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The Emerald Belt Strategy: Unleashing technological advancements and innovation in Southeast Asia

Dr. Eric Balan/Asiatech

THE EMERALD Belt Strategy, with its strategic geographical coverage across Indonesia, Borneo Island  (encompassing Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei), and soon the Southern Philippines, not only promises technological advancement but also carries substantial economic weight with its potential impact on  Gross Domestic Product (GDP), total population advancement, economic scale, and regional significance within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

In terms of GDP impact, the collaborative efforts within the Emerald Belt Strategy have the potential to significantly boost the economic output of the involved nations. As technology and innovation become key drivers of economic growth, the region’s GDP is poised to experience substantial expansion. The infusion of foreign direct investment, the establishment of technology-driven industries, and the creation of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem can contribute substantially to the overall economic performance of the strategy. 

Considering the total population within the strategy, which includes Indonesia, Borneo Island, and the  Southern Philippines, the impact of economic development is magnified. The large population base provides a skilled labor force, fostering the creation of a robust workforce adept in emerging technologies. This not only caters to the demands of the burgeoning technology sector but also addresses the need for skilled professionals in various industries, thereby contributing to higher productivity and economic growth. 

The potential for economic scales is significant, given the diverse economic activities that can be stimulated by technological advancements. From digital innovation in agriculture to the establishment of tech-based manufacturing facilities, the strategy offers a wide array of economic opportunities. This diversification of economic activities contributes to the resilience of the region’s economy, making it less susceptible to external shocks and creating a foundation for sustained growth. 

In the context of ASEAN, the regional importance of the Emerald Belt Strategy cannot be overstated.  As one of the new key economic collaborations within the ASEAN framework, the strategy has the potential to serve as a model for other member nations. The success of this trilateral collaboration can inspire and influence regional economic policies, fostering a spirit of innovation and cooperation among ASEAN member states. Additionally, the economic prosperity generated by the strategy can contribute to the overall economic strength and stability of the ASEAN community. 

The advantages of the Emerald Belt Strategy in terms of technological infrastructure extend beyond mere connectivity improvements. The upgraded infrastructures will provide a compelling environment for conducting business, offering a strategic advantage for both local and international enterprises. The seamless high-speed internet connections and reliable telecommunication networks will significantly reduce operational barriers, allowing businesses to operate efficiently, communicate effectively, and access global markets with ease. This will enhance the business environment to foster a  competitive edge, making the strategy an attractive destination for companies seeking to establish or expand their operations. 

The potential for growth and adoption of technology and innovation within the strategy is immense.  The improvements to be made to technological infrastructure will set the stage for the widespread integration of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain. This, in turn, accelerates the pace of digital transformation across industries, ranging from  manufacturing and agriculture to finance and healthcare. The strategy becomes a breeding ground for innovation, encouraging businesses to embrace cutting-edge technologies to optimize processes,  increase productivity, and stay globally competitive. 

In positioning itself as ASEAN’s hub for technology connectivity, the Emerald Belt Strategy not only fosters domestic innovation but also becomes a central hub for regional collaboration. With improved connectivity, it facilitates seamless communication and knowledge exchange among ASEAN member states, creating a collaborative ecosystem that transcends national borders. This interconnectedness will then promote joint research and development initiatives, shared technological resources, and a  collective approach to addressing regional challenges. The strategy emerges as a key player in propelling ASEAN towards becoming a global powerhouse in technology and innovation. 

Moreover, the strategy serves as a platform for nurturing a vibrant startup ecosystem. The enhanced technological infrastructure, coupled with a conducive business environment, attracts aspiring entrepreneurs and provides them with the tools and resources needed to bring their innovative ideas to fruition. Government initiatives and private sector support further contribute to the growth of startups, creating a dynamic ecosystem where creativity flourishes. As a result, the strategy becomes a magnet for venture capital investments, mentorship programs, and collaborative spaces, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship that fuels the region’s economic dynamism and ensures its sustained competitiveness on the global stage. 

The collaboration between Indonesia, Borneo Island, and the Southern Philippines not only creates a  unique opportunity for intensified research and development (R&D) activities but also opens avenues for nurturing and building talents in research. The pooling of resources, expertise, and knowledge within the Emerald Belt Strategy facilitates the establishment of cutting-edge research centers,  incubators, and technology parks. These hubs serve as focal points for collaboration, bringing together scientists, researchers, and innovators from diverse backgrounds to work collectively on groundbreaking projects. 

The ideal geographical landscape of the strategy, characterized by the rich biodiversity of Borneo  Island and the varied ecosystems across the region, positions it as an ideal locale for cutting-edge research in environmental and climate technology. The unique flora and fauna provide a natural laboratory for scientists and researchers to study and develop innovative solutions for environmental conservation, climate change mitigation, and sustainable resource management. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for the strategy to become a global leader in pioneering environmentally conscious technologies. 

