HANOI - Technological disruption has had a varied impact on different countries in Asean, but leaders from across the region agree that harnessing the opportunities of this Fourth Industrial Revolution will require a united strategy.
Speaking at an opening plenary session of the World Economic Forum on Asean on Wednesday (Sept 12), several Asean leaders took turns to outline their strategy, which included collaboration, openness and investment in education and skills.
They included Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc highlighted how technology will bring many opportunities even as it poses some enormous challenges.
These include the displacement of workers by automation and the risk of a widening income gap if the benefits of disruption are accumulated only by the well-educated, he said, noting that both will lead to social instability.
Faced with these risks, Asean nations need to craft policies based not just on their own perspectives but on those of the entire grouping, Mr Phuc said.
To collectively prepare Asean for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, he suggested several initiatives the region could undertake.
These include standardising the conditions for effective data sharing among governments, setting up a network to link up start-up incubators across the region, and a system to provide single-rate mobile coverage across Asean.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his speech, agreed that further economic integration in Asean is also an important condition for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, "because it is about building networks, creating new synergies and staying connected".
He noted that Asean has embarked on several collaborative initiatives. These include an Asean Agreement on e-Commerce to streamline e-commerce regulations, so that businesses can market and sell their products easily in Asean.
The Asean Smart Cities Network, which Singapore is spearheading as Asean chair this year, has completed its first round of meetings and launched several projects, PM Lee said.
The network is a platform for cities to cooperate, share experiences and work with external partners as well as the private sector on smart city initiatives.
Several leaders also spoke on the importance of equipping people with the right skills and educational opportunities to prepare them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Among them was Myanmar's de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who noted that Asean can no longer rely on cheap, low-skilled labour as a means to attract foreign investment.
"Now that we are facing the challenges of this new era, we have to be creative," she said, adding: "Creativity has to be linked to practical skills and a practical approach to make our creative talents marketable."
She added that Myanmar wants to learn from education systems around the world to shape its own.
"We need to shift the emphasis in education to practical skills rather than academic qualifications," she said.
"In our country, especially, where there's a great need to overcome the gap between us and more developed countries, we need to concentrate on the practical aspect of education."