A Trump presidency can make Asia tech great again

With a potential US president who may scare off foreign tech investors and hinder its ability to innovate, Asia can step in as a viable alternative but first needs to put in place the necessary pieces.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

In less than five months, the US will go to the polls for its 58th presidential election and decide on its 45th head of state. Whoever wins it, the country will be marking a significant milestone in its presidential history: either it gets its first female president or, for the first time ever, the US will be led by a red-haired orange buffoon.

Important questions will be asked. Is it a combover or a really cheap toupee? Is that simply a strange choice for a spray tan or a sunbedding session gone bad?

On a less serious note, of course we're not here to debate a nation's choice for its head of state...their country, their choice, they get to live with it. For the rest of us munching on our popcorn from outside the US, we're simply waiting to see if their next president will eventually become their least travelled (from being the least invited) and likely the least liked foreign dignitary.

Indeed, Donald Drumpf...oops, I mean, Donald Trump's climb to presidential nomination has baffled international media and observers. Here's a guy who has thrown baseless accusations against several groups of people including Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, and even the Pope, incited political violence, and uttered misogynist statements, including creepy ones about his own daughter.

Speaking at the RNC this past week, Trump reiterated his intent to build that famous wall, suggested the US would not defend NATO allies under attack, and once again threatened to limit trade deals with China.

The possibility that this same person may very well become the US head of state has concerned many around the world.

Following Trump's address at the RNC, Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China, said: "Sorry U.S., the world is looking tonight and you, you ain't looking good."

Others had been more forthright. "If he becomes president, it will be a disaster," noted former Danish foreign minister Martin Lidegaard. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: "Trump, like others, stokes hatred and conflations." Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also noted: "I consider Donald Trump a man who invests a lot in a policy of fear."

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo summed it up best: "Mr Trump is so stupid, my god, my god."

Unbelievable as it may seem right now, though, Trump may very well become the 45th US president. What happens then?

Well, it can mean great things for Asia's tech landscape and community, if the region is able to bring together the necessary pieces.

Rising as a cohesive tech hub

With Trump at the helm, and hostile towards immigrants, foreign investors and businesses will be looking elsewhere to park their money and house employees. This may lead to a brain drain from the US industry and, eventually, cripple its ability to innovate.

In an open letter released earlier this month, more than 140 individuals from a usually apolitical Silicon Valley voiced their opposition to Trump as president. Supporters included internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak.

"We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation," the letter stated. "His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy--and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth."

With Europe's post-Brexit future still uncertain, Asia will offer the best alternative for tech businesses looking to expand their footprint outside of the volatile Trump-led US market. Already, three of the world's four largest countries by population reside in Asia, offering a vast consumer market on which to test new products and labour pool from which to support their R&D efforts.

The Singapore government, for instance, which has been aggressively pitching its tech startup ecosystem, can look to funnel more US investors towards local shores. Furthermore, it can help drive further collaboration among its Asean counterparts and collectively market the region as a tech hub.

Once the world's leading tech innovator, Japan also can once again emerge and attempt to reclaim its place. More significantly, China's One Belt, One Road initiative may garner more support and clout as the platform to boost cross-border economic ties between key markets in Asia--specifically Asean--Europe, and Africa.

Through One Belt, the Chinese government is hoping to drive multinational cooperation in emerging industries, including next-generation information technology, biotechnology, and energy technology. Among others, it wants to facilitate collaboration in science and technology, establish joint labs or research facilities, and international technology transfer centres.

Amid an uncertain Trump-led US market, governments in Asean as well as the rest of Asia will have more urgency to want the One Belt initiative to succeed.

But, there are challenges...

There are, however, critical barriers and issues to be resolved first.

Topmost is the South China Sea dispute. The standoff between the Philippines and China may stall progress. As it is, Southeast Asian nations have failed to reach an agreement on their stance in the matter.

China's unwillingness to recognise international laws also can jeopardise its One Belt efforts, with governments in the region potentially doubtful about any agreement that will need to be established to facilitate cross-border trade and collaboration.

Asia needs to resolve its differences and demonstrate it is able to come together to be a global tech hub. Various markets within the region also will need to ensure their local infrastructure and legal framework can effectively support the intricacies of enterprise cloud deployments and emerging technology markets such as Internet of Things.

Above all, cybersecurity should be a key consideration and all Asian governments will need to put in place the necessary capabilities to provide for this.

These are tough barriers to break through, especially with China an important piece in the gameplay. However, if the Chinese government is indeed keen to revive the old "Silk Road Spirit"--the premise behind the One Belt initiative--and reestablish "peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit", then it should seriously reassess its position. It has a key role to play to help rebuild the bustling trade ecosystem that Silk Road once provided, enabling the "prosperity and development of countries along the Silk Road".

In fact, all Asian nations have important roles in driving and establishing the region as a leading tech hub. We have some of the world's highest mobile populations, we have the talent pool, and we now have the potential to leapfrog current global leaders.

To take a leaf of Trump's book, it is time to make Asia tech great again.

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