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ASEAN plans to build a new subsea cable system

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to build a new submarine cable network as it seeks to develop interoperable digital public infrastructure to connect people and businesses across Southeast Asia.

Gigi Onag

February 6, 2024

4 Min Read
ASEAN to build a new subsea cable network
The 4th ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting (ADGMIN) was held in Singapore with Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information, Singapore (center), chairing the meeting.(Source: ASEAN)

The ten-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to build a submarine cable network, as it seeks to develop interoperable digital public infrastructure that would connect people and businesses across Southeast Asia.

The proposed subsea cable network was disclosed in a declaration issued last Friday at the conclusion of the two-day Fourth ASEAN Digital Ministers' Meeting held in Singapore. The document also resolves to strengthen best practices and information-sharing frameworks "to facilitate the expeditious deployment, repair, maintenance, removal, and protection of submarine cables, between ASEAN member states."

This is welcome news given that the Asian subsea sector has been plagued with frequent cable breaks. Light Reading reported last July that the availability of cables in the region in the first half of 2023 fell below 90%, compared to the global figure of 98%, adding that "Asia is the worst region for cable cuts."

As a case in point, five cables linking Vietnam to the world simultaneously broke last February and repair work took months, with the last cable fully restored only in early November, according to reports.

The ASEAN sees a robust submarine network system as one of the linchpins that would advance digital transformation efforts across Southeast Asia, along with the development of "a high quality, open, safe, flexible, inter-operable digital public infrastructure and e-government services to connect people and businesses'' in the subregion.

The ASEAN is a socio-political and economic bloc that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The sub-region, with a population totaling 650 million people, has a digital economy valued at approximately $300 billion, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

Fighting online scams

The Singapore declaration includes other recommendations following the mid-term review of the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025, which aims to strengthen the subregion's digital competitiveness.

One resolution involves the establishment of a working group on anti-online scams, which aims to strengthen regional cooperation among ASEAN member states in ramping up their cybersecurity capabilities.

"[We want] to prevent and combat online scams through collaboration on measures to tackle scams on digital and telecommunication channels, sharing of information about policies and best practices, and supporting enforcement action to build confidence and trust in network and information security infrastructures," the declarations said.

In a separate media statement, the ASEAN said the working group on anti-online scams will serve "as a platform for member states to cooperate and collaborate on capacity building, training and sharing of information related to combating online scams."

Framework for AI governance

Meanwhile, the ASEAN on Friday also published a framework for artificial intelligence (AI) governance to encourage responsible use of AI in governments and organizations.

The guide seeks to establish common principles for trustworthy AI and suggests best practices for how to implement trustworthy AI in the subregion.

"Misinformation and disinformation can be supercharged with deepfakes generated by AI. All governments will be challenged to ensure that digital developments are built upon a strong foundation of trust," Minister Josephine Teo of Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information said at the start of the 4th ASEAN Digital Ministers' Meeting.

The ASEAN guide on AI governance and ethics includes national-level and regional-level recommendations that governments can consider implementing to design, develop and deploy AI systems responsibly.

"This is an important signal to the global community of AI developers, creators and policy makers to keep our needs and expectations in mind, as you design products and services or develop rules that our people are bound to be impacted by. At the same time, by putting forward a common set of guidelines, we help you meet our needs in a more inter-operable and unified manner," Teo added.

But experts say implementing these guidelines could be tricky as ASEAN member states are "at different stages of digital development."

"The challenge with a region like ASEAN is that within the region, you have different countries that are at different stages of digital development. This means drastically different policy concerns and considerations," Kenddrick Chan, senior policy analyst at Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, told CNBC.

"Even looking at a few of the fundamental building blocks of regulations needed to effectively manage these AI risks, such as those for cybersecurity and personal data protection, countries are not on the same page in terms of stages of implementation or regulatory effectiveness," Kristina Fong, lead researcher for economic affairs at ASEAN Studies Centre, told the media outlet.

Nevertheless, both industry observers agree the ASEAN AI guide is a good first step toward a coordinated approach to managing the risks and issues around the technology.

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About the Author(s)

Gigi Onag

Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading

Gigi Onag is Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading. She has been a technology journalist for more than 15 years, covering various aspects of enterprise IT across Asia Pacific.

She started with regional IT publications under CMP Asia (now Informa), including Asia Computer Weekly, Intelligent Enterprise Asia and Network Computing Asia and Teledotcom Asia. This was followed by stints with Computerworld Hong Kong and sister publications FutureIoT and FutureCIO. She had contributed articles to South China Morning Post, TechTarget and PC Market among others.

She interspersed her career as a technology editor with a brief sojourn into public relations before returning to journalism joining the editorial team of Mix Magazine, a MICE publication and its sister publication Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

Gigi is based in Hong Kong and is keen to delve deeper into the region’s wide wild world of telecoms.

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