ASEAN’s Unique AI Rules Pose a Challenge to EU’s Unified Vision


  • Asean’s “guide to AI ethics and governance” reveals a business-friendly approach in AI regulation, in contrast to the EU’s push for global harmonized rules.
  • The draft, reviewed by Reuters, emphasizes cultural differences and avoids strict risk categories, differing significantly from the EU’s AI Act.
  • Asean’s voluntary and hands-off approach aims to foster innovation, with technology companies like Meta, IBM, and Google providing feedback.

In a strategic move that challenges the European Union’s ambitious pursuit of globally harmonized AI rules, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a business-friendly approach to artificial intelligence (AI) regulation. A confidential draft of the ASEAN’s “guide to AI ethics and governance,” reviewed by Reuters, reveals a divergent path that emphasizes cultural considerations and refrains from imposing strict risk categories. This stands in stark contrast to the EU’s stringent AI Act, reflecting a significant setback to the EU’s efforts for a unified global framework.

AI rules and ASEAN’s business-friendly approach challenges EU ambitions

In a confidential draft of the ASEAN’s “guide to AI ethics and governance,” reviewed by Reuters, the Southeast Asian nations are shaping a distinct path in AI regulation, deviating from the European Union’s global aspirations. Unlike the EU’s AI Act, which aims for strict harmonization, the ASEAN guide adopts a voluntary approach. It urges technology companies, including Meta, IBM, and Google, to consider cultural differences when implementing AI technologies. This approach acknowledges the diverse regulatory landscapes within the ASEAN region, where rules governing censorship, misinformation, and hate speech vary widely.

Technology luminaries extol the commendable and comparatively laissez-faire stance adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on technological matters, lauding its inherently business-friendly disposition that, in turn, mitigates the onerous compliance encumbrance. In the intricate tapestry of extant local legislation within the region, ASEAN’s judicious approach emerges as a veritable enabler of heightened innovation, concurrently providing a structured scaffold harmoniously attuned to the precepts delineated in preeminent artificial intelligence (AI) frameworks across the globe. 

The Vice President of Government Affairs at IBM Asia, the esteemed Stephen Braim, astutely underscores the congruence between ASEAN’s guiding principles and the esteemed United States’ National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) AI Risk Management Framework, thereby accentuating a panoramic acceptance of the overarching tenets that undergird the realm of AI.

ASEAN’s perspective on AI governance

Senior officials in three ASEAN countries express optimism about AI’s potential for Southeast Asia while questioning the EU’s haste in implementing regulations without fully understanding the technology’s harms and benefits. The ASEAN guide recommends governments to support companies through research and development funding, fostering a collaborative environment. It establishes an ASEAN digital ministers working group on AI implementation, emphasizing periodic reviews of the guidelines.

While advising companies to implement AI risk assessment structures and governance training, the ASEAN guide refrains from providing specific directives. Officials characterize it as putting “guardrails” for safer AI without stifling innovation. The guide acknowledges the risks associated with AI, including misinformation and deepfakes, leaving it to individual countries to determine the most effective response. This flexible approach aligns with the diverse regulatory environments within the ASEAN member states.

ASEAN’s hands-off approach to AI regulation presents a formidable challenge to the European Union’s quest for a global standard. The divergent paths reveal contrasting philosophies in balancing innovation, cultural considerations, and risk mitigation. As ASEAN shapes its voluntary guidelines, the EU continues to seek alignment on broader principles, illustrating the complex landscape of AI governance on the global stage. The outcome of this clash of approaches will undoubtedly influence the future trajectory of AI development and regulation worldwide.

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Aamir Sheikh

Amir is a media, marketing and content professional working in the digital industry. A veteran in content production Amir is now an enthusiastic cryptocurrency proponent, analyst and writer.

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