Towards a Resilient Regional Cyber Security: Perspectives and Challenges in Southeast Asia 

Editors Fitriani, Christian Pareira and Naufal Armia Arifin

The diversity within Southeast Asia (SEA)’s geopolitics and economy is reflected in the region’s cyber space. Geopolitically, most of Southeast Asian countries are members of the regional organisation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) that compresses of: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Southeast Asia is a diverse region with population around 600 million people in 2018, with steady growth around 1% each year.

The diversity in SEA extents culturally, politically, and economically. On the cultural aspect, religion plays an important role where Islam, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu co-exist, where each religion become a major religious group in one or more SEA countries. In terms of political landscape, the SEA region contains heterogeneous political system that coexist peacefully under ASEAN. The regional organisation itself was established in 1967 and lasted over five decades. In terms of political system, nation states in the region adopts various types of governmental approach. Indonesia and Philippines are republics where government is considered a “public matter”. Thailand and Brunei adopts monarchic system, while communist parties are very much present in Vietnam and Laos. On economic terms, the GDP between each nations also differs. According to the 2018 IMF data, Singapore has the highest GDP per capita of US$ 57,173.34 while Myanmar has the lowest with US$ 1,263.89. This shows there is a significant difference between economic developments in the region. This difference is directly proportional to the cyber maturity and engagement level of each nation, thus forming a regional framework on cyber security to tackle regional cyber threats becomes a challenging feat.

The earliest regional framework related to cyber space was during the 2000 Singapore Summit, where the adoption of “e-ASEAN Framework Agreement” was taking place. The head of ASEAN states agreed to take opportunities offered by the revolution in information and communication technology (ICT) and electronic commerce (e-commerce), to develop a comprehensive set of strategies in improving and facilitating trade of ICT products and services, to liberalise e-commerce trade in the region, as well as committed to build the capacity and infrastructure of each government. However, the notion of cyber security was mentioned in only one article of the Framework, where ASEAN members recognised the need to facilitate a secure regional electronic transaction.

While regional cyber security frameworks and norms have progressed substantially since the e-ASEAN framework, ASEAN still relies their cyber security upon each member states’ cyber capabilities. Therefore, to understand regional cyber capacity in Southeast Asia, it is important to delve into the state of national cyber security of each member states, as well as recognising the political, economic, and cultural circumstances of each state. It is also vital to identify the situational background behind the region understanding on cyber space and cyber security.

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