ASEAN Trade and Creativity

By Mike Michalek
The following remarks were during the CCP’s November 15th Insight and Analysis lecture on Regional Trade and the Creative Economy

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you and good afternoon! It give me great pleasure to be here to comment on the remarks you just heard from Ambassador Kirk Wagar, US Ambassador to Singapore, on regional trade and the creative economy .

I am extra pleased to be able to talk about things I really like to talk about — Innovation Creativity diversity, and Fun. I haven’t had much chance to talk about these things — especially the fun part — since the US election so this is a great opportunity for me.

Actually, I have another reason for loving this topic —I am a closet geek. I started out my professional career as a research physicist for NASA. I designed a holographic camera, perhaps the first of its kind in the world, and would have made the prototype if NASA had the funds. They wanted to use their money for a moon shot or something like that so my design remains on the shelf in a box along with several old physics books.

As usual, Ambassador Wagar hit all the right notes. Intellectual Property protection and a sophisticated IP incentive and nurturing ecosystem are vital prerequisites for a robust innovative economy and Singapore has all those requirements.

Furthermore I agree with Ambassador Wagar on the welcoming atmosphere for foreign direct investment here and the result that American companies have come here by the hundreds and found the forward looking policy environment an excellent incubator for business that have been here since before Singapore became a city state!

The atmosphere, geography and demography combined and headed by leaders of the caliber of Lee Kuan Yew and institutions like the Economic Development Board, the Committee for a Future Society, and the like have combined to make Singapore South East Asia’s hub for big tech companies.

The US ASEAN Business Council has over 150 companies as its members and just about every one of them has an office, if not its regional headquarters, here in Singapore.

I also liked the way in which the Ambassador noted the tradition of philanthropy within American Business. Giving back is a key part of the DNA of American firms and this often takes the shape of projects to support clean water, education, scholarships, and other fields which not only give back to the community, but help those communities to thrive and develop their own creative elements.

The Ambassador noted the large and growing trade relationship between Singapore and the US and I would be remiss if I did not also note the growing trade relationship between ASEAN and the US — my particular business.

ASEAN is America’s 4th largest export market and the largest destination for US FDI in Asia! Of course, a great deal of that investment is right here in Singapore as the Ambassador pointed out. And Last year ASEAN inaugurated the ASEAN Economic Community to give a boost to integration in this vital region of the world. ASEAN is also home to four of the TPP members, which may or may not mean anything over the next few years but we can talk about that later.

Within ASEAN, Singapore is, of course, the most advanced economy in many ways and innovation is perhaps the brightest star in a constellation of advanced institutions and Ambassador Wagar has described many of the policies that have brought Singapore to this situation today.

Coming from the US, however, and representing the Private sector, I would like to say a few words about the contribution of business to innovation, creativity, diversity and fun!

Ever since Samuel B. Morse made a grant of a few thousand dollars to a university to further develop his invention — the telegraph, business has been playing a significant role in the development of innovation in the United States. Elon Musk and his concept of a private sector Mars mission, hypersonic vacuum trains criss- crossing the globe and, of course the Tesla, now that the private sector can also be a source of innovation.

Not only does the private sector come up with its own innovative ideas, but it also works very closely with the Government to jointly develop technologies and bring them to market. The private sector is great at commercializing ideas and putting the on your breakfast table. Remember Tang — the orange juice astronauts drink, or Teflon — great for re-entry heat shields AND non-stick fry pans!

But over the years we have come to realize that the real importance of Government lies in funding what I think is called these days curiosity research — those topics which are more blue sky and which have no known application yet. Even Bill Gates has said that h Private sector is wonderful at marketing and engineering devices for consumers, but hasn’t a clue about blue sky research!

In the US there has been a close relationship among Academia, business and government for many years. When I was studying Physics in undergraduate school we had several professors in our engineering school who were not only teaching us but also working on government and private sector (in this case automobile industry) contracts. Good for the Professor, good for the school and great for the government!

