Circular Economy for the ASEAN community calls for enhancing the role of innovation, digitalisation and emerging technologies and accelerating the transition to circular economy.

“In this regard, I would encourage private sector participate in the development of environmentally conscious technological innovation and business models which are critical factors to drive the decarbonisation efforts towards net-zero.”