Think Tank (5/2020)
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Technology Nationalism and Its Impact on Southeast Asia
09 Oct 2020

The Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at RSIS organised a webinar on “Technology Nationalism and Its Impact on Southeast Asia” on 9 October 2020.

Ms Farlina Said, Analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia, observed that the strategic nexus of developing nations is not homogeneous due to differences in their technological development and considerations in Southeast Asia. While Southeast Asian nations are likely to increase and strengthen their engagements to develop domestic capacity in cybersecurity, IP, and data protection, there are digital and physical literacy gaps within ASEAN countries that could be a limiting factor for their technological innovation ambitions. Countries should continue to develop a skilled labour force, as well as build up knowledge bases and innovation systems.

Dr Jikon Lai, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS) at RSIS, observed that China remains the biggest source of import goods to countries. The indices revealed eight countries with a vulnerability index of over 50 per cent that have a heavy reliance on China for export goods — which is fewer than expected. Within the Asia Pacific region, Hong Kong has the highest percentage of export goods to China at 54.54 per cent, followed by Australia at 33.38 per cent. Most countries in the indices are more heavily reliant on the United States. In ASEAN, countries such as Vietnam and Singapore have a heavier dependence on the United States for export goods, whereas Laos and Myanmar are most exposed to China. The United States remains the regional bloc’s biggest trading partner, with inflows of up to 18.46 per cent between the bloc and the country, followed by Japan.

Mr Alex Capri, Visiting Senior Fellow at NUS Business School and Research Fellow at Hinrich Foundation, noted that companies worldwide are facing urgent concerns over ring-fencing and strategic decoupling actions, as the impacts of nationalist policies reduce the efficiency of supply chains. Companies would need to increase localisation of supply chains, and re-shore some key activities to hedge against potential sanctions or tariffs. In strategic bifurcated industries, cooperation between governments and businesses have increased. This puts pressure on multinational corporations (MNCs) in particular, as they are increasingly being viewed as strategic assets by home governments, while conversely being regarded as threats or government proxies by opposing governments for furthering the tech nationalist objectives/policies of their home countries.

The webinar closed with a discussion on the impacts of bifurcation and strategic decoupling on MNCs, and the importance of building both digital and economic resilience in the face of geopolitical dynamics and challenges for the Southeast Asian region.

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