In South East Asia this is an underdeveloped function. I recall that about ten years ago right there in Singapore, there was a conference of government Research and development agencies from ASEAN to look at best practices for these institutions in developing innovative ecosystems. They didn’t call them that of course, can’t recall exactly the title of the conference, but the results were clear. First, Singapore had demonstrated leadership in calling together these institutions and has continues that leadership ever since. Second, while innovation and strategies like incubators, best practices, sandboxes and the like were concepts that were not unfamiliar to the participants, it was clear that the varied levels of development and resource constraints of the participants meant that innovation policies and regulatory frameworks were more a theoretical discussion than a practical one.

Now fast forward almost ten years and there have been two new phenomena which have had a significant influence on the situation: the mobile phone has been a game changer terms of a platform that is easily handled by entrepreneurs, low capital investment and limitless ideas than can be played with; the second is crowd funding and other alternative ways off financing innovation. With these two things in play there is scope for an uprising of new companies, ideas and business plans. Perhaps the best known here in SEA is Go-Jek which now rivals UBER and is into delivery off passengers, packages and Pizzas!

Well I do not want to make a whole new speech out of comments on Ambassador Wagar’s excellent remarks, but I will end up with a suggestion, or two. First look at storm of the American Colonies in innovation space like University of Arizona’s LEEAP program in Vietnam where they are developing engineering departments and accrediting them in Vietnamese universities and LEEAP a similar program about to get underway in Indonesia. Also Look at GE’s center of excellence in HCMC for solving problems in Petroleum engineering not only in Vietnam but around the region and, indeed, the world, Also Microsoft entrepreneurial projects in Bandar Seri Begawan…yes Brunei, where their program after two years has already graduated about twenty new entrepreneurs.

In short, as Ambassador Wagar said America wants to partner with South East Asia — whoever is President — and the US Government and Private Sector are going to be here for the long haul so let’s start a conversation and see where it might take us.

Thank You

Mike Michalek is the Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director of the US-ASEAN Business Council and served previously as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam from 2007 to 2011


Regional Trade and the Creative Economy

By The Honorable Kirk Wagar
The following remarks were during the CCP’s November 15th Insight and Analysis lecture on Regional Trade and the Creative Economy

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, and happy Global Entrepreneurship Week! It is my honor and great privilege to meet with you this evening during this week that celebrates entrepreneurship to share some thoughts on innovation, the creative economy and U.S. economic engagement in the region. I would like to thank the Motion Picture Association, the Centre for Content Promotion (CCP) and Singapore Management University for sponsoring this event.

U.S. Embrace of Innovation

Meaningful innovation comes from all levels of society and business – from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Many of the American businesses operating here in Singapore started in a garage, laboratory or storefront with no more than a handful of employees and a good idea. Some of these businesses grew too big for a garage and are now among the most successful in the world today. Countless U.S. businesses here in Singapore and the region are expanding the foundation on which startups such as these can take off and make their impact in the business world.

A strong IP regime—one that includes robust, solid, intellectual property laws and enforcement mechanisms—are fundamental to fostering innovation and a creative economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. IP laws are the strongest in the world and have empowered innovative businesses to contribute more than $6.6 trillion of U.S. GDP and produce IP goods and services accounting for 52% of U.S. exports. IP-intensive industries in the United States directly and indirectly also supported 45.5 million American jobs, or approximately 30 percent of total U.S. employment.

A healthy, robust legal IP framework is just one factor contributing to the United States’ role as a top center for innovation. Other fundamental characteristics of what makes the United States and our businesses global leaders – which I like to highlight whenever I can – is our commitment to diversity, creativity, innovation, and fun.
On occasion, people ask me about how the United States will react to the supposed inevitability of a decline in U.S. influence in the world. I love this question because I can so easily refute that premise. The United States is by no means in decline and I can prove it by just asking a coupleof simple questions.

Where do most of the global trends and innovations in business, entertainment, defense, and science originate? In which country do a large percentage of the world’s leading researchers choose to study, publish and patent? We all know the answer to those questions. But why is it the United States? It can’t just be a question of money or trendiness. No. The United States continues to lead the world in innovation because our culture has always rewarded people who try and fail and try again and also because the United States embraces and rewards new contributors from diverse backgrounds and origins from all over the world.

