The Asia-Pacific Bureau has been producing an annual snapshot of its activities and initiatives for a couple of years now, and we are pleased to present the 2017 edition. While it is not meant to be an exhaustive record of all that we did, it does provide a good overview of our activities in the region.
In addition to the Bureau’s core programmes, our Chapters are also very active in their local communities and, as volunteer-led entities, do amazing work in helping to support and carry out the Internet Society’s mission at the local level. We invited our chapters in the region to submit a summary of their activities, and the submissions that made it before the deadline are included in the report.
As I reflect on 2017, it probably stands out as the year the digital economy began to cement itself in the Asia-Pacific. Across the region, numerous developments, from the emergence (and to some extent, dominance) of local technology firms to new policies designed to facilitate the growth of connected societies all signify that countries in the largest region of the world – both in geography and population – are finally putting their plans into action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in China, the world’s second largest economy. Last year, tech giant Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, became the first Asian firm to break into the 500-billion-dollar league, with Alibaba not far behind. Both made their fortunes cornering a domestic market of 750 million Internet users and earn most of their revenue from mobile users.
These companies, like many in Asia-Pacific, thrive on business models that are different from those that have made their Western counterparts successful: Alibaba charges merchants to advertise on its platform, rather than taking a cut from the sale of goods, as Amazon does. Unlike Facebook, Tencent derives most of its profit from selling virtual items, such as emoticons, to its users. The digital economy in China is now said to constitute 30% of its economy, and the sharing economy is expected to see a 40% increase annually.
The rise of large Internet companies in Asia-Pacific, coupled by the continued expansion of global firms in local markets, has not gone unnoticed by governments, many of which are keen to regulate (and in some cases tax) those that are making money from transactions and engagement with their citizens.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, reached a settlement with Google over back taxes, while Viet Nam is facing pressure from local industries to force foreign businesses like Booking.com to pay contractor taxes currently shouldered by domestic partners. China is taking a different tack, pushing for a 1% stake and a direct role in corporate decisions in some of its biggest tech firms, even as these begin to ignite fears of market dominance.
In South Korea, web portal Naver, which occupies 70% of news and media search space, was subjected to parliamentary audit for its monopoly over the country’s Internet ecosystem. Both South Korea and Japan are looking at anti-trust policies to limit technology services companies from having exclusive access to big data.
Notwithstanding hiccups – such as the multiple data breaches that followed the rollout of India’s digital identity system, Aadhar – Asia-Pacific countries remain resolute in laying the groundwork for a more technology-driven economy.
There is also an emphasis on equipping people from all walks of life with specialised skills to prepare them for a digital future – from FinTech courses for university students in Hong Kong, to Singapore’s SkillsFuture for Digital Workspace, which aims to train citizens to maximise ICT use both for personal and business purposes.
While challenges remain – security issues, for instance, are on the rise in many parts of the region – Asia-Pacific on the whole is recognising the benefits that the Internet can bring, propelling societies, industries and economies to advance and develop in ways that could transform the region’s countries and communities into models for the rest of the world to follow.
As we approach the mid-way point of 2018, the Internet Society’s campaigns-based approach on key issues is paying dividends, and we look forward to reporting on another stellar year of developments and achievements in the 2018 edition of The Year That Was.