The Uneasy Road to an ASEAN-EU Digital Partnership

ASEAN Beat | Economy | Southeast Asia

Creating a digital partnership with ASEAN is a part of the EU’s 2021 Indo-Pacific Strategy. But that may face challenges, beginning with human rights.

The digital financial system has been a latest point of interest of cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In 2020, ministers from member states of each blocs formulated a joint assertion on connectivity, which emphasised the significance of digital connectivity. In the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership (2023-2017), which was issued earlier this 12 months, the 2 regional organizations reaffirmed their dedication to cooperate within the realm of the digital financial system.

Moreover, at a historic ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit that concluded on December 14, leaders from ASEAN and EU nations dedicated to selling cooperation in digital transition. On the sidelines of the summit, an EU-Singapore Digital Partnership was formally launched.

This is without doubt one of the preliminary goals of the EU’s 2021 Indo-Pacific Strategy. In addition to increasing the brand new networks of digital partnerships within the Indo-Pacific, this technique signifies that the EU is contemplating proposing an EU-ASEAN strategy to deepening the bloc-to-bloc cooperation in digital connectivity. Since the 2 regional blocs have a rising curiosity in digital financial system cooperation, an ASEAN-EU digital partnership seems promising. Once the partnership is launched, it will seemingly to supply an overarching framework for superior cooperation throughout the total spectrum of digital points between the EU and ASEAN.

However, forming a digital partnership between the EU and ASEAN is not going to be a simple activity. First and foremost, the EU might discover it difficult to persuade ASEAN member states to just accept its human-centric imaginative and prescient of the digital financial system. The EU seeks to make sure that know-how serves the folks, that human rights are revered, and that societies are open, democratic, and sustainable.

For occasion, in 2018, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation as a key element of its human-rights-based strategy to knowledge governance. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act and EU’s strategy to AI are supposed to manage AI applied sciences in a human-centric method. In addition, the EU’s Digital Services Act additionally goals to guard people’ elementary rights on-line. In 2021, the EU introduced its human-centered digital agenda.

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More just lately, the EU made a declaration on digital rights and rules, establishing a transparent level of reference for the form of human-centered digital transformation that the EU promotes and defends. By highlighting the precept of “People at the Center,” the EU seeks to make sure that digital applied sciences will defend folks’s rights and help democracy, and make sure that all digital gamers act responsibly and safely.

The EU has lengthy condemned quite a few ASEAN international locations for violating human rights. In truth, human rights are a continuing supply of friction in relations between Southeast Asian and European governments. Given that a variety of Southeast Asian international locations have already compromised human rights in digital governance to various levels, it appears that evidently the EU and ASEAN will proceed to conflict over human rights in digital governance.

For occasion, the prioritization of nationwide safety and sovereignty over the safety of people’ elementary rights is the premise for a lot of Southeast Asian international locations’ imaginative and prescient of digital governance. Vietnam units out necessities for knowledge localization on the grounds of information sovereignty. Indonesia’s communication and informatics minister additionally known as for cover of Indonesia’s digital sovereignty when regulating the usage of knowledge.

In addition, many Southeast Asian international locations have underscored nationwide safety on the expense of free expression and privateness when regulating our on-line world. Cambodia, as an illustration, introduced the institution of the National Internet Gateway (NIG) in 2021, emphasizing the necessity to strengthen nationwide safety. However, the NIG poses a risk to the elemental freedoms of people because it enhances the Cambodian authorities’s means to extend on-line censorship and surveillance. Similarly, within the identify of “national security” and “public order,” Thailand has applied vigorous on-line censorship in recent times.

Both Japan and South Korea have every established their respective digital partnerships with the EU in an effort to develop “a positive and human-centric vision of the digital economy.” Expressing an specific dedication to the EU’s human-rights-based strategy to the digital financial system seems to be an important prerequisite for signing a digital partnership with the EU. In different phrases, the European strategy exemplifies the values of democracy and the significance of “like-mindedness” on these points, as described within the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Given that many ASEAN international locations have a historical past of violating human rights in digital governance and that the EU has taken a powerful stance in defending human rights in the identical realm, it stays to be seen how ASEAN and EU member states can discover frequent floor when shaping their digital partnership.

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