As competition between the United States and China intensifies, Southeast Asia is becoming a major source of competition. Australia’s involvement in this region is not just about being a good neighbor. It’s a strategic requirement. In November 2020, the government announced more than $ 500 million to support Australia’s Southeast Asian neighbors on a wide
As competition between the United States and China intensifies, Southeast Asia is becoming a major source of competition. Australia’s involvement in this region is not just about being a good neighbor. It’s a strategic requirement.
In November 2020, the government announced more than $ 500 million to support Australia’s Southeast Asian neighbors on a wide range of development goals, including infrastructure, marine resources and public health. Commitments are welcome, but designed to provide immediate assistance within a three- to four-year period, far from meeting the long-term needs of this complex region of over 670 million people. is.
Canberra intends that Foreign Minister Marize Payne, declared in December 2020, will “constructively compete” with other forces in the region. But the dollar-dollar competition is neither feasible nor desirable. Current spending in Southeast Asia is a reduction in the ocean compared to the $ 1.4 billion promised to a much smaller region of the Pacific Islands from 2019 to 2021. The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could continue to limit aid resources, at least in the short term.
Despite shrinking aid budgets, Australia can still make a valuable contribution if it focuses on areas where it invests wisely and generously in the future of Southeast Asia and has expertise and experience. I can do it. The best way to offset the asymmetry is for Australia to bet on digital and technology diplomacy.
Australia’s involvement in Southeast Asia should focus on building digital capabilities in the region. Australia has already started this through various institutions, but its support is provided primarily through aid. With the trend of reducing aid budgets, it will be a challenge for Australia to influence aid alone.
Instead, Australia has a comprehensive and long-term strategy to modernize traditional diplomacy, effectively support the region’s resilience to cyberattacks, respond to urgent needs and invest in growth potential. Must be adopted. This needs to be a government-wide commitment, as well as a step-up in the Pacific Ocean.
Pandemics have accelerated digital transformation around the world. However, digital capabilities and cyber maturity across Southeast Asia are highly uneven. For example, Singapore is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, but Laos and Myanmar are far behind. At the same time, Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world when it comes to adapting to technological changes.
Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are developing e-commerce markets and housing for some of the world’s most energetic innovation hubs. This should inform and shape Canberra’s strategic and commercial engagement with the region, as well as its approach to development assistance. Australia can make a significant contribution in bridging the gap between digital capabilities in different countries. According to Harvard University, its cyber capabilities and resilience are among the top 10 in the world. 2020 National Cyber Power Index..
However, the pandemic further reveals and deepens the digital divide of individual countries. For example, when schools were closed, online education was the only option for anyone with computer and internet access. Children living in rural areas, poor or poorly connected areas missed education. This is just the way to overcome poverty and limited opportunities. If not addressed, this can create a “Covid generation” that loses important educational opportunities.
Similarly, the pandemic has confused the profession to varying degrees. Southeast Asia has a strong informal service-based economy. The nationwide blockade and the freeze on tourism and business trips have robbed many people, especially in the areas of hospitality and services. Australia could help retrain workers and support efforts to teach digital skills.
Digital, technology and scientific capabilities are important for long-term recovery after Covid. By supporting funding for initiatives across Southeast Asia, Australia has lasting economic relationships with regional partners, including countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam that are expected to exceed Australia’s GDP in decades. To build. Australia’s assistance should be seen as an investment in future two-way development, not one-way assistance.
Strategies include computer and hardware supply, skill improvement, retraining and support of the local workforce, and need to adapt to the technological revolution. Some actions are already underway. For example, Australia’s CSIRO is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia to support training in science, biosecurity, technology and the digital economy. However, this work needs to be increased and part of a comprehensive policy.
The Australian Government is already pursuing a cyber engagement strategy to globally support the open, free and secure Internet. As part of this, we helped ASEAN countries become familiar with UN cyber norms and held cyber capacity building workshops in Southeast Asia.
However, these initiatives are still small, not specifically designed for Southeast Asia, and involve only a limited group of policy elites. The government has also introduced a cyber cooperation program. It will provide $ 34 million in seven-year grants to support cybersecurity-equipped countries and promote online human rights, democracy and gender equality. This is a great start, but more resources will be needed if Australia plays a substantive role and has the ambition to provide viable options across the Pacific, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
In particular, the initiative has been significantly expanded to cover all levels of education, including early digital education for young students, rural and remote cyber literacy programs, and workforce retraining to adapt to new job demands. Grassroots training should be included.
Australia was one of the first countries to appoint an ambassador for cyber issues and help the United Nations develop universal cyber norms. But Australia needs more help from Southeast Asian partners to improve security standards and cyber norms and close the digital gap in the region.
Also, if the Australian Government is interested in regional partners who share views on decisions such as security and banning Chinese company Huawei from participating in 5G deployments, it is at a much equivalent level between Southeast Asian governments and society. Requires cyber awareness. ..
Earlier this year, the government Australia’s International Cyber and Key Technology Engagement Strategy, It is based on the same principles and norms as its general foreign policy. This strategy is an extension of existing efforts to address the issue and demonstrates that Canberra recognizes the value of emphasizing cyber cooperation with other regional partners, including India and ASEAN. This is a solid step in the right direction and will be a good starting point for building a digital engagement strategy entirely centered on Southeast Asia.
Government also assigns 1.5 million A new annual international summit focusing on issues related to cyber and critical technologies to support ASPI to host the Sydney Dialogue in 2021.
Australia can mitigate some of the impact of development budget cuts by combining traditional aid with modern digital diplomacy. The coordinated strategy expands the Australian dollar range by leveraging the talents of the next generation of Southeast Asians and allocating them to areas that can make a real difference. Australia can provide the region with what it really needs and ensure long-term change. Early investment and involvement in Southeast Asian digital growth is not a charity. It is investing in Australia’s own economic future.