Towards an ASEAN Digital Community 2045

This article highlights the significance of establishing an ASEAN Digital Community (ADC) 2045 to secure a stable and thriving future for the region.

By Dr Lili Yan Ing, Secretary General of International Economic Association (IEA) and ERIA’s Lead Advisor, Southeast Asia Region and Ms Yessi Vadila, ERIA’s Trade Specialist


The top 100 issues that have been most searched and used these days all relate to one word: digital! Everything you think, see, say, and do is related to digital in some way. In this era, digital has swept every corner of our lives. One important issue among the 125 articles of the ASEAN Chairman’s Statement is Article 60, which states, “…with a view to achieving inclusive digital transformation toward an ASEAN Digital Economic Community 2045.” The ASEAN Summit was held from 9-11 May, and another one is scheduled for 5-7 September 2023.

First, let’s take a minute to reflect on the importance of the ASEAN Summit in setting a vision for ASEAN. In 2003, ASEAN agreed to establish the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2020, which was later accelerated to 2015. In 2011, ASEAN decided to materialise its East Asian integration by cementing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), consisting of the 10 ASEAN countries and its five main trading and investment partners. The combined 15 countries represent one-third of the global population. RCEP countries also represent 30% of global GDP, 27% of global trade, and 30% of global FDI, making it a formidable economic bloc with increasing influence in the global economic landscape.

Second, let’s try to understand the rationale behind establishing the ASEAN Digital Community 2045. ASEAN has a long history of colonisation and imperialism, dating back to the late 17th century and extending well into the 20th century. Despite gaining independence, many Asian countries still face lingering effects of colonialism and imperialism, such as economic inequality, political instability, and social clashes. With this long history of colonisation and imperialism in Southeast Asia, it is crucial to keep ASEAN as a “peace region” without taking sides and to be independent both politically and economically. By reflecting on the past, ASEAN countries can better navigate current challenges and work towards creating a more equitable and prosperous future for all. Together, ASEAN can navigate current challenges and work towards creating a more equitable and prosperous future for all through the establishment of the ASEAN Digital Community 2045.

Third, the current geopolitical tensions, expected to escalate, have shifted the world towards a multipolar paradigm as hegemonic dominance has resulted in unsustainable development. This shift presents an opportunity and momentum for rising middle-power countries such as Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, and Southeast Asia to take a stance and play a bigger role in the ever-dynamic multipolar global community. The rising power of these emerging economies should not be underestimated, as globalisation leads to interconnectedness and bilateral trade links with middle-power countries. It is crucial for these nations to leverage their growing economic and political influence to promote greater cooperation and collaboration with the international community. The rise of middle-power countries brings with it the potential for more sustainable and equitable development, as well as inclusive growth.

Considering these three reasons, ASEAN’s relevance both politically and economically cannot be understated, particularly with its young and dynamic population. Embracing digital innovation while emphasising key human capital development, including inclusivity for women, youth, and people with disabilities (as outlined in my op-ed on Inclusive ASEAN), will be one way to increase ASEAN’s relevance in the global economy.

Digital innovation will change not only the way we work but also the way we live and the whole economic system. Over the past few decades, digital technologies have enhanced connectivity, financial systems, and access to trade and public services. This shift has changed the focus on goods and services trade from what is traded to how it is traded. The digital economy is rapidly growing, and the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. Digital trade, which includes digital payments and digital service delivery, was USD 4.9 trillion in 2021 and is estimated to reach over USD 10 trillion by 2030. In ASEAN, digital trade is expected to grow to USD 360 billion by 2025 and USD 1 trillion by 2030, accounting for 10% of the global digital trade market in 2030.

The rise of digital innovation could be seen in the acceleration of e-commerce, digital payments, and the emergence of new business models, which are changing the whole economic system. Digital technologies and digital innovation are not just a trend, but a fundamental shift that will continue to shape our lives for decades to come. Through these efforts, ASEAN can fully realise the potential of the digital economy, creating new opportunities for growth and development in the region.

In addition, the increasing adoption of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and other advanced technologies is altering the nature of work, leading to new job opportunities and increasing productivity as these technologies work faster with greater precision and accuracy that ultimately reduces production and operational costs. The PwC report from 2017 highlights that the use of automation and AI is set to increase by 2030, with an estimated USD 15.7 trillion added to the global economy through the widespread usage of automation and AI.

The ASEAN Chairmanship of Indonesia in 2023 will be a crucial moment for the region, as it will set the tone and direction for ASEAN’s future. By reaffirming the centrality of ASEAN and embracing digital innovation towards an inclusive digital transformation leading to the ASEAN Digital Economic Community 2045, ASEAN can move towards a more prosperous and resilient future.


About the writers

Lili Yan Ing is a Lead Advisor (Southeast Asia Region) at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). Dr Ing also serves as Secretary General of the International Economic Association (IEA).

Yessi Vadila is a Trade Analyst at the Ministry of Trade Republic of Indonesia.


This article was first published by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia on May 13, 2023.

The views and recommendations expressed in this article are solely of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views and position of the Tech for Good Institute.

Download Report

Download Report

Latest Updates

Latest Updates​

Keep pace with the digital pulse of Southeast Asia!

Never miss an update or event!

Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.


Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.