A New Model for ASEAN Integration

The ASEAN bloc has been extremely successful over the first 50 years of its life. The 10 countries have successfully forged a community of nations that co-exist peacefully. This peace and stability has enabled rapid economic development. More recently, the ASEAN organisation has made strong progress pursuing economic integration through the ASEAN Economic Community. But today, on its 50th anniversary, ASEAN faces new challenges. The world has changed since 1967. Arguably the biggest change is the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). What could or should ASEAN do to reform itself, its goals and its modus operandi to ensure that the region continues to thrive, and does not get left behind? The ASEAN Regional Strategy Group (RSG) has asked the Forum to work on these questions.Phase I of the work was to produce a white paper, examining the impact of the 4IR on regional economic integration in ASEAN. This idea was shared with ASEAN Heads of Government in May 2017 at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh. Collectively, this group acknowledged the significant changes of the 4IR and endorsed the idea behind the study.A white paper was researched and written by the Forum in partnership with the Asian Development Bank. We presented the key findings of the study to the 10 ASEAN Heads of State in Manila on 13 November 2017.Having raised awareness of how the 4IR calls for a new model of regional economic integration, Phase II of the work is to establish a working group to take the policy recommendations contained in the white paper and shape them into practical proposals for the ASEAN organisation to consider adopting. Phase II is currently being set up and the hope is to convene the working group in early 2018 and work on these questions through the year.The work in detail: The initial step of this project, a white paper entitled “ASEAN 4.0: What does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for ASEAN regional economic integration?” was written and researched jointly by the Forum and the Asian Development Bank. The paper reached the following key conclusions:


  • First: In the 4IR, we face a future of accelerating disruption. ASEAN must get ahead of these changes or it will be left behind.

  • Second: It is critical that the nations of ASEAN respond to these transformations at a regional level, not just a national level. 4IR technologies do not recognise national borders, and indeed cannot function properly if they are constrained.

  • And third: In order to build a regional response, ASEAN must reform its institutions, and ensure that they have the right resources.

  • The report concluded by setting out a series of suggestions for how ASEAN leaders might make the necessary changes to their regional governance structures:



  1. Make the ASEAN Secretariat a “platform organization” or an operating system (similar to Apple iOS or Android) with technical content being developed by multi-stakeholder groups of experts (similar to app developers for smartphones).


  2. Delegate – ASEAN Secretariat to delegate key activities to affiliated functional bodies.


  3. Replace long-term blueprints with three-year plans. Under the 4IR most forecasts will be wrong. ASEAN must be agile and allow for course correction.


  4. Ask the people: Democratize and decentralize policy formulation. This will make the ASEAN policy-making process more inclusive, and make ASEAN an organization truly owned by the people and managed by the people for their benefit.


  5. Establish pan-ASEAN test-beds as a platform to nurture multi-country regulatory experiments and cross-border innovation hubs.


  6. Hire staff capable of running a platform model effectively. The staff must be well versed in managing the new 4IR tools and have a strong record of execution.


  7. Adopt a new funding model to provide more funding for the ASEAN Secretariat’s operation.


The White Paper is available on this link: https://www.weforum.org/whitepapers/asean-4-0-what-does-the-fourth-industrial-revolution-mean-for-regional-economic-integrationIn line with the above key findings, the ASEAN RSG recommends a deeper research effort coordinated by the Forum, and in partnership with regional stakeholders, to develop detailed measures to refine the identified suggestions and explore further what the 4IR means for regional integration and governance.The ultimate objective is to produce a detailed set of recommendations on how ASEAN can preserve the strengths of “The ASEAN Way”, whilst also promoting a regional entity that can move faster, work together more effectively, and not get left behind as the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds.