This paper focuses on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN). The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to a set of highly disruptive technologies, such as artificial
intelligence (AI), robotics, blockchain and 3D printing, that are transforming social, economic and political systems
and putting huge pressure on leaders and policy-makers to respond.
Over the past 50 years, ASEAN has notched up many notable achievements. But the era of the Fourth Industrial
Revolution is changing the landscape in significant ways.
It is increasingly apparent that the ASEAN organization should consider a new approach to regional policy and
governance. The current model, loosely described as “the ASEAN Way”, has proven itself to be highly effective. The
core principles of this approach to regional relations must remain. But, alongside the ASEAN Way, the region needs a new operating system.
The paper discusses at length the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on ASEAN. It will bring huge benefits,
such as empowering SMEs and creating new ways to connect citizens to healthcare. Equally, it will bring
tremendous challenges, such as deep disruption to jobs as AI and advanced robotics undermine both manufacturing
and services jobs.
The paper also explains why ASEAN must adopt a regional approach to navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Yes, national-level policies are critical, and ASEAN nations are pursuing these diligently, such as Thailand 4.0 and
Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. But the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution do not recognize national borders. If ASEAN leaders do not think regionally, they will miss out on opportunities and fail to address growingchallenges.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution also calls for a new way of formulating policy and regulation. The speed of change
under the revolution is accelerating, and the old ways of crafting policy, especially cross-border policy, are too slow,
too backward-looking and too rigid. Instead, governance and regulation need to become more agile, faster, more
iterative and experimental.
In its current form, the ASEAN organization may struggle in this new world. Indeed, it is already facing challenges
in achieving many of its current goals, such as those for creation of the ASEAN Economic Community. This paper
concludes with some concrete suggestions for how ASEAN leaders could rethink their approach to regional interaction under the ASEAN Secretariat.