ASEAN rejects rules on artificial intelligence, contrary to the European Union’s ambitions

TIME.CO, Jakarta – Southeast Asian countries adopt a business-friendly regulatory approach artificial intelligence as a setback to the European Union’s push to harmonize regulations globally and align with its own rigid regulatory framework.

Reuters has reviewed a confidential draft of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) “Guidelines on AI Ethics and Governance”, the contents of which have not previously been reported.

Three sources told Reuters the draft has been distributed to technology companies for input and is expected to be finalized by the end of January 2024 at the ASEAN Digital Ministers Meeting. Companies that have received it include Meta (META.O), IBM (IBM.N) and Google (GOOGL.O).

EU officials earlier this year visited Asian countries in a bid to convince the region’s governments to follow its lead in adopting new AI rules for tech companies that include disclosure of protected content copyrighted and generated by artificial intelligence.

Unlike EU AI law, ASEAN’s “AI Guidelines” ask companies to consider countries’ cultural differences and not define unacceptable risk categories, according to the version currently under review. Like all ASEAN policies, this policy is voluntary and intended to guide national regulations.

With a population of nearly 700 million people and more than a thousand ethnic and cultural groups, Southeast Asian countries have different laws regulating censorship, disinformation, public content and hate speech that are likely to have a impact on AI regulation. Thailand, for example, has laws prohibiting criticism of its monarchy.

Tech executives say ASEAN’s non-interventional approach is more business-friendly because it limits the burden of compliance in a region where local regulations are already complex and allows for greater innovation.

“We are also pleased to see this guidance align with other leading AI frameworks, such as the US NIST AI Risk Management Framework,” said Stephen Braim, vice president of government affairs at IBM Asia, referring to the voluntary guidance developed by the United States Department of Justice. National Institute for Trading Standards and Technology.

Meta and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

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Benefits versus harms

The guidance, which will be reviewed periodically, urges the government to help companies by funding research and development and establishing an ASEAN Digital Ministerial Working Group on Artificial Intelligence Applications.

Senior officials from three ASEAN countries say they are optimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence in Southeast Asia and believe the EU is pushing ahead with regulations too quickly before the harms and benefits of the technology are fully understood.


The ASEAN guidance advises companies to implement AI risk assessment frameworks and AI governance training, but leaves the specifics up to companies and local regulators.

“We see this as a ‘guardrail’ for safer AI,” one official told Reuters. “We still want innovation.”

The guidance warns of the risks of using AI for disinformation, “deepfakes” and identity theft, but leaves the onus on individual countries to figure out how best to respond.

Other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have also shown a more flexible approach to AI regulation, casting doubt on the EU’s ambitions to establish global rules-based standards for AI governance that would apply to all its 27 member states.

Driving the EU push is concern in Brussels over the rapid development of artificial intelligence and its impact on civil rights and security, which places risk control and law enforcement at the heart of the bill.

While ASEAN does not have the authority to legislate, its preference for member countries to determine their own policies puts those countries on a very different path than the EU.

The EU’s struggle to build a global consensus on regulating AI stands in stark contrast to its more successful campaign over the past decade to establish data protection laws that have become an example for other major countries around the world .

“What we think is important is to have similar principles,” a European Commission spokesperson told Reuters. “We do not seek complete harmonization, as we are aware of cultural differences, but we believe the underlying principles are important.”

EU officials and lawmakers told Reuters the bloc would continue to hold talks with Southeast Asian countries to align on broader principles.

“If we want AI to be used for good, we need to unify the basic principles human rights,” Dutch Minister for Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen told Reuters. “I think we’re far from hopeful that we can’t close the gap.”

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