US to unveil plan to boost Asean innovation

US President Barack Obama (centre) addressing (from left) Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Philippine President Benigno
US President Barack Obama (centre) addressing (from left) Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Myanmar Vice-President U Nyan Tun at the US-Asean summit in Sunnylands, California, on Monday. Mr Obama said Asean should do more to "encourage entrepreneurship and innovation so that growth and development is sustainable and inclusive".PHOTO: REUTERS

Centres to be set up in Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta to promote entrepreneurship, connect US firms to region

The United States is expected to announce today that it will set up centres in Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta as part of an effort to help promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Asean.

The initiative, called the Asean- US Connect, has not been formally unveiled, but sources who have been briefed said US President Barack Obama told Asean leaders about it on Monday during a session on economic cooperation at the US-Asean summit.

The Straits Times understands that the centres - likely to be hosted in the US mission in each city - will help coordinate existing programmes that connect US businesses to the region, as well as develop new projects.

NEED FOR VALUE CREATION

To achieve prosperity for all our citizens, we need to go beyond lower costs or adding value. We also need to create value - through innovation and entrepreneurship.

PM LEE, at the US-Asean summit.

Few other details were available on Monday, although the White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, Mr Ben Rhodes, said the US wants to connect Asean to US businesses and identify barriers to increased entrepreneurship.

Though he did not name the initiative, Mr Rhodes said the US was focusing on building up entrepreneurship and innovation in the region, as it sees this as a competitive advantage.

"That's what the US has to offer. I went to Laos in October. We are never going to invest as much in infrastructure in Laos as China or Japan, but we can bring a quality of investment and capacity building... so that they are improving their human capital and we can also, frankly, provide a connection to the global economy that can allow innovation to take root in places like Vientiane," he said.

Innovation and entrepreneurship emerged as a key theme on the first day of the US-Asean summit in California on Monday, as leaders discussed ways to shore up economic ties between the two sides.

Leaders shared views on how to promote a more innovative Asean economic community and met business leaders from companies such as Microsoft and Cisco.

In his opening remarks, Mr Obama said Asean should do more to "encourage entrepreneurship and innovation so that growth and development is sustainable and inclusive and benefits all people".

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was fresh off meetings with tech chiefs in San Francisco, said he welcomed US efforts to help promote an entrepreneurial and innovative Asean, while noting the need for the region to transform its economy.

"To achieve prosperity for all our citizens, we need to go beyond lower costs or adding value. We also need to create value - through innovation and entrepreneurship," he said at the summit.

PM Lee proposed three steps that Asean governments can take: pursue greater economic integration within the Asean community; cultivate a business-friendly environment; and promote both public- and private-sector investment in research.

"There is a great deal we can learn from the American entrepreneurial culture as well as the strengths of the US business community and private sector," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'US to unveil plan to boost Asean innovation'. Print Edition | Subscribe