Singapore is the current chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The themes of the 32nd ASEAN Summit, which was held from April 25 to April 28, were “resilience” and “innovation.” As chairman, Singapore will help guide the 10-member regional community in finding ways to generate more momentum for regional development and economic integration. The launch of ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) demonstrates these principles and also presents a unique opportunity for Taiwan to build stronger relationships with the regional localities in accordance with the Tsai administration’s New Southbound Policy (NSP).
Activating the ASEAN Smart Cities Network
The rationale for the ASCN is as stated:
“Most of ASEAN’s growth has been, and will continue to be, driven by urban centers, with 90 million more people expected to urbanize by 2030 and “middleweight” cities of between 200,000 and 2 million residents forecast to drive 40 percent of the region’s growth. However, this rapid urbanization [sic] is not without its challenges as it has implications on important issues such as city congestion, water/air quality, poverty, rising inequalities, urban-rural divide, citizen security, and safety. Technological and digital solutions can be utilized to resolve these issues and to enhance quality and accessibility of services, thereby improving our citizens’ lives across the urban-rural continuum, creating new opportunities for them and helping ensure that no one is left behind.”
According to the Concept Note of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, 26 chosen pilot cities will work together toward sustainable urbanization within their local and cultural context. The initiative’s goals are “facilitating cooperation on smart cities development, catalyzing bankable projects with the private sector, and securing funding and support from ASEAN’s external partners.”
By pairing each city with an external partner, Singapore will take on the matchmaking responsibility and help these cities secure funding for projects that prioritize each city’s needs. As a city-state, Singapore has always been a shining example of successful urban planning and innovative governance. By utilizing its past experience of integrating technology and promoting innovation, Singapore has been able to govern the city smartly and build an integral internet infrastructure that other ASEAN cities desire.
But what’s in it for Singapore? Sharing lessons learned and being a matchmaker are not the only incentives for this urbanized city-state to facilitate a collaborative program within the ASEAN community. This Network provides exclusive opportunities for both ASEAN and Singapore to extricate from geopolitical challenges and focus on ASEAN regional interests, which is now tied together with Singapore’s national interests. By accentuating ASEAN Unity and Centrality, Southeast Asian states will be able to convene and aggregate resources to showcase the region’s energy.
For Singapore, changing the rhetoric around Southeast Asia from territorial disputes and geopolitical conflict to urban potentiality and growth will strengthen ASEAN, and Singapore’s regional and global influence altogether.
Pairing up Taiwan and ASEAN Smart Cities
The ASCN presents a unique opportunity for Taiwan to build stronger relationships with the regional localities in accordance with the existing New Southbound Policy.
Among the 26 chosen pilot city, three already have special partnerships with Taiwan’s local governments. For example, Cebu City and Da Nang have been Kaohsiung’s sister cities since 1970. And the Filipino metropolis Manila has also been Taipei’s sister city since 1966, while the friendship between Quezon City and Taipei date back to 1968. Maintaining these local ties would be vital to Taiwan’s presence in the region. With these partnerships of sister cities, Taiwan can be able to identify and contribute to ASEAN Smart Cities Network’s goals while highlighting local and cultural context.
As President Tsai Ing-wen vowed to enhance the regional community awareness among Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries, Taiwan should utilize the New Southbound Policy at the local level to cities participating in the ASEAN Smart Cities Network initiatives. Recognizing that different cities have diverse development plans and needs can also appeal to these pilot cities and make possible new types of transnational and inter-city “twinning projects.”
For years, Taiwan has been realizing Smart City projects. In March 2018, the 5th Smart City Summit & Expo was held in Taipei, with a specific focus on the implications of the Internet of Things (IoT). Besides Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hualien, and Yilan also demonstrated e-projects and innovative solutions to city governance.
For example, Tainan introduced an open data system (登革熱疫情地理資訊系統) in 2016, using GIS to monitor mosquito-transmitted dengue fever and sharing epidemic prevention information with local communities. In Kaohsiung, an expressway monitoring system (高屏區域交通整合計畫) provides real time surveillance and facilitates the heavy traffic flow between Kaohsiung and Pingtung. These experiences show how technology can be utilized to tackle challenges of local growth.
In 2018, Taipei further proposed the “Global Organization of Smart Cities (Go SMART)” as a new platform for sharing urban development solutions and best practices with global sister cities and partner localities. This initiative and its international network may be “twining up” functionally and institutionally with the emerging ASEAN Smart Cities Network.
To be clear, Taiwan’s role is not to pass down the so-called “Taipei model” or “Kaohsiung model” but to find mutually beneficial collaborative mechanisms and modalities that put forth tangible solutions and amplify the city alliances’ global leverages.
Another important aspect of the ASCN is the focus on human rights. As a free society and democracy, Taiwan needs to take precautionary measures to prevent human rights violations and exploitations in all forms concerning its partnerships with ASEAN members as well as ASEAN cities.
Enlightening Regional Partnership through City Links
Collaboration between Taiwan and Southeast Asian cities highlighted by smart solutions and local connectivity will contribute to regional stability and economic integration. Areas that can be specifically highlighted includes some non-traditional security issues such as urban disaster preparedness and surveillance, public health and disease control, and smart urban infrastructure like traffic management and metro system. It is not just about modern city planning, but an integrated scheme for social development, urban renovation, and talent incubation.
By advancing smart cities, private resources can be introduced and utilized to enhance local governance and fuel private and public partnership (PPP). Successful solutions urbanized between the government and industry can also be shared and spread among cities in Taiwan and ASEAN region through regional forums and international exhibitions.
Apart from enterprises and governments, universities have always been the incubators for cooking ideas and nourishing talents. These educational institutions may also foster bilateral and multilateral partnerships by promoting diversity and inclusion. The Smart Universities Network sponsored by Taiwan’s Education Ministry not only highlights specific features of member universities, but further demonstrates new dynamics of local economies with smart solution.
To sum up, although there are no formal diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Southeast Asia countries, this has not stopped social and economic ties among cities and societies. As Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy seeks partnerships with like-minded countries and stakeholders, linking up smart cities and fulfilling the needs for the citizens would be strategically important for realizing a people-centered regional community shared by Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
The main point: While Taiwan does not have any formal diplomatic ties with Southeast Asia countries, linking up with smart cities and fulfilling the needs for the citizens would be strategically important for realizing a people-centered regional community shared by Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
 Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Banyuwangi, Battambang, Cebu City, Chonburi, Da Nang, Davao City, DKI Jakarta, Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Luang Prabang, Makassar, Mandalay, Manila, Nay Pyi Taw, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Singapore, Vientiane, Yangon.