While there were a whole range of security issues discussed at the 32nd ASEAN Summit held in Singapore over the weekend, one area that got significant emphasis was the cyber domain. The focus on cybersecurity reflects both the growing regional and international attention to the issue as well as the city-state’s ongoing efforts to boost bilateral and regional collaboration on this front, especially as the holder of the annually rotating ASEAN chairmanship this year.
As I have noted before, Southeast Asian states as well as ASEAN as a grouping have been grappling with a growing cyber threat. ASEAN’s cyber challenge is immense as states try to balance the opportunities afforded by the digital economy – which is a significant driver of economic and technological progress – with the challenges due to the increased sophistication of cyber threats in an increasingly networked world and their links to other challenges such as terrorism and fake news (See: “Winning Asia’s War on Fake News”).
There already are a variety of national, bilateral, and regional arrangements, mechanisms, and forums that Southeast Asian states have put in place over the past few years to manage challenges in the cyber realm focused on areas like incident response, confidence-building, and cyber capacity-building. Several countries have set up new cyber agencies at home, new regional initiatives have been introduced – from the the ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program (ACCP) advanced in 2016 to the new ASEAN Cybersecurity Cooperation Strategy adopted in 2017 – and other regional partners and international organizations such as Interpol and the United Nations have also been working with Southeast Asian states on cyber issues as well (See: “Singapore Unveils New ASEAN Cyber Initiative”).
Yet, at the same time, much more remains to be done given the sheer scale of the threat as well as the significant challenges that Southeast Asian states continue to face due to a range of issues including capacity constraints and ideological differences over how to advance the agenda.
As Singapore took over the ASEAN chairmanship this year, officials had made clear that cyber issues would be a priority given the importance of the issue for Singapore and the region. That came as no surprise. As a developed, highly-networked country which relies on its reputation for security and stability to serve as a hub for businesses and attract talent, as well as a recognized regional leade within ASEAN, Singapore has been undertaking a series of measures on its own and with regional states and outside partners in the cyber domain.