Upgraded US-Singapore Partnership Takes Shape Across Technology Domains
Plus Israel-Hamas war fallout; Philippines vs. China on assertive transparency; regional growth prospects and much, much more.
Greetings to new readers and welcome all to this edition of the weekly ASEAN Wonk BulletBrief! For this iteration, we are looking at:
Assessing the broader regional and global implications of the upgraded U.S.-Singapore strategic partnership taking shape across technology domains;
Mapping of regional developments including the ongoing fallout from the Israel-Hamas war, the upcoming Japan-ASEAN summit and more;
Charting evolving trends such as on the Philippine “assertive transparency approach against China, regional growth prospects as well as related issues;
Tracking and analysis of industry developments including investment fund wars, emerging cross-border electric vehicle ecosystems and more;
And much more! ICYMI, check out our review of a new book on how ASEAN is navigating the South China Sea disputes.
WonkCount: 1,801 words (~9 minutes reading time)
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Japan-ASEAN Summit Countdown; Indonesia Archipelagic and Island Summitry; Thailand’s Economic Diplomacy in the Spotlight
Upgraded US-Singapore Strategic Technology Partnership Takes Shape Across Domains
Singapore and the United States have moved to deepen strategic technology cooperation within their strategic partnership, with enhanced collaboration in notable areas such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology and a new critical and emerging technologies (CET) dialogue.
What’s Behind It
Singapore and the United States moved to upgrade their strategic technology partnership during the visit of prime minister-in-waiting Lawrence Wong. This was part of Wong’s broader visit to the United States from October 5-151. Both sides had first publicly said they were considering a new bilateral dialogue on critical and emerging technologies back in June this year, following on from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden back in March 20222.
The partnership comes amid the focus on shaping governance standards in key digital technologies globally, regionally and nationally. As noted previously in these pages, Singapore is a leader in areas like AI which is relatively nascent in Southeast Asia, and it along with the United States represent like-minded countries advocating for more open, trusted and secure technological ecosystems relative to other models in an increasingly fractured and geopolitically competitive world. While technologies like AI offer opportunities in sectors as diverse as smart city development and education, there are worries that the early state of standards, governance, awareness and skilling could lead to challenges in areas like open data flows, ethics, bias and disinformation.
Select National AI Approaches in Major ASEAN Markets
Why It Matters
The dialogue deepens bilateral cooperation in several key areas. Both countries have already been working to enhance collaboration in certain areas, with a case in point being their announcement this past week of the success in making their AI governance frameworks interoperable with their first country-to-country mapping of its kind3. At the first CET dialogue — which saw some changes in representation on the U.S. side due to the Israel-Hamas war — the two sides committed to fresh initiatives (see table below) to include a new bilateral AI governance working group and a new roadmap for digital economic cooperation4. A separate joint vision statement said they would anchor the CET Dialogue and corollary lines of effort in six main areas: 1) artificial intelligence; 2) digital economy and data governance; 3) biotechnology; 4) critical infrastructure and technology supply chains; 5) defense innovation; and 6) quantum information science and technology5.
Select Initiatives Announced Related to U.S.-Singapore Critical and Emerging Technology Cooperation
Upgraded Singapore-US technology cooperation is also part of a broader story of groups of countries trying to align approaches in the absence of global standards. As Wong candidly noted during his visit, “I think it is going to be hard to talk about global standards at this stage, but we take it step by step and hopefully we can get more like-minded countries to join us and expand the coalition.”6 Wong also noted during his remarks at the dialogue that this would involve working with non-governmental institutions including companies and universities7. In keeping with this, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo co-chaired a separate Singapore-US Business Roundtable involving select private sector representatives on AI Safety and Innovation with US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves8.
Where It’s Headed
With the new CET Dialogue set in motion, the focus will shift to how it affects the architecture of ties and potential inroads. The White House factsheet noted that both sides plan to hold the dialogue annually with the next one in 2024 with a view to accelerating cooperation “both bilaterally and with like-minded partners,” emphasizing that it is also a platform for wider engagement. One example is the establishment of an AI smart cities program via the existing third country training program which can deliver capacity-building for ASEAN and Pacific Island nations9. There were also other more general but nonetheless notable commitments made, including a new “appropriate bilateral agreement” to expand science and technology cooperation; developing international best practices on digital payment systems; and a new defense partnership on dual-use technologies such as autonomy, digital technologies and AI10.
How both countries proceed in individual domains will also be key to monitor, with a case in point being Singapore’s leadership on AI governance. For example, as ASEAN Wonk has noted before, Singapore among other priorities will be leading the ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting in 2024, and governance mechanisms like an ASEAN guide on AI governance and ethics are expected to take shape in the coming months. This will play out as we see initiatives by other countries as well including China, which continues to grow its influence in the region.
Southeast Asia Growth Prospects; New “Assertive Transparency” in China vs. Philippines; Indo-Pacific Supply Chain Shift Deep Dive
“[G]rowth has begun to slow across almost all economies in the region…affected by global economic conditions, tightening monetary policies, lower commodity prices, and persistent inflationary pressures,” notes a new Southeast Asia macroeconomic report released by McKinsey. The report dives deeper into six countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — with insights on future prospects (link).
Key Economic Indicators for Select Southeast Asian States (First vs. Second Quarter 2023)
“Though assertive transparency is not itself sufficient to win a protracted struggle against a powerful, ruthless and determined gray zone actor, it is an exciting and important innovation — one which has given Manila a new means to check China's seemingly inexorable quest to consolidate its control of the West Philippine Sea,” argues a new analysis for SeaLight. The piece contends that “assertive transparency” marks the latest innovation in this space by the Philippines, following the “lawfare” approach employed by Manila previously which gave rise to the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling (link).
Graphical Representation of “Assertive Transparency” and the Philippine Approach Against China’s Grey Zone Coercion
“[W]e are in the midst of a far-reaching realignment of global value chains…these recent developments have not so far reversed the long-running trend towards greater regional integration of trade in recent decades especially in Asia…but the issue merits close attention,” notes a new brief released by the Bank for International Settlements. The brief argues that there has been a “lengthening” of global value chains with significance in particular for supplier-customer linkages from China to the United States, where firms in regions like Asia have interposed themselves in the supply chain (link).