Now, a word about the importance of diversity as an essential component of innovation and a creative economy. Harnessing diversity to achieve prosperity, innovation, entrepreneurship and success does not stem from the struggles or concerns of just one group or the other. It comes from people of different races or ethnicities reaching out to each other, from Muslims and Christians breaking bread together, to businesses now hiring types of people who they had never hired before into positions destined for leadership.

The United States embrace of diversity is well known. As the world’s largest immigrant nation, valuing diversity and different cultures is part of our national DNA. Perhaps lesser known is Singapore’s story of how it has “Prospered through Diversity,” enabling it to become a modernsuccess story. In just 50 years Singapore, a tiny country with scarce natural resources, has become a modern world economic leader and model for successful development.

Singapore did this by being smart, hardworking and practical. But they also did it by including all of its citizens in the process. I know of no better example of any nation that, in such a short time, has been more successful at integrating its people in common cause for mutual economic success.

Singapore has one of the most harmonious religious and racial climates among all the nations of the Earth. And it is no mere coincidence that Singapore’s commitment to healthy diversity has produced extraordinary prosperity and a growing innovation center and the entrepreneur capital of Southeast Asia.

I would like to publically commend the Singapore government for its great ambition and efforts to promote innovation, open markets and investment. Singapore aspires to become an innovation hub and, in its never ending search for high quality foreign investors, has made it a national priority to establish itself as a regional IP hub. Supporting and aligning with numerous international treaties and conventions, Singapore has developed a globally leading Intellectual Property Rights regime. It ranks first in Asia and second in the world for IP protection, ahead of the United States, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 – the fifth consecutive year that Singapore has retained its ranking.

A growing network of venture capitalists has established a base in Singapore, recognizing the positive investment climate and the ease of doing business. Singapore’s transparent legal system, top universities with robust S&T programs, and its global business center with opportunities for collaboration all promote its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

U.S.-Singapore Engagement

In our mutual commitment to IP protection, innovation, diversity, and promoting a creative economy, the United States and Singapore share many common values and stories. This year is the 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Singapore. We have celebrated this year how far we have come together as the United States and Singapore continue to strengthen mutual ties – economically, security, militarily, and culturally.

The United States recognizes Singapore as a place we want to do business. The United States is the largest investor in Singapore and over 3700 U.S. companies are headquartered here. Ourcompanies shaped Singapore early on, from its very earliest days, and they continue to positively impact Singapore in ways that many might take for granted. Consider our record of employment, investment, and community service in Singapore.

Our companies bring jobs to Singapore, and have done so for as long as Singapore has been a country. We employ more Singaporeans than any other. The ten largest U.S. companies alone here employ the equivalent of nearly half of Singapore’s entire civil service. One of our 3,700companies here – Citibank – alone employs 10,000 people.

Our firms are some of the most sought after in desirable employment. Whether its engineering the latest chip technology, operating the complex network of petrochemical processors, managing financial accounts for Wall Street’s biggest banks, animating the latest blockbuster film, or marketing quintessential American brands like Harley Davidson, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, and Apple, we’re very proud that a host of Singaporeans and other local nationals in the region are part of our companies families in Asia.

The United States is by far the largest foreign direct investor in Singapore, exceeding the FDI from Japan, Korea and China into Singapore combined. At latest count, our cumulative FDI reached $180 billion. Our investments in hardware – everything from landmarks such as the Marina Bay Sands to the most modern research and high tech production centers in the world –are readily apparent.

Less noticeable, but perhaps more meaningful, are the investments our companies have made in the Singaporeans who are part of them. Our companies sink millions of dollars every year, giving their employees skills and experiences – investments in people that help them realize their full potential – including, we hope – tapping into and encouraging individual creativity and innovation – demonstrating how greatly our companies value their employees.

