Southeast Asia Embraces Business-Friendly AI Regulation



Key Takeaways

  • Southeast Asian countries opt for a business-friendly approach to AI regulation.
  • The ASEAN “AI guide” encourages cultural sensitivity and voluntary compliance, challenging the EU’s quest for global AI regulation alignment.

The ASEAN Approach and EU’s Pursuit for Alignment

Southeast Asian countries are diverging from the European Union’s (EU) strict framework for AI regulation. In a confidential draft of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “guide to AI ethics and governance,” reviewed by Reuters, ASEAN’s approach emphasizes cultural differences and voluntary compliance, offering an alternative to the EU’s stringent rules. This approach is now under discussion with major technology companies and is expected to be finalized in January 2024.


The European Union has been on a mission to encourage countries in the Asian region to adopt its rigorous AI rules, including measures such as requiring the disclosure of copyrighted and AI-generated content. However, ASEAN’s approach, as outlined in the “AI guide,” presents a stark contrast. Rather than imposing strict regulations, it encourages companies to consider cultural sensitivities and refrains from specifying unacceptable risk categories. Furthermore, it is essential to understand that the ASEAN guidelines are voluntary, serving as recommendations for domestic regulations.

Business-Friendly Climate

The decision of Southeast Asian countries to adopt a more business-friendly approach to AI regulation is well-received by technology executives. This approach eases the compliance burden, particularly in regions where existing local laws are already complex. It also fosters an environment conducive to innovation. Notably, IBM Asia’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Stephen Braim, mentioned that the ASEAN “AI guide” aligns closely with other leading AI frameworks, such as the United States’ NIST AI Risk Management Framework.


Southeast Asia comprises nearly 700 million people from over a thousand ethnic groups and cultures. This diversity results in widely divergent rules governing censorship, misinformation, public content, and hate speech. For instance, Thailand has stringent laws against criticizing its monarchy. The ASEAN approach recognizes this diversity and strives to accommodate these cultural differences.

Balancing Innovation and Regulation

While the ASEAN “AI guide” encourages companies to establish an AI risk assessment structure and provide AI governance training, it allows the specifics to be determined by individual companies and local regulators. This approach is seen as a way to set ‘guardrails’ for safer AI while continuing to promote innovation.


Other Asian nations, including Japan and South Korea, have also signaled a more relaxed approach to AI regulation. This complicates the EU’s ambition to establish a global standard for AI governance. The European Union’s concerns about the rapid development of AI and its implications for civil rights and security have led to a focus on risk controls and enforcement in its proposed legislation.

Continued Dialogue and Collaboration

ASEAN, as an organization, lacks legislative powers but emphasizes member states’ autonomy in determining their policy directions. This differs significantly from the EU’s approach. While the EU seeks alignment on underlying principles, it is not aiming for full harmonization due to cultural differences.


EU officials and lawmakers plan to continue discussions with Southeast Asian states, aiming to find common ground on fundamental human rights principles for AI use. As Southeast Asian nations prioritize a business-friendly approach and cultural considerations in AI regulation, the path to aligning with the EU’s stringent rules may require further dialogue and collaboration to bridge differences.