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Digitalization in Asia-Pacific Region and Policy Implications for Korea APEC, ICT economy

Author Yungshin Jang, Sungil Kwak, Soyoung Kwak, Eunbin Park, Seongman Moon, and Sang-yirl Nam Series 20-24 Language Korean Date 2020.12.30

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   This study examines the progress of digitalization in the Asia- Pacific region, compares and analyzes the digital transformation policies of major economies in the region using text mining techniques, and demonstrates the effect of the digital gap on economic performance by dividing the regional economic development stage by individual country. Also, an empirical analysis was performed on how the difference in access to digital technology and intensity of use has an impact not only on the overall economic performance of a country but also labor market performance through the mechanism of individual human capital accumulation. The analysis results suggest APEC and its member economies focus their capabilities on digital inclusion policies. And the results propose a direction for strengthening APEC’s function as an international cooperation platform for digital inclusion in the region, and a cooperation plan for strengthening digital cooperation in Korea.
   Chapter 2 compares the progress of digitalization in each stage of economic development in the Asia-Pacific region and the digital competitiveness of significant economies in the region, and examines the status of digital economy cooperation in APEC fora. The digital gap between high- and low-income member economies of APEC is examined using ICT indicators published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). According to the results of our comparative analysis of digital competitiveness in 10 major developing economies in the region, using the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, etc., there was a digital gap by income group within APEC in terms of the quality of ICT infrastructure utilization and companies’ ICT utilization. But, fortunately, the gap appears to be shrinking in terms of ICT accessibility. After adopting the APEC Action Agenda for the Digital Economy and APEC Internet and Digital Economy Roadmap for the first time in APEC’s core agenda in 2017, the number of digital economy-related cooperation projects within the APEC fora has steadily increased.
   In Chapter 3 text mining techniques are used to compare and analyze critical areas of digital transformation policy pursued by major developing economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam and leading APEC members in the digital sector such as Korea and the United States, China, and Japan. While certain differences exist, digitally leading countries tend to focus on basic and applied research, talent attraction, and development. In contrast, digitally developing economies focus on public sector reform and infrastructure creation. The results also confirm that both digitally developed and developing economies’ groups have focused on using digital transformation as a tool for economic growth rather than improving digital inclusion and international cooperation. Also, these policies have been implemented within each country rather than as a form of international cooperation.
   Chapter 4 analyzes the impact of progress on digitalization in the Asia-Pacific region on economic growth and income inequalities. For this, we measure the degree of digitalization at the country level by ICT accessibility (e.g., the sum of fixed telephone subscriptions per 100 people and mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 people) and ICT use intensity (e.g., the ratio of fixed broadband subscriptions to individuals using the internet). We first study the relation between digitalization and economic growth using country-level panel data. We construct two samples for comparison: one the total sample, which consists of 114 economies globally, and the other the APEC sample, which consists of 17 out of the 21 APEC member economies for which data was available. According to the estimation results, economies with larger ICT accessibility have higher economic growth rates for both samples. We also find that ICT use intensity increases economic growth rates for both samples. We also study the relation between digitalization and income inequality using country-level panel data. We construct two samples for comparison: one the total sample, which consists of 134 economies globally, and the other the APEC sample, which consists of 18 out of 21 APEC member economies for which data was available. According to the estimation results, ICT accessibility tends to reduce Gini coefficients for both samples. Regarding the effects of ICT use intensity, the results are reversed: ICT use intensity tends to raise the Gini coefficient for both samples. But the estimates are not statistically significant for the APEC sample. We further study if the effects of digitalization on income inequalities are different across income levels. For high-income economies, ICT accessibility and ICT use intensity negatively affect income inequalities, while for low-income economies, ICT accessibility tends to improve income inequalities.