Every day, our companies are investing in the communities in which they operate. One IT company gives its employees here a couple of workdays a year to dedicate to volunteer work. Another U.S. firm contributed over $10 million in equipment and over 20 years of staff time to upgrade the IT skills and resources of Singapore, through education, research, and technology transfers. Thousands of the trees in Singapore came about from tree planting programs by our companies. Another program from one of our companies gives primary and secondary school children from under-served families the opportunity to gain knowledge and new skills that will benefit their education. The list goes on, but in short, although our companies are modest about it, they have played a huge role in Singapore’s development, and continue to do so now.

Innovation and the State Visit

You may know that in August, President Obama hosted Prime Minister Lee for a State Visit – the first such visit for a Singaporean leader in over 30 years, and the only State Visit for an ASEAN member the President has hosted in his two terms. The State visit, celebrating our 50 years of diplomatic relations, underscored not only how much we value our relationship with Singapore, but also the confidence we have in how our two countries can positively shape this region.

During the visit, President Obama and Prime Minister Lee spoke about many strategic facets of our relationship – one of which that got a lot of attention is our increasing collaborations in innovation, entrepreneurship and advancing technology to tackle many of society’s complex problems and needs. At the center of that effort are top global brands, leaders at the forefront of innovation, many of which have chosen Singapore as their regional headquarters.

An increasing trend among U.S. companies in Singapore is the establishment of innovation labs–which provide resources and space to foster innovation, incubate the next wave of start-ups, and enhance productivity and quality of life. The value and benefits that this type of innovation promotion brings to communities here in Asia and globally are huge. Critical to the success of these endeavors are the collective vision and effort from diverse actors –government, industry, academic, and venture capital funders. Supported by strong IP protections, free and open markets, and business friendly laws and regulations, the innovations hatched out of these labs and others can have far reaching benefits – from individual consumers, to entrepreneurs, to SMEs, and all the way up to research institutions and governments searching for next generation Smart City solutions – one of the new priority areas of strategic cooperation we identified at the State Visit.

We are proud that our companies promote and advance the principles and conditions that foster innovation and creativity. Supported by the United States and innovative companies, Singapore is investing in its future, embracing an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging a flourishing and vibrant interest in the arts and humanities, launching environmentally sound initiatives and strengthening its commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.


In conclusion, I am confident that our engagement in the region, with visionary partners including Singapore promoting prosperity and diversity, will help further boost creativity and innovation in the region. U.S. engagement in Singapore and Southeast Asia over the decades demonstrates without equivocation how greatly we value the region. Further promotion of creativity, diversity, and innovation is critical to the future prosperity of this region, and we are committed to further expanding these values to help Southeast Asia further excel.

The Honorable Kirk Wagar served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Singapore from September 2013 to January 2017


Tackling Piracy in Australia: Village Roadshow’s New and Innovative Strategy

By Hugh Stephens, posted on 13 November 2016

In a blockbuster speech delivered on October 10 to the Australian International Movie Convention meeting in Gold Coast, Queensland, Graham Burke, Co-Executive Chairman and Co-CEO of Australia’s largest entertainment company, Village Roadshow, took aim at the high rate of film piracy among Australian consumers and declared war on illegal downloading and streaming. Burke outlined a five point strategy to combat what he called a “piracy plague” in Australia. Pointing out that surveys show that over 30% of young Australians aged 12-17 pirate movies and TV series, Burke’s action plan includes making more effective use of Australia’s site blocking legislation, cooperating with online search engines like Google to delist infringing material, increasing the timely availability of legitimate product at competitive price points, taking legal action against repeat infringers and increasing community support.

Piracy Rampant in Australia

As an example of the attraction that Australian consumers seem to have for pirated content, Burke reminded his audience that Australia, (with a population of just 24 million compared to 300 million in the US), accounted for fully 12.5% of the illegal torrents of the season 6 premiere episode of Game of Thrones whereas the US total was considerably lower at 8.5%. According to the Guardian, Australians led the world in illegal downloads of the episode, even though it was available on a day and date basis on Australian pay-TV provider Foxtel, where it set a new record of 727,000 paid viewers, surpassing the previous record for a broadcast of (what else?) the Australia-New Zealand rugby world cup final in 2015. (Australia lost). The excuse often offered is that the programming is not available in Australia, but if lack of access to popular content in a timely manner was a problem in the past, this is no longer the case according to Burke. However, as the Game of Thrones case clearly shows, just providing access is not enough on its own to deter piracy.

