Excellencies, Distinguished panelists and delegates,
Allow me to extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Liu, USG of DESA, for inviting me to speak at the 2021 Internet Governance Forum.
I welcome the opportunity to share once again perspectives from Asia and the Pacific at this Forum.
The Asia-Pacific region in 2030 will be a vastly different place to what it is now and digital connectivity will be a driving force.
Everyday we witness how emerging technologies are rapidly transforming our development paradigms, bringing new sources of added value to production and consumption patterns and the way societies operate.
Applications of new technologies enabled by affordable and reliable digital connectivity for all, can act as accelerators toward inclusive digital societies.
Furthermore, as the very recent emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus shows, the pandemic is not going away soon, and “digital” will continue to have an important meaning as many of our activities remain in virtual mode.
Of key concern is that Asia and the Pacific remains the most digitally divided region in the world. While the region has a number of world leaders in technology innovation, more than half of its 4.1 billion people remain offline.
Less than 5 per cent of the region’s population has access to high-speed and affordable internet, while countries in special situations face even more challenges in their pathways to digital connectivity.
A further concern hampering today’s recovery is that the digital divide may be widening during the pandemic. For example, early data show that investments in next-generation networks appear to be falling short of projections.
The digital divide that emerged during the pandemic related to access, speed, gender and rural isolation are deepening socio-economic inequalities in new ways.
Nevertheless, new opportunities are springing up from these challenges. Allow me to highlight three:
First, on the supply side, the region has a critical window of opportunity to scale up investment in digital connectivity infrastructure and digital technologies.
There is ample evidence that when the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in 2020, digital technologies in some countries such as China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore helped to mitigate cluster outbreaks while gaining the public’s trust by sharing credible information in real time.
Second, in terms of the demand side, investments in digital literacy and capacity will have significant net benefits for innovation.
Digital education for life-long learning, with attention to the needs of children and youth at the forefront, but also vulnerable groups such as the aged and disabled, has taken on a new urgency for an inclusive digital society.
In this regard, ESCAP and DESA have promoted regulatory sandboxes and policy experimentation for innovative deployments of digital technologies. We thank DESA for this partnership and look forward to further strengthening our joint work on promoting digital government ecosystems.
Third, there is an opportunity to strengthen global and regional cooperation and partnerships with governments, the business sector and social groups.
Only by working together will we ensure that these technological breakthroughs work for the economy, society and environment in an inclusive and sustainable manner.
In this regard, ESCAP is working with member States to develop a practical action plan for implementation of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway Initiative from 2022 to 2026.
The action plan consists of three pillars with 25 actions centred on Connectivity for All; Digital Technologies and Applications, and Digital Data.
This action plan will serve as a blueprint for regional cooperative actions and we look forward to collaborating with you all, including DESA and other partners of our UN system and international organizations to bring universal digital connectivity and digital transformation to a more inclusive digital society.
Thank you very much.