In four days’ time, ASEAN will start a new decade under the chair of Singapore in 2018. Among the initiatives which Singapore will like to focus on, is the digital connectivity for the group. And it is timely.
ASEAN has a combined population of some 630 million. At least 60% of that are 35-years-old or less, which works out to nearly 380 million people. Also, 26% of the total population – or about 158 million people – are digitally connected. And with the fast growth of affordable smart phones and digital connectivity, the digital age will bring major changes in ASEAN.
Commercially, the digital incursion has led to the fragmentation of the media market. The impact on traditional media is well documented, and old media houses are still grappling with the disruption. On the plus side, the emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, have created exciting opportunities for businesses. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which form the backbone of the region’s economy, now have access to smart marketing initiatives, without the crunching costs of traditional advertising. This is good news for start-ups and creative talent. The vibrant markets and the receptive consumers in the ASEAN Member States (AMS), continue to deliver healthy growth in the region’s economies. Call it Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific, ASEAN is right smack in the centre, and it cannot be ignored.
The rise of the digital generation has also created new dynamics in politics. I had the privilege of serving on three election observation missions when I served with the ASEAN Secretariat. The first was in Myanmar in 2012, and then in Cambodia and Malaysia in 2013. The year after, I had a front row view of the Indonesian Presidential elections, which saw President Joko Widodo winning the fiercely contested poll.
In a few months’ time, Malaysia will hold its General Elections, and the engagements on social media platforms will be even more intense. Digital communications, for commercial, social or political purposes, is the critical frontier to engage the digital community in ASEAN. And the playbook for that engagement is still unfolding and evolving. Exciting times indeed!
By Danny Lee, Director for Strategic Partnership, DREP Asia