Site Blocking Effective

Another element of Burke’s strategy is to fully exploit the new site blocking legislation introduced in Australia last year. Foxtel and Roadshow have already brought court action to block Pirate Bay and Solar Movie under the new legislation and Burke stated that as soon as the rules of engagement are set for blocking websites, Roadshow will go after another hundred or so “criminal sites”. Studies in the UK have shown that site blocking can be an effective tool in changing consumer behaviour, even among hardcore users of infringing material, as I have reported in an earlier blog. Not only has site blocking been shown to be an effective disincentive against streaming of pirated content, resulting in an increased take-up of legitimate streaming services, it can also be implemented without damaging the smooth functioning of the Internet (notwithstanding the alarmist claims of some critics). If illegal content in other areas of content, such as child pornography, illegal online gambling or malicious spreading of viruses can be blocked without disrupting the effective operation of the web, there is no reason why the same protocols cannot be adapted to block other forms of illegal content, such as copyright-infringing material.

Legal Action—with Education in Mind

Perhaps the most innovative of Burke’s proposed 5 step strategy is his plan to take legal action against persistent downloaders, suing repeat infringers to seek court-ordered fines of $300. Taking legal action against consumers can be an expensive and risky course of action opening the industry to sensationalized media charges of “beggaring the innocent” by picking on uninformed children, elderly grandparents, innocent room-mates or whatever. However Burke’s plan is to make the fines sting but not cause major financial hardship.

The intent is not to seek punitive damages so as to set an example, a strategy that has back-fired in the past, but to educate consumers much in the same way that stiff traffic fines are used to warn drivers and correct poor driving habits.

The goal is to encourage positive behaviour through heightened awareness and education. To this end, the proceeds would be directed through Creative Content Australia toward educating consumers on the reasons for copyright protection, including highlighting the economic benefits the creative industries bring to Australia, as well as underlining the fact that pirating content is theft. Many young people—the primary although not exclusive users of illegal downloads—are generally aware that there is something “wrong” with illegal downloading but don’t equate it with stealing, as they would if they were caught pinching DVDs at Best Buy. A $300 fine will bring home to them, and to most parents, that this is an illegal and unacceptable activity.

Community Support is Vital

The concept of investing the proceeds from legal action against illegal downloading or streaming into consumer education is a good one. At the end of the day, without community support, the other elements of the strategy will not work and so community awareness is vital. A culture of tolerating piracy, and turning a blind eye to its negative effects, seems to have taken root in Australia (and other countries, for that matter). To counter this, a comprehensive strategy involving a mix of carrot (better and more available content) and stick (site-blocking, fines) is needed, fully-funded and delivered consistently and in a sustained fashion. Results will not come overnight but if Village Roadshow and Graham Burke stick to their plan, and execute well, hopefully Australia will start to turn the corner on its piracy addiction. Australian creators deserve no less.

Hugh Stephens has more than 35 years of government and business experience in the Asia-Pacific region. Based in Victoria, BC, Canada, he is currently Vice Chair of the Canadian Committee on Pacific Economic Cooperation (CANCPEC), Senior Fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, and an associate faculty member in the School of Business at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC. Before returning to Canada in December 2009, he was Senior Vice President (Public Policy) for Asia-Pacific for Time Warner for almost a decade, based in Hong Kong, where he managed Time Warner’s public policy program in Asia Pacific for Turner Broadcasting, HBO, Warner Bros, Time Inc. and AOL.


My Tokyo Weekend With Japan’s Next Generation Of Filmmakers

By John Polson, posted on 7 November 2016

My trip to Tokyo as a guest speaker for the MPA had been arranged many months ago. It was an exciting opportunity and one that I’d been looking forward for some time. Still, stepping off the long flight from New York, I found myself juggling the many demands of executive producing the television show I’d been working on for more than the last four years of my life. My body had most certainly landed in Tokyo; but my mind was still very much on set in New York.

