The Uneasy Road to an ASEAN-EU Digital Partnership

ASEAN Pace | Economy | Southeast Asia

The creation of a digital partnership with ASEAN is part of the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy 2021. But that will face challenges, starting with human rights.

The digital economy has been a recent focal point of cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In 2020, the ministers of the member states of both blocs formulated a joint statement on connectivity, which emphasized the importance of digital connectivity. In it Action Plan to Implement the ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership (2023-2017)which was issued earlier this year, the two regional organizations reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in the field of the digital economy.

In addition, at a historic ASEAN-EU Memorial Summit that concluded on December 14, the leaders of ASEAN nations and the EU engaged to promote cooperation in the digital transition. Apart from the summit an EU-Singapore digital partnership was officially released.

This is one of the initial EU goals of 2021 Indo-Pacific Strategy. In addition to expanding the new networks of digital alliances In the Indo-Pacific, this strategy indicates that the EU is considering proposing an EU-ASEAN approach to deepen block-to-block cooperation in digital connectivity. Given that the two regional blocs have a growing interest in digital economy cooperation, an ASEAN-EU digital partnership appears promising. Once the association is started, Will likely provide a general framework for advanced cooperation across the spectrum of digital issues between the EU and ASEAN.

However, forming a digital partnership between the EU and ASEAN will not be an easy task. First, the EU may find it difficult to convince ASEAN member states to accept its human-centered vision of the digital economy. The EU seeks to ensure that technology is at the service of people, that human rights are respected and that societies are open, democratic and sustainable.

For example, in 2018, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation as a key component of its human rights-based approach to data governance. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act Y The EU approach to AI they are intended to regulate AI technologies in a human-centric way. Furthermore, the EU Digital Services Law it also aims to protect the fundamental rights of people online. In 2021, the EU Announced its human-centered digital agenda.

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More recently, the EU made a declaration on digital rights and principles, setting a clear benchmark for the kind of human-centred digital transformation that the EU promotes and champions. By highlighting the principle of “downtown people”, the EU seeks to ensure that digital technologies protect the rights of individuals and support democracy, and to ensure that all digital actors act responsibly and safely.

The EU has long condemned many ASEAN countries for violating human rights. In fact, human rights are a constant source of friction in the relations between the governments of Southeast Asia and the European ones. Given that several countries in Southeast Asia have already compromised human rights in digital governance to varying degrees, it seems that the EU and ASEAN will continue to clash over human rights in digital governance.

For example, the prioritization of national security and sovereignty over the protection of the fundamental rights of people is the basis of the digital governance vision of many Southeast Asian countries. Vietnam establishes the requirements for the localization of data for reasons of data sovereignty. IndonesiaThe Indonesian minister of communication and information technology also called for the protection of Indonesia’s digital sovereignty by regulating the use of data.

Additionally, many Southeast Asian countries have emphasized national security at the expense of freedom of expression and privacy by regulating cyberspace. Cambodia, for example, announced the establishment of the National Internet Gateway (NIG) in 2021, emphasizing the need to strengthen national security. However the NIGS it poses a threat to people’s fundamental freedoms as it enhances the Cambodian government’s ability to increase censorship and online surveillance. Likewise, in the name of “national security” and “public order”, thailand has implemented vigorous online censorship in recent years.

Both of them Japan Y South Korea each have established their respective digital partnerships with the EU to develop “a positive and human-centred vision of the digital economy”. Expressing an explicit commitment to the EU’s human rights-based approach to the digital economy seems to be a crucial prerequisite for signing a digital partnership with the EU. In other words, the European approach exemplifies the values ​​of democracy and the importance of “affinity” on these issues, as described in the EU document. Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Given that many ASEAN countries have a history of human rights violations in digital governance and that the EU has taken a strong stance on protecting human rights in the same area, it remains to be seen how ASEAN member states ASEAN and the EU can find common ground in setting up their digital partnership.

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