I refer to the opinion by Doung Bosba titled “Dynamics of cooperation mechanisms in the Mekong” published by Khmer Times on October 23. The article suggests that Asean does not take the development gap between the Mekong and non-Mekong countries seriously. This is untrue.
Since Asean’s expansion more than 20 years ago, our longstanding priority has been to close the development gap between member countries. It was precisely for this purpose that the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) was launched by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong during the Asean Summit held in Singapore in 2000. The IAI is one of Asean’s success stories.
Over 250 projects have been implemented, and we are now in the third IAI Work Plan, which has five strategic areas: food and agriculture, trade facilitation, micro, small and medium enterprises, education and health. Singapore has set up training centres in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to provide in-country training in line with the IAI Work Plans, which has benefitted more than 39,000 officials from these countries.
Smart cities and innovation are not only for the “older Asean members”. When applied judiciously, technology is a great enabler to all, including less developed countries, as it allows them to leapfrog existing obsolescence. It provides us with tools to level the playing field, create job opportunities, improve efficiency and productivity, and simplify government processes.
For example, Cambodia will benefit from the Asean Single Window to harmonise its trade documentation and regulations across Asean. Ride-hailing, food delivery and e-payment apps have flourished across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and provide additional sources of income for many. As evidenced by the number of start-ups and SMEs that leverage on technology and innovation – whether incubated locally or in other advanced economies – this is an unstoppable development that has allowed Asean member states’ governments, economies and peoples to harness creative ideas and solutions, lower the barriers and costs of business and enterprise.
The Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) is designed to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ in this stage of digital revolution. It adopts an inclusive approach to smart city development, and will facilitate smart city development in each ASCN city in a manner that is specific to each city’s needs and potentials. The ASCN allows our cities and our peoples to dream big and deal with future challenges today. Under the ASCN, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh city has established four partnerships with external parties, including a pilot project with Minebea Cambodia Co. Ltd., on installing smart lighting system for designated main roads.
Cambodia has a bright, young population ready to seize new opportunities and to be future-ready. Outdated mindsets are the only barrier that stands in the way.
Michael Tan is the Ambassador of The Republic of Singapore to The Kingdom of Cambodia