Since the term “Industry 4.0” made its debut in 2011, it has quickly gained attention across the globe.
We have seen several transitions in the manufacturing process through the previous industrial revolutions, which gave birth to mass production and automation. Today, we are entering the Industry 4.0 era that represents another phase of automation, where computers and machines are equipped with artificial intelligence and can understand and control sudden problems in the production line with little or no input from human operators.
The manufacturing landscape has changed rapidly, with mechanization and digitalization from previous industrial revolutions, but Industry 4.0 will bring a paradigm shift in the global production system at an unprecedented pace through the convergence of computers and automation.
Korea has been at the forefront of industrial revolutions. Its economy experienced rapid transformation from an agriculture-based industry to a high value-added manufacturing powerhouse. Recognising the worldwide trends going toward a digital economy, the new government under President Moon Jae-in has brought forward the “fourth industrial revolution” as a key agenda.
Amid Korea’s slowing industrial growth since 2010, Moon sees the fourth industrial revolution as a new growth engine which can bring about positive impact, bolstering productivity and employment.
Given its high level of technology, well-structured information, and communication technology infrastructure and innovative society, Korea’s economy has vast opportunities in the era of digital revolution. During his presidential campaign, Moon stressed that the new government would implement policies that support the fourth industrial revolution, going so far as to double the budget for science research by 2020.
The new government is expecting significant change under a digitalized economy, in which the country’s industrial competitiveness will be strengthened through more efficient production and lower cost.
Industry 4.0 is not confined to advanced economies. Asean is a regional bloc of 10 countries that are all in different stages of economic development. Asean has emerged as a new manufacturing base partly due to rising labor costs in China. Its manufacturing sector has been further strengthened by its remarkable market potential and high economic growth.
It has been cited that Asean needs to quickly address Industry 4.0 and prepare its workforce so that it can meet the unprecedented demand from the changing production system.
Otherwise, the opportunities may be relocated back to China. To this end, the Asean leaders underlined at the 30th Asean Summit that Asean should steer toward “a more dynamic, creative and innovative region in an interconnected and interoperable digital economy by utilizing ICT.”
The concerted efforts to propel Asean toward a digitally enabled economy have been further emphasized through the Asean Economic Community 2025 vision, which highlights acceleration of technology and innovation to capitalize on global mega trends. The AEC 2025 vision is supported by the Asean ICT Masterplan 2020 that envisions Asean equipped with the “latest infrastructure, technology, digital skill sets, information, applications and services.”
Building on these cohesive efforts, Asean needs to embrace “creative destruction” and upskill its workforces to become a digital economic bloc. The transition toward a digital economy will be a springboard for further regional integration and inclusive economic development.
In this regard, Asean and Korea could be the best partners. In just 50 years, Korea successfully transformed itself from a war-torn, poor country to a world-class, high-tech economy. Korea’s industrial success can provide invaluable lessons to Asean in its aspirations to become a digital economy.
The complementary partnership between Asean and Korea will bring about mutual benefits and achieve win-win outcomes in the era of Industry 4.0.
Reflecting the potential benefits of industrial upgrading through digitalization and automation, the Asean -Korea Center has implemented a number of trade and investment programs on the industrial segments related to Industry 4.0, such as e-commerce in Brunei, service robots in Singapore, a smart city in Indonesia, smart manufacturing in Malaysia, software and IT in Thailand, and an investment promotion seminar on ICT in Seoul.
Other events that will take place include a trade facilitation workshop on the Internet of Things in Thailand; a capacity-building workshop for the Greater Mekong subregion; and a cross-border e-commerce and investment mission to Vietnam in the sector of industrial robots.
Asean member states have shown significant interest in these demand-driven and needs-based programs, which aim to share Korea’s expertise and know-how in digitalizing its economy.
By keeping up with the rapid changes taking place on a daily basis in the era of Industry 4.0, Asean and Korea can turn opportunities into reality through a closer partnership.
(Kim Young-sun, The writer is secretary-general of the Asean-Korea Center and former ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Indonesia, The Korea Herald/The Jakartapost.com)