Furthermore, the strategic location of the Emerald Belt Strategy makes it an ideal hub for multilateral trade and logistical activities driven by technology. The improved technological infrastructure facilitates seamless and efficient trade operations, enabling businesses to capitalize on the benefits of e-commerce, smart logistics, and digital supply chain management. This, in turn, positions the strategy as a central player in the global trade landscape, fostering economic growth and creating new opportunities for businesses engaged in international trade. 

In addition to its prowess in environmental and climate technology research, the strategy emerges as a central location for research and development in agriculture, biotechnology, and renewable energy.  The diverse geographical features, ranging from fertile plains to coastal regions, provide an ideal testing ground for innovations in agricultural practices and biotechnological advancements. The region’s commitment to sustainable development aligns with the growing demand for renewable energy sources, making it a focal point for pioneering research and development initiatives in these critical sectors.

Moreover, the strategy’s emphasis on collaboration extends to the entire innovation and commercialization economy. By fostering an ecosystem that supports research-driven startups and technology transfer initiatives, the region becomes a catalyst for turning research findings into marketable products and services. The integration of academia, research institutions, and the private sector creates a dynamic innovation ecosystem that propels the strategy to the forefront of technological advancements and commercialization. 

The initiatives within the Emerald Belt Strategy to cultivate talent extends beyond national borders,  fostering dynamic skills and talent movements within the region. Strategic investments in education and vocational training programs not only contribute to the development of a highly skilled local workforce but also attract professionals from neighboring countries. This cross-border exchange of talent enhances diversity and enriches the overall skill set within the strategy, creating a melting pot of expertise that propels innovation and drives economic growth. 

Being a signatory to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) further amplifies the advantage of the Emerald Belt Strategy in creating a talented workforce. The RCEP provides a  framework for the free movement of skilled professionals among member nations, facilitating the transfer of knowledge, technology, and workforce within the region. This seamless mobility of talent enhances collaboration, encourages cultural exchange, and enables businesses to access a diverse pool of skilled professionals, contributing to the strategy’s global competitiveness. 

The positive and healthy competition on talent skills within the strategy becomes a driving force for continuous improvement and innovation. As companies vie for the best talent, the workforce is incentivized to upskill and reskill, keeping pace with emerging technologies and industry demands.  This healthy competition creates a dynamic labor market that benefits both employers and employees, ensuring a workforce that is adaptable, innovative, and capable of meeting the evolving needs of technology-driven industries. 

The potential for upskilling and reskilling within the Emerald Belt Strategy is significant. The strategic investments in education and vocational training programs are designed not only to equip individuals with the skills needed for current employment opportunities but also to enable continuous learning and adaptation to emerging technologies. This commitment to lifelong learning ensures that the  strategy’s workforce remains agile and responsive to the evolving demands of the global economy. 

Furthermore, the strategy becomes a hub for cross-border talent development and regional expansion opportunities. The collaborative approach to talent cultivation facilitates the exchange of best practices, industry insights, and specialized skills among the member nations. This cross-pollination of knowledge and expertise positions the strategy as a regional center for excellence, attracting international businesses and creating a network of skilled professionals with a shared commitment to technological advancement and innovation. 

The strategic positioning of the Emerald Belt Strategy creates a unique location for trade, amplifying its attractiveness to foreign direct investment (FDI). The strategy’s central location within Southeast  Asia, spanning Indonesia, Borneo Island, and the Southern Philippines, places it at the crossroads of major trade routes. The strategy’s advantageous geographical placement enhances its role as a key hub for international trade, providing an ideal gateway for businesses looking to access markets within  Southeast Asia and beyond. 

The major urban and city developments within the strategy, such as Jakarta, Nusantara, Kuching,  Bandar Seri Begawan, Kota Kinabalu, and Zamboanga, contribute significantly to the region’s appeal for foreign direct investment. These urban centers serve as focal points for economic activities, 

boasting robust infrastructures, skilled labour pools, and vibrant business environments.  Multinational corporations are drawn to invest in these dynamic cities, taking advantage of the strategic locations that offer both regional and global connectivity. 

The major sea passageway, bolstered by the adoption of innovative technologies, further enhances the strategy’s attractiveness for foreign direct investment. The efficient and technologically advanced maritime infrastructure ensures smooth sea transportation, facilitating the movement of goods and services within the region and globally. This logistical advantage not only reduces operational costs for businesses but also positions the strategy as a pivotal player in the global supply chain, attracting investments from industries reliant on efficient maritime transportation. 

The coastal line along the Emerald Belt Strategy becomes a strategic asset for foreign and domestic investments. The proximity to the coast provides an ideal setting for industries such as shipping,  logistics, and manufacturing to thrive. Coastal areas are not only advantageous for maritime activities but also offer opportunities for renewable energy projects, tourism, and sustainable development.  The availability of coastal zones for development attracts a diverse range of investments, fostering economic diversification and contributing to the overall resilience of the strategy’s economy. 

Emphasizing technology and innovation as key drivers for foreign direct investment further sets the strategy apart. Multinational corporations are increasingly seeking locations that offer a conducive environment for technological advancements and innovation. The strategy’s commitment to these principles positions it as an attractive destination for forward-thinking companies looking to establish a foothold in a region poised for technological growth. 

