Digital Southeast Asia: Opportunities for Australia-India Cooperation
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption and transformation in many parts of the world. In Southeast Asia, this has driven unprecedented demand for online services in retail, digital payments, education and healthcare. However, the past two years have shown that not all consumers and businesses have the wherewithal to take advantage of the pandemic-induced digital transformation opportunities. In fact, the pandemic has caused a widening of the digital divide as communities and businesses must rely on digital tools for their lives and livelihoods, even in the absence of sufficient access and supporting skills.
Specifically, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) that cannot afford to adopt digital technologies, such as using electronic platforms or conducting digital transactions, have been hit hard by the lockdowns. Women have also been disproportionately affected, as many are employed in the informal and ‘gig economy’ sectors. Additionally, the pandemic has further exposed users to cybersecurity and online safety risks in an environment with generally poor cyber hygiene practices.
For the many fragile democracies in the Indo-Pacific, this creates conditions that can undermine democratic resilience. A central question for these governments is how to accelerate digital transformation and ICT-enabled growth to reduce poverty, support sustainable economic growth and build social cohesion while maintaining resilience to cybersecurity threats.
How Southeast Asian governments, together with industry and civil society, leverage their collective strengths and forge new partnerships today will determine the shape of the next phase of their digital transformation.
The digital development, cybersecurity and inclusiveness challenges facing Southeast Asian economies are also relevant to Australia and India.
Over the past few years, India and Australia have been drawn together by the increasingly assertive and disruptive behavior of the Chinese state in several areas, particularly in cyberspace and emerging technologies. New Delhi and Canberra are showing a growing political will to work together on multiple fronts, including on cyber and technology issues, both bilaterally and as part of the Quad with Japan and the United States.
This is also seen in Southeast Asia, where China’s growing influence and the geopolitical consequences of its technological push in the region have led both India and Australia to realize the need to engage more proactive with the region in multiple areas, including cyber and critical technologies.
There are many opportunities for these two emerging technology partners, working with Southeast Asian countries, to support Southeast Asia’s economic recovery. This community of common interest for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific can, in partnership, strengthen the foundations of an inclusive and thriving digital economy, and provide a greater diversity of sources of support for digital development in South Asia. -East.
In our new report, Digital Southeast Asia: Opportunities for Australia-India cooperation to support the region in the post-Covid-19 context, produced jointly by ASPI and the Observer Research Foundation, we explore opportunities for joint activities that could collectively benefit Southeast Asia, Australia and India. We look at what efforts can be made by an Australia-India collaboration to support Southeast Asia’s digital capacity and resilience and the growth of Southeast Asia’s digital economy in the aftermath of the pandemic of Covid-19.
The report finds that the main area of attention when considering the role of digital development in the region’s post-Covid economic recovery is the need to tackle digital skills shortages head-on. These shortages are particularly pronounced in traditionally underfunded segments of the economy, such as MSMEs, women and those in non-metropolitan areas.
The report provides recommendations that build on the strengths and experiences of Australia and India and fall into four areas: streamlining the two governments’ approaches to digital engagement with Southeast Asia East ; increase local efforts to improve the digital and business skills of the regional workforce, with a focus on MSMEs, women digital entrepreneurs and non-metropolitan economic hubs; strengthen and deepen policy, resource and experience sharing relationships with national cybersecurity agencies in Southeast Asia to improve cybersecurity resilience; and exploring a regional open source market for public digital infrastructure.