The Association of South-East Asian Nations ASEAN has made a regional fake news crackdown and e-commerce enablement a part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ASEAN comprises Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, which together are home to over 650 million people. The bloc’s combined GPD is US$2.8 trillion – just about on par with the UK or France. Member nations mostly avoid tariffs on intra-bloc trade and ASEAN works to secure free trade deals between the bloc and other nations or trading groups. China, Japan and South Korea are not full members but many ASEAN meetings are “Plus Three” affairs to which they are invited. Including the Plus Three gives ASEAN extra global clout and means the bloc gets more attention from the USA and EU. ASEAN does not have an explicit or short-term ambition to adopt an EU-like structure, but does see regional unity on trade matters as highly desirable.
The Declaration includes the following among its calls to action:
“Encourage the ASEAN information sector to strengthen cooperation in countering misinformation and fake news, as well as to develop a set of guidelines and a possible common platform to facilitate timely sharing of information in ASEAN.”
The Register's daily trawling of Asian governments' emissions has found numerous references to the spread of fake news pertaining to coronavirus, usually accompanied by warnings that citizens will do best to disregard rumors of miracle cures and extreme government action.
The joint statement calls for members to “actively share and leverage on digital technologies and innovation to promote a science-based response to combat COVID-19.”
The bloc also called for its economic stimulus to: “Leverage technologies and digital trade to allow businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to maintain operations.”
So not a vast tech-driven response, but at least some bloc-level acknowledgement that tech has a role to play. As it happens, ASEAN’s technology policies expire this year. The Register has inquired about the status of new plans, but is yet to receive a response. ®