Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR5 – US-Singapore: Advancing Technological Collaboration and Innovation in Southeast Asia

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In this special publication, authors were encouraged to reflect on what stronger US and Singapore cooperation looks like in concrete policy terms amid ongoing geopolitical volatility. Beyond the technical and geopolitical perspectives, the contributions in this edited volume emphasize the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration and sustainability for an enduring US-Singapore strategic partnership.

Download the full volume here.

Table of Contents

Mark Bryan Manantan

Setting the overview, Mr. Manantan emphasizes the confluence of geopolitical and technological events over the past year which shaped the foundation of the digital publication. Building on the lessons learned from the Pacific Forum’s inaugural US-Singapore Cyber&Tech Security Virtual Series (2020-2021), and the recently concluded US-Singapore Tech & Innovation Virtual Dialogue (2021-2022), Mr. Manantan advocates to reframe policy conversations. Beyond the narrow, zero-sum competition, the US-Singapore bilateral cooperation must champion resilience, inclusion, and sustainability to catalyze Southeast Asia’s digital transformation.

Chapter 1: Singapore’s sanctions against Russia: What are the long-term implications?
Manoj Harjani

Mr. Harjani assesses the long-term implications of Singapore’s sanctions against Russia. Harjani canvassed the drivers of Singapore’s decision to use export controls on military and select dual-use goods that the Kremlin may use to conduct cyber operations. He also discussed Singapore’s efforts to target cryptocurrency loopholes as part of the city-state’s sanctions package against Russia.

Chapter 2: Defending Supply Chain Cybersecurity: Opportunities for Singapore-United States Cooperation
Andreas Kuehn, Ph.D.

Dr. Kuehn examines the growing importance of supply chain cybersecurity frameworks, given the growing complexity of supply chains and the multiplicity of Information and Communications Technology providers. Going just beyond the “Know your ICT supplier” to ensure accountability and transparency, Kuehn offers practical advice on how Singapore, as an innovation hub in Southeast Asia in cooperation with the US, can test pilot new initiatives to safeguard supply chain cybersecurity at the organizational, industry, and multilateral levels.

Chapter 3: Digitalization and Sustainable Energy in ASEAN
Courtney Weatherby

Ms. Weatherby investigates Southeast Asia’s conundrum on how to meet its carbon emission targets amid increasing pressure on supply chain resilience and energy transitions. Weatherby also highlights the growing role of blockchain technologies in facilitating renewable energy certification given the growing intra-ASEAN energy trade. Reflecting on the outcomes of the US-ASEAN Summit and relatedly the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), Weatherby notes the shared expertise of the US and Singapore in capacity-building to lubricate Southeast Asia’s ongoing energy transition.

Chapter 4: Sustainable Considerations for Inclusive Digital Futures
Natalie Pang, Ph.D.

Recognizing the region’s medium to long-term prospects in the data-driven economy, Dr. Pang examines the urgency of addressing the current gaps and vulnerabilities in Southeast Asia’s digital future. Pang notes the need to fast track digital literacy to address burgeoning concerns over privacy and algorithms, as well as the increasing negative effects of electronic waste or e-waste, mainly from large data centers, that carry environmental and health risks for local communities.


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PacNet #30 – “Moderate” Strategies on China Put Necessary Defense Measures at Risk

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A broad policy consensus in Washington, now entering its fourth year, has directed the Biden administration and bipartisan majorities in Congress regarding China. This has resulted in unprecedented legislative initiatives and broad-ranging systematic policies targeting the challenges posed by Chinese behavior at home and abroad. The stakes are seen as high and the need for effective action urgent. A strong perception of danger and need for prompt countermeasures has been at the center of determinants explaining the policy consensus on China since 2018, despite the acute partisanship in the capital.

The challenges involve:

  • Chinese military advances to counter and, if needed, destroy American forces
  • closer collaboration with Vladimir Putin’s Russia targeting US interests
  • continuing state-directed development polices to plunder foreign intellectual property rights and undermine international competitors
  • building and exploiting economic dependencies via the Belt and Road Initiative and other means
  • fostering corrupt and authoritarian governments against the West
  • coercing neighbors to defer to China’s demands
  • using hidden influence operations for subversive ends, and
  • disregarding international law and accepted diplomatic practices.

If successful, the Chinese efforts are predicted to undermine and replace the existing world order with one dominated by an authoritarian party-state focused on advancing Chinese wealth and power at the expense of others. A sense of urgency prevails in Washington, as Beijing has reached “peer competitor” capacities, threatening to dislodge the United States from Asia and overtake it as leader in high-technology industries of the future, thereby establishing China as the world’s economic leader with the most modern and capable military forces.

Strategies Emphasizing Nuance and Moderation

A number of specialists argue that existing US countermeasures have gone too far; they favor a more moderate and nuanced approach in carefully crafted strategies that would avoid exaggerating the threat posed by China and allow for easing of potentially dangerous tensions, and resuming or enhancing US-China collaboration. Unfortunately, these well-crafted policy proposals give little attention to what this writer sees as a more important objective: continuing strong efforts to develop effective American defenses to the challenges posed by China. Without such defenses, Chinese authorities will outmaneuver existing US efforts to deal with China from a position of strength, setting the stage for policy failure.

Flaws in Current Policy

While much has been done in recent years, there are flaws in existing US countermeasures defending against Chinese challenges, especially in two areas:

  1. Chinese authorities are resorting to unprecedented efforts to outmaneuver US-led restrictions on high technology exports to, and acquisitions by, Chinese firms in semiconductor and related software industries. Indirectly or directly cooperative with Chinese authorities in these efforts are a range of US and international firms, advocacy groups, and highly trained specialists pursuing their respective interests. In the process, these groups are assisting Chinese government-led efforts to undermine existing US restrictions and to emerge dominant in this field. US policy has yet to come to a clear judgment on what the US government should do in response as China raises the stakes in this arena of US-China competition. Chinese abilities to influence US and foreign firms, advocacy groups, and experts remains strong, and the latter in turn are essential constituencies in US politics, and important for US economic growth and other interests.
  2. Many US firms, universities, and experts that will be recipients of the tens of billions of dollars being proposed for US high-tech competition with China are often well-integrated with Chinese entities and fellow specialists. Many of their high-tech achievements come through cross-border collaborations that, if stopped, are predicted to reduce their capacity for innovation. How US government policymakers can be secure, under existing circumstances, that the advances they fund will not come into the hands of Chinese authorities remains to be seen.

The problem for US policymakers in these two areas is how to develop and sustain effective defenses in the acute rivalry with China over semiconductors and high-tech industries of the future, while taking into account the interests of US advanced technology companies and experts, as well as those from other developed countries allied with the United States. Right now, there remain important flaws, and they appear important in determining the success or failure of current US policy.

Addressing these flaws in ways that influence the firms and experts to seek their interests in ways that align with US national interests appears unlikely if, as recommended by the specialists, the political atmosphere in Washington plays down the danger China poses and reduces the sense of urgency for effective countermeasures. A prevailing sense of danger and urgency may thus be what is needed to get the firms and individuals benefiting from collaboration with China to adjust their actions.

To conclude, one could use an analogy from American football. The highly nuanced US strategies urging a more relaxed and moderate posture toward China without adequate treatment of important defensive measures resemble an overconfident, well-planned passing game without adequate attention needed for an effective defensive ground game.

Robert Sutter ([email protected]) is Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University, USA.

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