At the 32nd Asean Summit last month, Singapore introduced the Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) as one of the key deliverables. The ASCN is aimed at being prepared for the security and socio-economic implications arising from changing centres of urban populations.
As this is a regional initiative to be sustained and continued region-wide beyond Singapore’s chairmanship term, the ASCN’s launch and initial activities this year will be important in entrenching the network’s continuity. The ASCN concept note highlights that the network’s primary goal is to “improve the lives of Asean citizens, using technology as an enabler.”
Strategically, if this idea succeeds, it will contribute to a more integrated Asean, socially, economically and politically. It will also enhance Asean’s position and profile as a regional grouping.
The ASCN’s first meeting is slated for July 2018, in conjunction with the biennial World Cities Summit which will provide the platform to introduce the ASCN to a wider network of interlocutors. The July meeting will be preceded by a Smart Cities Governance Workshop in May 2018. These meetings are where the network’s participating members will discuss and develop regional and individual frameworks for smart cities development.
These plans will form the basis for collaboration among the ASCN members in complementary areas, as well as with potential partners from the private sector and/or Asean’s dialogue partner countries. This partnering will be done on a (voluntary) twinning process, where an external partner is matched with a city participating in the ASCN. There will also be similar business-matching with private sector partners for commercially viable projects.
Currently, the ASCN comprises 26 pilot cities across all the ten Asean member states: Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Banyuwangi, Battambang, Cebu City, Chonburi, Da Nang, Davao City, Jakarta, Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Luang Prabang, Makassar, Mandalay, Manila, Nay Pyi Taw, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Singapore, Vientiane, and Yangon.
The participating cities are a mix of commercial and administrative centres, as well as well-established tourism destinations. Each of these cities has unique sustainability concerns, success stories, and lessons to share. The list indicates a diverse range of capabilities in Asean to meet ever-growing demands on services, the built environment, and overall liveability. This diversity is Asean’s strength and its challenge.
The ASCN will thus serve as a platform for cities to learn from and complement each other’s sustainability goals, instead of competing at cross-purposes. The diverse levels of economic development necessitate some customization of projects, to take advantage of the twinning or business-matching activities under the ASCN. This requires city administrators, decision-makers in central and local governments, regional (Asean) institutions, and external partners/donors to work together in ASCN’s policy network. It also highlights the need for an over-arching coordinating entity to provide a better focus and support in facilitating the twinning and other activities.
The ASCN is a departure from earlier regional initiatives that were aimed at connecting different nodes in the regional supply chain. Its funding mechanism is innovative, as it includes private sector input in early stages of planning. The twinning/business-matching option provides an opportunity for interested partners to customize policies and projects to meet the specific needs of each city. With this kind of city-level collaboration, Asean’s external partners get a first-hand experience of the different strategies in the region for sustainability.
Asean’s smart city network should thus be viewed beyond its encapsulation of the 2018 Asean theme: “Resilient and Innovative”. It is one of the first steps by Asean to prepare for the future of regional cooperation in a global environment where digital technology informs and influences in the way people live, work, and conduct their daily transactions socially, economically, and professionally.
Moe Thuzar is lead researcher (socio-cultural) at the Asean Studies Centre, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared in ISEAS Commentary at https://bit.ly/2IaAMdm