Singapore's Senior Minister of State Dr Koh Poh Koon at the launch of the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation 2018 in Beijing, China/ Credit: Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore

Singapore's Senior Minister of State Dr Koh Poh Koon at the launch of the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation 2018 in Beijing, China/ Credit: Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore

ASEAN and China launch Year of Innovation

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China officially launched the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation on 12 April 2018 in Beijing, China.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, Dr Koh Poh Koon, represented Singapore at the launch ceremony hosted by PRC Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang. Representatives from the other ASEAN Member States were also in attendance.

ASEAN and China established dialogue partner relations in 1991. Since then, China has become one of ASEAN’s most substantive dialogue partners. In 2016, ASEAN and China commemorated the 25th Anniversary of ASEANChina Dialogue Relations. This year, both sides will be celebrating 15 years of ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership.

Over the past three years, to enhance cooperation and further advance relations, ASEAN and China have designated a theme for ASEAN-China cooperation for each year. In 2016, ASEAN and China commemorated the Year of Educational Exchanges and 2017 was designated the Year of Tourism Cooperation.

In line with Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship themes of Resilience and Innovation, ASEAN and China agreed to designate 2018 as the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation.

At the launch ceremony, SMS Koh delivered a speech which included a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. In his message, PM Lee highlighted that Singapore will continue to play a constructive role to promote ASEAN-China cooperation as ASEAN Chair and country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogue relations this year.

PM Lee talked about dealing with the opportunities and challenges of technological disruption across multiple domains – from science & technology, education, digitalisation, to enterprise and entrepreneurship and said that this is an issue where ASEAN and China have many shared interests in.

The Singapore PM also noted in his message that both ASEAN and China are home to a vibrant ecosystem of start-ups, technology companies and solution providers. ASEAN’s digital economy is projected to exceed US$200 billion in 2025, while China is one of the innovation and technology powerhouses in the world today. China houses the world’s second largest group of unicorns [1], and is among the top three countries for venture capital investment in digital technologies.

In his speech, SMS Koh outlined several several ASEAN initiatives related to innovation in which ASEAN can cooperate with China.


ASEAN is currently pursuing an ASEAN Agreement on e-Commerce, which will advance trade rules in eCommerce and build up greater digital connectivity, to facilitate e-Commerce flows in the region. It will provide a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs, startups and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to market their products and services regionally, while making it easier for them to send and receive electronic payments. This is an area where ASEAN can benefit from China’s experience and success, with a view towards strengthening and facilitating ASEAN-China trade flows.

Smart cities

One of Singapore’s Chairmanship deliverables is to establish an ASEAN Smart Cities Network. With more than 500 smart city projects underway, China has the largest number of smart cities in the world.

ASEAN Member States have nominated a total of 26 pilot cities for the ASCN. This is envisaged as an inclusive platform for ASEAN cities to share best practices, develop city-specific action plans, and catalyse bankable projects in partnership with the private sector and ASEAN’s external partners, including China.

ASEAN Innovation Network

Singapore is working on an ASEAN Innovation Network. This network seeks to strengthen the linkages between innovation ecosystems in ASEAN Member States to spark new collaborations and solutions, which can address the demand from an increasingly sophisticated and growing consumer base in the region.

Dr Koh welcomed China’s involvement and cooperation in the area of Innovation, including the sharing of experiences and best practices, which will help bolster the innovation ecosystem in Asia.

"In the Year of Innovation, I would like to encourage both sides to step up cooperation in practical initiatives that will bring tangible benefits to our people, allow ASEAN and China to tap on new opportunities in the digital economy, and reinforce our value proposition to our global partners. Through sustained effort, ASEAN and China can work together to build a competitive, resilient and innovative region that anchors our relevance on the global stage," Dr Koh concluded.

[1] Unicorns are startups valued at over US$1 billion. 

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