MANILA, PHILIPPINES (21 October 2020) — Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa today urged Southeast Asian countries to expand investments in digital infrastructure and ensure equitable access to technology as economies recover from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We must close the digital divide and expand existing investments in digital infrastructure by building more and higher quality mobile broadband infrastructure and ensuring affordable internet access and coverage,” Mr. Asakawa said in a keynote address at ADB’s first Southeast Asia Development Symposium. “These steps can also enhance access to basic social services such as health and education and access to financial services. These investments will better equip countries to address the worsening income inequality and disparities in opportunities brought about by the pandemic.”

The Southeast Asia Development Symposium aims to provide government officials and other stakeholders with a wide range of cutting-edge perspectives on critical development issues. As countries in the region continue to grapple with COVID-19 response, this year’s inaugural event is focused on providing knowledge support to countries as they recover from the pandemic’s economic and social impacts.

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati delivered an opening plenary speech followed by a high-level panel discussion titled “The New Normal: Driving Economic Recovery through Digital Innovation” featuring ADB Vice-President Ahmed M. Saeed; Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Anwar Makarim; General Manager for Asia-Pacific, Public Sector at Microsoft Sherie Ng; Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy for Asia-Pacific at Google and former US Ambassador to Viet Nam Ted Osius; Senior Vice President for Public–Private Partnership at Mastercard Mimi Alemayehou; and Managing Partner at 500 Startups Khailee Ng.

In his keynote address, Mr. Asakawa highlighted five key policy areas that can support developing economies in Southeast Asia as they return to a path of sustainable growth:

  • First, address regional disparities and ensure more equitable access to technology, including an expansion of investments in digital infrastructure to close the “digital divide”, while addressing cyber security.
  • Second, facilitate a green and resilient recovery by promoting investments that drive economic activity toward low-carbon and resilient practices.
  • Third, strengthen regional cooperation and integration by improving cross-border digital connectivity, e-customs systems, and electronic cargo tracking systems.
  • Fourth, deepen institutional capacity for mobilizing domestic resources to finance public services, while ensuring debt sustainability.
  • Fifth, incubate, develop, and congregate small and medium-sized enterprises with entrepreneurship and technology, supported by an aggregated financial, academic, and business ecosystem to help set the stage for tech-based growth.

As digitalization has become an integral part of longer-term economic recovery, participants discussed how to boost economic recovery through digital innovation, how to foster an environment for technology adoption, and how to leverage technology for health care and remote learning. Participants also explored ways to facilitate a green and resilient recovery by promoting climate and environmentally friendly investments. Intelligent transportation systems, for example, can support real-time traffic control and transport routing systems to manage congestion and reduce air pollution, while smart-grid systems are helping secure a more efficient energy supply for a green recovery. 

The one-day virtual event attracted more than 1,700 high-level government officials, private sector representatives, and other stakeholders from 57 countries.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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