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Editorial Remarks - Creative Industries Policy in Asia: Innovating Within Constraints

IJCCI volume 5, issue 1, 2017


Asia Centre, Thailand
Guest Editors



Creative industries (CI) in Asia are growing exponentially. The term “creative industries” encompasses a wide range of activities that produce cultural and intellectual products that generate great economic benefits and potential. The exact makeup of the creative industries, discussed in various chapters in this special edition, differs from place to place, reflecting the different cultural histories and market opportunities that present themselves.1  

Their rise in Asia has historically been beset with cultural, financial, legal and technical constraints. In order to sidestep the many challenges, present in their respective home countries, CIs have had to innovate and they have done so with good success. As a result, CIs throughout Asia have not only increased their output in recent years but are also being consumed by a population with higher levels of disposable income.

Governments in the region have come to realize the financial potential of this sector and have moved to harness the creative economy for their broader agenda of growth. CIs are, at the dawn of the 21st century, undergoing considerable change as a result of increased digital technologies, the economic crisis of the past several years, and considerable changes in the regulatory framework.

Support to CIs has, likewise, evolved rapidly, through policies and laws favouring the creation of innovation economies that, inter alia, seek to harness the potential of these industries, which may include, as in the case of Thailand, wooden furniture, printing and publishing, jewelry and related articles, research, motion picture production, movie theatre, radio, television and related services and information technology, and even drugs and medicines. In Korea, as per Woodier and Park, Korean films, TV dramas, video games, and popular music or K-pop are now famous globally. In Malaysia, in addition to these areas, the world heritage sites may be included. Glorife Samodio points out in this volume that many countries in Southeast Asia - Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines - have declared the creative sector as an investment priority under their respective development plans.

However, challenges remain. These range from the legal and policy dimensions that cover areas of copyright and piracy; freedom of expression and censorship; technology and knowledge transfer; education; and government funding for the arts to private investment and social accountability.
This special issue brings together papers from researchers who are examining emerging policies surrounding CIs in Asia. The aim is to identify key policies trends and their impact on CIs in Asia.

Papers here note the revenue generating potential of industries. Alexander Klemm notes the revenue generating potential of foreign film production in Thailand due to a permissive policy and legislative environment that facilitates this. Thai film production service companies have become vital to the success of foreign film-related productions in Thailand. Benefits generated included country’s established reputation as a film destination hub, modern film equipment, and a new financial incentive scheme to be implemented in 2017. Robin Ramcharan notes the economic impact of CIs to the GDP of countries, notably in Thailand. Jonathan Woodier and Park Sung Woo also note the spectacular contributions of Korean cultural sector to that country’s economy since the 1990s. Korean cultural products have become a “roaring success” and boosted the local economy by as much as 12.6 trillion won ($US11.6 billion) in 2014. Standardized methodologies for measuring the economic impact of CI have been facilitated significantly by templates developed at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The authors also note the important role of Government support, through enabling policy and regulatory changes. This is especially clear in the cases of Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Whereas Korean and Singaporean initiatives began in the 1990s, Thailand has recently sought to catch up and has applied WIPO inspired methodologies to its assessments since 2009. Yoo-Soo HONG and Hui Wen-Chen also point to strong Government support in their paper. In Japan, for example, they note that since the late 1990s, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has targeted the creative sector ( movies, music, game software, and animation and so on) as a promising industry, and has prepared policies for these areas captured in the “Cool Japan” strategy. The South Korean government has promoted its equivalent, “Hallyu” or “Korea Wave” since the economic crisis of 1997. “Creative Taiwan” followed, with similar backing.

Challenges noted by the authors however, include the need for clear, long-term strategies. As many countries develop their creative sectors, Yoo-Soo HONG and Hui Wen-Chen caution that most of them do not have a long-term vision and/or strategy that seeks to transform the entire economy towards an all-encompassing creative economy. The fundamental issue, they note, is whether the creative economy will continue to be a subset of the national economy or whether it will ultimately transform the national economy into a creative economy. In this regard, Samodio notes in the paper on the Philippines, the important role of education and training in due to growing concerns about the supply of creative manpower in the country.
Another important challenge is the need for a balanced copyright law system that both conforms to international copyright law while preserving flexibilities that encourage creativity, innovation and free thinking in every society. Robin Ramcharan, using a case study of Thailand, highlights challenges to a fair and balanced copyright regime. The latter is indispensable as copyright industries comprise a core part of the creative industries.

An additional challenge noted involves the technological dimension and the capacity of governments to operate effectively in light of rapid economic changes. Woodier and Park, argue in relation to Korea that in a 5G, digital world, sustaining success will strain the the government’s ability to generate innovation and creativity. They note challenges to efficacy of central economic policy in dismantling cultural and geographic barriers and, if successful, set new standards for policy trends in public-private partnership.

The danger of cultural nationalism accompanying successful creative industries, such as that generated by successful exporting of the Korean wave must be guarded against. “K-culture” is now part of nation-branding. Woodier and Park call attention to this unwanted distraction, in a region that has only recently started to engage in multilateral dialogues on cultural, economic, political and security affairs. Nationalism is a potent force in Asia, driving policies and tensions.

The negative impact on local identities generated by the commodification and gentrification of culture is discussed by Lee Yuen Beng, Thomas Barker and Lam Yat Kuan. They show how gentrification stimulated the sale of properties within and around heritage sites in Georgetown, Penang. While the increase in the sales and purchase of properties seem favourable towards the state’s economy, it has directly led to increased rental costs, evictions and closing down of traditional trades as the owners of such properties, who are often foreigners. The latter find it more profitable to sell off their shop houses or to convert them into boutique hotels and chic cafes. Escalated rental costs led to tenants, who had been renting such shop houses for generations, to relocate to the suburbs. Such transformation of traditional businesses has directly led to the decline of local cultural identities as residents and age-old businesses are forced to relocate whilst foreigners own more properties in the city.

There is little doubt about the importance of CIs for national well being today. The new Korean President, as discussed by Woodier and Park, has stated that CIs have too long been neglected as private territory and that art and culture have a role to play in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The latter refers to the “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”2





1  Definitions worldwide have been influenced by UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) definition of creative industries as “those requiring creativity, skill, and talent, with potential for wealth and job creation through the exploitation of their intellectual property.”

2  Schwab, Klaus, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond,” World Economic Forum. Available at Also published in Foreign Affairs, December 2015.