How Can South Korea Teach, Lead, and Better Engage with the Asia-Pacific in Shaping Data Governance for the 5G Era?

How Can South Korea Teach, Lead, and Better Engage with the Asia-Pacific in Shaping Data Governance for the 5G Era?

by Clara Gillispie
October 27, 2021

This essay explores how South Korea might contribute to the crafting of a new strategy designed to strengthen and better align regional approaches to data governance.



South Korea has not always fit cleanly into various U.S.-, Japanese-, or Chinese-led efforts to shape data governance in the Asia-Pacific. Yet there are few countries as important to the success of any collaborative effort to improve and better align regional data governance practices. South Korea not only is at the forefront of designing and producing a range of next-generation technologies but also is in the midst of a multiyear effort to reform its own data governance policies to better deploy these technologies. Moreover, South Korea has been a champion of prior efforts within APEC and other forums to address barriers to information flows. Identifying opportunities to learn from, build on, and further sharpen Seoul’s existing efforts would benefit both South Korea and numerous regional stakeholders.

  • States and international bodies interested in regional data governance can learn from South Korea’s ongoing process of wrestling with the debates inherent in data governance and reforming its frameworks. These insights include how public policy can benefit from inviting input from industry, civil society, and other stakeholders outside government into decision-making processes.
  • Both formal legislation and statements by the Moon administration are suggestive of South Korean goals for data governance that overlap with U.S. priorities, such as aims to safeguard privacy rights, bolster digital development, and enable secure e-commerce. Still, divergences remain between how both countries have dealt with potential trade-offs in these goals, which may complicate efforts to advance joint regional leadership.
  • In light of the novel and complex questions that have arisen during the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korea should increase its engagement with an array of other countries reviewing their uses of big data tools in managing the crisis. Dialogue on this issue could take place on a bilateral basis—including with Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, and India—or within multilateral groupings, such as APEC or the G-20.

Clara Gillispie is a Senior Advisor at the National Bureau of Asian Research (United States). She is also a 2020–21 recipient of the Korea Foundation’s “U.S. Next Generation Research” grant, the support of which helped enable field interviews and other research conducted for this report.

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