The continent that is home to 60% of the world’s population encompasses many narratives when one considers economic and technological development. Presently, at one end of the spectrum there is the stereotypical image held of East Asians, as those permanently connected to their top of the range smartphones. Like many stereotypes this one has a ring of truth to it. Japanese, South Koreans and Singaporeans all enjoy internet penetration rates that make a good portion of Western countries seem like digital infants. At the other end of the spectrum there is Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, where only 1 in 5 people are connected. China and India, whose digital paths are also rather nascent, make up together an impressive 34% of the world’s internet users. While China remains the world’s indesputably largest internet market, internet uptake is spreading like a wildfire in India. More Indians have come online over the past year than there are internet users in Russia, the world’s 6th largest internet market.
Search engine preferences paint an equally diverse picture of the continent. Google may secure its reputation as the unbeatable online giant in Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand and India, but in China internet users march to a different tune altogether. Google has a tough time here against the local competition. Chinese search engines (Baidu, Haosou and Shenma) rule supreme in home territory, leaving Google to pick up the crumbs following its withdrawal from mainland China back in 2010.
The search market in South Korea is not so clear cut. In fact, the picture is so blurred that depending on the source viewed, Naver and Google alternate at “the winner takes it all” poll. Japan is remarkable for a different reason. It is the only country where Yahoo takes a significant share of online searches (30%). While Yahoo also reaches a respectable 16% of searches in Hong Kong, it is in frank decline here, making it a less relevant figure than it would otherwise have been.
Companies, including search engines, indeed have their reasons to put up a good fight on a continent where the stakes are dangerously high. This territory, once home to the largest contiguous empire in history (the Mongol Empire), is foreseen to once again rule worldwide. Between 2010 and 2050, seven Asian economies may account for “as much as 91 percent of total GDP growth in Asia and of almost 53 percent of global GDP growth. They will thus be the engines of not only Asia’s economy but also the global economy” (Asia 2050). These seven include two already developed economies (Japan and Republic of Korea). The others, fast-growing economies, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, still have much to offer both in developmental terms but also considering their internet potential.
Asia’s growth is not without its perils or without its menaces, however. Social inequalities, income disparities, poor governance and climate change may all work against the foreseen Asian prowess, and the continent may indeed get caught inside the middle-income trap and stagnate. “You can't control the wind, but you can adjust the sails”, an old adage goes. Only time will tell if Asia navigates through its difficulties, relinquishes opportunities and sails through a brilliant future.
In this guide we cover the digital landscape in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam
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