   In Chapter 5, we study how digitalization affects labor market outcomes using individual workers’ survey data. In particular, we investigate how individual workers’ digitalization affects the probability of being employed and wages. For this, we produce the survey data of individual workers in Korea and Vietnam. We select Korea, which belongs to the high-income group in the APEC economies and Vietnam, which belongs to the low-income group. We measure the level of individual workers’ digitalization classifying individual workers’ ICT accessibility, ICT use intensity, and interaction between ICT use intensity and human capital. According to the estimation results, workers who use ICT more intensively are more likely to be employed and to receive higher wages for both Korea and Vietnam samples. However, the statistical relationships are weak in the Vietnam sample. The different results between Korea and Vietnam samples may be because there are more ICT skill-related jobs in Korea than in Vietnam. Here, workers’ ICT use intensity is measured by the ratio of working hours spent using the internet (or computer or mobile phone) to total working hours. We also measure ICT use intensity qualitatively by constructing an index based on information about workers’ various ICT-related activities such as obtaining data and information via the internet, looking for and applying for a job via the internet, internet banking experience, etc. We find that workers with higher ICT use quality index are more likely to be employed and have higher wages for the Vietnam sample. These results imply that the variables that measure ICT use intensity qualitatively capture better the labor market impacts rather than quantitative approaches. Regarding the effects of ICT accessibility, we find that the results are different between the two samples. For the Korean sample, ICT accessibility does not much affect labor market outcomes, while ICT accessibility improves the probability of being employed for the Vietnam sample. This result is mainly    due to the difference in ICT accessibility between Korea and Vietnam: Almost all workers in the Korea sample can access ICT-related devices such as mobile phones and computers and the internet.
   The analyzed results above indicate that APEC and its member economies should focus their policy capabilities on digital inclusion to minimize the side effects of the national and individual digital divide which can appear as digitalization progresses. Chapter 6 presents three criteria to be considered when APEC sets the direction to strengthen its function as an international cooperation platform for digital inclusion in the region. First, considering convergence is a prevalent feature of the digital economy, the collaboration within APEC fora should be emphasized in digital inclusion cooperation across various subjects and areas. Second, in consideration of APEC’s economic status as the world's most extensive regional cooperation body, cooperation among the APEC economies should be emphasized so that the different interests of the economies in various economic development stages on digitalization and digital inclusion can be synchronized and balanced. Third, considering APEC has consistently emphasized public-private cooperation, unlike other international organizations and regional councils, the triangular cooperation channel between government, private enterprises, and experts within APEC should be effectively utilized on digital inclusion.
   Under these three principles, in strengthening the APEC’s function as a platform for digital inclusion, we present five cooperation initiatives for Korea, as a leading economy in the digital sector, to establish itself early on in the agenda for digital inclusion within APEC and become a rule-setter in the area. First, we propose that APEC build a collaborative culture among APEC fora by improving project evaluation criteria. Considering the issues have cross-cutting and convergence features, this improvement could induce APEC to address more digital inclusion issues and endorse more joint projects on digital inclusion. Second, Korea could propose a project on discovering effective digital inclusion policies within APEC economies and sharing their success stories. For example, based on its experiences with the Digital New Deal policy, Korea could play a leading role in proposing research projects on holding workshops or publishing books about best policies and practices regarding digital inclusion. Third, Korea can position itself as an early mover in digital inclusion agenda in the healthcare sector by proposing or cooperating with other APEC economies on digital healthcare projects, considering the importance of digital healthcare in the post-pandemic world. For example, building and improving on the “K-Quarantine” online platform in cooperation with other economies interested in the platform could be a promising approach. It would be possible for Korea to beneficially share its strong experience and rich data in combating COVID-19 with other APEC members through the online platform. Fourth, we also suggest that Korea should play a leading role in devising and improving digitalization measurement indexes and indicators, taking into account the stages of economic development and conditions in the APEC region. These could contribute to strengthening research on digital inclusion within the APEC regions by providing essential data to study digital inclusion, such as measuring the impacts of digitalization or digital divide on economic growth or inequality. Fifth, we propose establishing an digitalization integrated data information system for the APEC region to collect and manage data showing the status of digitization of APEC member economies in the long term. To make it possible, as an ICT leader, Korea should play an active role in the process of designing and constructing the system.

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