Navigating AI Disruption: The Case for an ASEAN Tech Ambassador – KSInsights Feb 2024

Published on 05 Mar 2024

Nations around the globe are increasingly recognizing the strategic importance of engaging directly with the digital and technological sphere. The emergence of Tech and Digital Ambassadors is a testament to this new diplomatic innovation, marking a pivotal shift in how countries navigate the complexities of the digital age. This trend underscores the pressing need for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to appoint its own Technology Envoy, aligning with global movements to safeguard interests and foster international cooperation in technology.

The Global Landscape of Tech Diplomacy

Denmark set a groundbreaking precedent in 2017 by appointing the world’s first Tech Ambassador, signaling a new era in diplomatic representation that extends beyond traditional borders and into Silicon Valley. This pioneering move was not merely symbolic but a clear acknowledgment of the tech industry’s colossal impact on national and global affairs. Denmark’s initiative has since inspired other nations to follow suit, recognizing the indispensable role of technology in shaping our world.

France, for instance, has also introduced a Digital Ambassador, highlighting the country’s commitment to addressing digital challenges on a global scale, from internet governance to cybersecurity.

Notably, Australia has appointed an Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, underscoring its commitment to cyber diplomacy and the safe and responsible management of critical technology on an international scale. This role highlights the importance of international collaboration in addressing cyber threats and promoting the benefits of digital transformation for economic growth and security.

In the United States, the establishment of the Ambassador at Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy further exemplifies the growing recognition of digital and cyber domains as crucial areas of national and international policy. This position reflects a strategic approach to shaping global norms and policies for cyberspace, the digital economy, and emerging technologies, ensuring that the U.S. remains a key player in global digital policy discussions.

The Case for an ASEAN Tech Envoy

Given the precedent set by Denmark, France, Australia, and the United States, the establishment of an ASEAN Tech Envoy is not just a forward-thinking proposal but a necessary step toward regional resilience and prosperity in the digital era. ASEAN, a region known for its dynamic economic growth and technological adoption, stands to significantly benefit from having a dedicated representative to navigate the intricacies of technology governance, data sovereignty, and digital economy.

The recent advancements in AI policy by Singapore, as part of its National AI Strategy (NAIS 2.0), further emphasize the region’s potential for leadership in ethical and sustainable technology deployment. Singapore’s commitment to becoming a global hub for AI innovation, focusing on responsible AI use, provides a strong foundation for ASEAN’s collective digital strategy. By advocating for a unified ASEAN AI policy, the Tech Envoy could ensure that the region remains at the forefront of digital innovation, ethics, and governance.

Towards a Unified ASEAN Digital Strategy

The global trend of appointing Tech and Digital Ambassadors exemplifies the growing recognition of technology’s central role in diplomacy, national security, and economic development. For ASEAN, embracing this diplomatic innovation means more than just staying competitive. It represents a commitment to harnessing the power of technology for societal benefit, ensuring digital inclusivity, and safeguarding the region against the challenges of the digital age.

The ASEAN Tech Envoy would, therefore, not only symbolize the region’s collective ambition in the digital world but also serve as a vital coordinator for regional policy-making, innovation collaboration, and international tech dialogue. By drawing on the experiences of other nations’ Tech Ambassadors and Singapore’s leading role in AI governance, ASEAN can carve out a path that balances technological advancement with ethical considerations, ensuring a digital future that benefits all its citizens.

In conclusion, the appointment of a Technology Envoy by ASEAN is a critical step in acknowledging and engaging with the transformative power of technology on a global scale. By doing so, ASEAN will join the ranks of visionary nations that have already recognized the importance of this new domain of diplomacy, ensuring that the region remains resilient, innovative, and forward-looking in the digital age.


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05 Mar 2024