The anticipated influx of foreign direct investment is not merely a financial boost but also a catalyst for economic growth, job creation, and knowledge transfer within the strategy. As multinational corporations invest in technology-driven industries, the region’s technology ecosystem strengthens,  creating a positive feedback loop that attracts further investment and fosters sustainable economic development. 

Within the Emerald Belt Strategy, the potential for fostering entrepreneurship and cultivating a  vibrant start-up culture is amplified by the upside of capital injection for startups. The region’s commitment to providing financial support and incentives for startups becomes a driving force for innovation. Access to venture capital and angel investors not only accelerates the growth of emerging businesses but also allows them to explore and experiment with novel ideas, contributing to the diversification and dynamism of the start-up ecosystem. 

The establishment of a collaborative technology and innovation hub between the countries within the strategy serves as a catalyst for entrepreneurship. This hub becomes a melting pot for creativity,  where startups from Indonesia, Borneo Island, and the Southern Philippines converge to share ideas,  collaborate on projects, and leverage each other’s strengths. The collaborative ecosystem facilitates the cross-pollination of innovative concepts, fostering a culture of knowledge exchange and cooperation that transcends national boundaries. 

Access to facilities and facilitation is a key factor in nurturing a robust start-up culture within the strategy. The provision of co-working spaces, incubators, and accelerators equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure creates an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive. These facilities not only offer a physical space for startups to operate but also provide access to mentorship, networking opportunities, and resources essential for their growth and success.

The development of a comprehensive program on technology commercialization further enhances the entrepreneurial landscape within the Emerald Belt Strategy. This program focuses on bridging the gap between research and market-ready products, guiding startups through the intricate process of bringing innovations to commercial viability. By providing support in areas such as intellectual property rights, market research, and product development, the program empowers entrepreneurs to navigate the complexities of the business landscape, facilitating the successful commercialization of technology-driven ideas. 

As startups progress through the growing stage, the Emerald Belt Strategy becomes a melting pot for an entrepreneurship mindset, culture, and practice. The collaborative spirit, coupled with mentorship programs and government support, fosters an environment where risk-taking is encouraged, failure is seen as a stepping stone to success, and a resilient entrepreneurial mindset is ingrained in the fabric of the business community. This culture of entrepreneurship permeates various sectors, creating a  ripple effect that inspires aspiring entrepreneurs and contributes to the strategy’s reputation as an innovation-driven economic powerhouse. 

The Emerald Belt Strategy stands as a beacon of hope for achieving Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs) by offering a unique opportunity to champion sustainable practices that align with the SDG  objectives and targets. By embracing green technologies and sustainable initiatives, the strategy positions itself as a key player in contributing to the global agenda of addressing climate change,  reducing inequality, and fostering environmental sustainability. The region’s commitment to sustainable development aligns with the United Nations’ SDG framework, providing a roadmap for inclusive, environmentally conscious economic growth. 

The strategy becomes a focal point for biodiversity advocacy, leveraging its rich ecological diversity for the preservation of natural resources and ecosystems. With Borneo Island at its heart, the region becomes a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna, making it an ideal platform for conservation efforts.  Collaborative initiatives aimed at protecting and restoring biodiversity become integral to the strategy’s sustainable development strategy, fostering a sense of responsibility for the region’s unique natural heritage. 

The geographical footprint of the strategy makes it an ideal candidate for carbon offset initiatives. The lush landscapes and vast green areas offer opportunities for afforestation and reforestation projects,  contributing to carbon sequestration. By actively engaging in carbon offset programs, the strategy not only mitigates its own carbon footprint but also plays a significant role in global efforts to combat climate change. This commitment to environmental responsibility positions the region as a leader in sustainable practices, attracting investments from industries and organizations seeking to offset their carbon emissions. 

The Emerald Belt Strategy has the potential to become the central governance hub for environmental preservation, protection, and policy within the ASEAN region. By fostering collaboration among member nations and aligning environmental policies, the strategy sets a precedent for regional environmental governance. This centralized approach enables the strategy to address transboundary environmental challenges, implement cohesive policies, and lead by example in sustainable development practices. The strategy’s influence extends beyond its borders, inspiring neighboring countries to adopt similar environmental preservation measures. 

Promoting renewable energy, sustainable agriculture practices, and eco-friendly infrastructure development are integral components of the strategy’s sustainable development strategy. The region becomes a living laboratory for testing and implementing innovative solutions that reduce carbon emissions, minimize ecological impact, and enhance resource efficiency. These initiatives not only 

contribute to global efforts in combating climate change but also position the strategy as a front-runner in sustainable technological advancements, attracting global recognition for its commitment to green and clean practices. 

Watch closely as this region unfurls over the next two decades.  


(Dr. Eric Balan is the chief executive officer of Asiatech, which utilizes digital connectivity to fill the gaps in the fields of education, research, and innovation. He also published three books on geoeconomic strategy and development efficiency.)



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