The problem solving continued into the next day, but bright and early Sunday morning I was due on stage for the MPA-DHU Film Workshop, so I shifted focus and hauled my mental state half way round the world to reposition itself back within my body.

The film workshop, part of the Tokyo International Film Festival, was held with the MPA’s partners Digital Hollywood University – where over a thousand young creative Japanese take courses on various screen media subjects. Entering the building on that Sunday morning I passed room after room of filmmakers in front of screens. No down time for these guys.

I joined my colleagues and around 80 film students in the lecture theatre, hearing first from Sugiyama-san, the arty and cool President of DHU, camera in hand to snap his own shots of proceedings. My old friend MPA’s Mike Ellis spoke longer than his usual welcome to put the latest piracy research on everyone’s radar. 31% of Japanese pirated screen content in some form or another in 2015, it seems. People seemed shocked. I would be if I was trying to make and distribute films and TV here.

Patrick Donaldson, from .film shared his very clever, perfect-for-filmmakers domain name model with the audience. I can see how having a “.film” website for your independent film is ideal for promoting your project and gives you the added benefit of their anti-piracy protection strategy. It appears to be catching on pretty fast with filmmakers keen to both promote and protect their latest film.

I took the stage for a Q&A with MPA’s Stephen Jenner, whom I’ve known now for more than 20 years, our paths having crossed in the Australian film industry over time, and through the MPA’s most appreciated sponsorship of Tropfest, the world’s largest film festival I founded nearly 25 years ago.

We got into a deep discussion of my work on Elementary, which I executive produce and direct, talking often about how we solve challenges creatively to get an hour-long episode shot in eight days. Having worked with many of the cast and crew for many years, we now have a terrifically close team able to meet the biggest hurdles one way or another. You could say our lead characters solve crimes while we solve creative problems.

Our conversation took us back through my career, covering the time I spent on feature films (‘What’s it like to work with Robert De Niro?’ ‘He’s generous, professional, wants to be part of the creative team’), my first feature in Australia, and my work with so many, many talented filmmakers all over the world through Tropfest.

Local Japanese screenwriter Takaya Okamoto and Producer Toshihiko Yamamoto had great things to say about how best to pitch your film in our panel moderated by local (another Aussie) producer Lucas Oliver-Frost. We shared all the tips we thought the filmmakers might find useful. Given they were up to pitch their films after lunch, I guess it would have been hard to take much in.

But, one hour later, they pitched. And it seems they either had taken all our advice to heart or they knew it beforehand. In any case, I was super impressed. Pitching I learned, does not come naturally to Japanese filmmakers, and there’s certainly no history of pitching as we do in the U.S., but these guys and girls knocked it out of the ballpark. The ideas were for the most part well-formed. They came across knowing their projects well. We judges found the decision a tough one, particularly given that projects that might play well internationally may not resonate that well in Japan.

In any case, we reached a decision. Hello Baby!, by filmmaker Daisuke Yamaoka, was the film which really grabbed our attention, and came out on top. In this thriller/horror film, an App designed for pregnant women starts to behave in strange and macabre ways, to a point where the app appears to take on the persona of the child in the womb. Mr. Yamaoka impressed us with his short teaser for the film, revealing his filmmaking talent. Yamaoka wins a priceless opportunity to attend a 5-day film immersion course in LA, thanks to the MPA.

Another film, Minato (The Port), a tale of a musician’s struggle to come to terms with his son’s deafness, appeared to strike a chord especially with the Japanese judges. Mike Ellis stepped in to award the filmmaker Ms. Kanon Murakami the President’s Special Recognition Award, involving a trip to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane. To say she was surprised and excited would be an understatement!

We emerged from the film workshop as darkness was falling over Tokyo. Declining a ride back to the hotel I told my hosts I’d prefer to take a stroll through the neighbourhood, take in the sights and get some fresh air. ‘Are you sure you won’t get lost?’ Don’t worry, I said, putting their minds at rest. I have Google maps.

John Polson is an award-winning actor, director and producer, as well as the founder and director of Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival (www.tropfest.com). He is currently the Executive Producer / Director on the popular CBS crime drama Elementary (Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu).