The Asia Pacific’s Cyber Future is Now: Reflections From My Recent Trip to Singapore

October 26, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama, center, does the ASEAN style handshake before the start of the ASEAN-U.S. Summit Meeting at National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos.

As one of the most connected regions in the world, the future economic and social growth of the Asia-Pacific region is tied to an Internet that continues to allow citizens and businesses to create and innovate. Regional experts from business, civil society, and government have fully embraced the multi-stakeholder model where all stakeholders are involved in creating an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable Internet. We recognize that if we want to experience more innovation through the Internet as well as information and communications technologies, then nations should recognize their roles in this larger multi-stakeholder community and contribute to the Internet’s continued success. The G-7 and other groups support this positive vision and approach in part because it empowers citizens and strengthens economies.

Traditionally, nation-states play important and leading roles in law enforcement, facilitating transnational cooperation, and defining principles of state behavior that can contribute to international peace and security.  Countries have these responsibilities in cyberspace as well, which is why we are promoting robust cooperation between states and a framework of international cyber-stability for responsible state behavior.  The United States’ work in this area also benefits from meaningful input from the private sector and civil society.  I share this perspective with my counterparts whenever I travel and appreciated the receptive audience I encountered during my trip to attend the inaugural Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW).   

I was honored to represent the United States and deliver a keynote address outlining the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace at SICW.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who opened the event, officially launched Singapore’s National Cyber Strategy –- exemplifying Singapore’s focus on cybersecurity at the highest level. Singapore also announced an $8 million (USD) ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program to build cyber capacity in ASEAN Member States. As a key partner for the region, we welcomed these announcements as examples of Singapore’s commitment to cyber issues. President Obama and Prime Minster Lee’s official statement and the cybersecurity memorandum of understanding we signed this summer also demonstrate this commitment.

SICW 2016 attracted many key ASEAN representatives, which provided the opportunity to discuss areas for further collaboration around cybersecurity. Speaking at a recent U.S-ASEAN meeting in Laos, President Obama noted, “ASEAN is key to the U.S. rebalance to Asia, and, more importantly, it’s key to a peaceful and prosperous future for the world.  And we have forged a strategic partnership.  The United States is committed to building on this solid foundation.” Our partnership on cyber issues builds on that foundation.  At the U.S.-ASEAN Summits at Sunnylands and in Vientiane this year, and through the announcement of U.S.-ASEAN Connect, our nations affirmed a shared commitment to promote security and stability in cyberspace consistent with norms of responsible state behavior.

Meeting with ASEAN representatives in Singapore. [State Department Photo].

The ASEAN Regional Forum is another key arena for our cooperation on cybersecurity as it has an important role to play in the development and implementation of regional cyber confidence building measures. Our work on confidence building measures is in-line with one of the founding ASEAN Regional Forum objectives – which is “to make significant contributions towards confidence building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region.”  I discussed this cooperation during panel discussions at the conference -- including to a select group of international leaders where I outlined the need for more countries to develop national strategies and plan for cyber resilience.  

The cyber-enabled theft of millions of dollars from Bangladesh’s central bank, the recent distributed denial-of-service attacks that led to widespread outages of popular websites in the United States and abroad, and other headline-grabbing cyber incidents have awakened many to the range of cyber threats facing the international community. A growing number of people understand that malicious actors seek to compromise networks and exploit user data for commercial and disruptive aims.  Despite our best individual efforts, rapid developments in cyberspace make it difficult to predict and prevent every determined and well-resourced bad actor. Therefore it is vital that we respond to these mounting threats with increased cooperation. 

That is why I was so encouraged by the SICW 2016 theme, Building a Secure and Resilient Digital Future through Partnerships. Since its founding five years ago my office at the U.S. Department of State has been dedicated to expanding international cooperation and understanding on cyber issues. This priority requires a whole-of-government approach within our domestic agencies and those of our global partners. My counterparts in the Asia Pacific region understand this and are ready to chart a path towards a secure cyberspace where we all can realize its economic and social benefits.  

About the Author: Christopher Painter serves as the U.S. Department of State's Coordinator for Cyber Issues

Editor's Note: This entry also appeared on in the State Department's Foggy Bottom publication. 

For More Information:

  • Read other DipNote blogs by Coordinator Painter on cyber issues.
  • Follow the State Department's Cyber Issues Office on Twitter @State_Cyber and on Facebook.
  • Join the coversation online with #cyberaware to learn more about cybersecurity issues.

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