Economic experts call for free and fair trade

Yang Han

Economic experts call for free and fair trade

Malaysia forum: Smaller countries may suffer if US-China tensions persist

Free trade is the basis for the world economy and shared prosperity is in the interest of all, according to speakers at a forum in Malaysia last week.

Asia can play an increasingly important role by coming together for sustainable development that helps solve man-made geopolitical and geoeconomic problems.

"In this highly globalized world, we believe that free as well as fair trade must be the touchstone in all international commercial and trade dealings," said Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia's minister of economic affairs at an awards ceremony of the Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

He said that amid the trade tension between China and the United States, the world's two largest economies, smaller economies including Malaysia can expect to suffer consequences.

Mohd Hatta Ramli, Malaysia's deputy minister of entrepreneur development, said: "The global trade and tech wars do not benefit anyone or any country and we will all lose, … we should look at win-win outcomes."

Organized jointly by Kingsley Strategic Institute and the Pacific Basin Economic Council, the event brought together government leaders, entrepreneurs, academic researchers and experts from thinks tanks and civil society organizations to discuss and debate the theme, The Future of Asia in a New Era of Disruption and Trade Wars. China Daily was a media partner of the event.

"The world now faces several geopolitical and geoeconomic threats, but I guess all the problems are created by men ourselves, so there should be solutions," Hatta told the audience on Thursday. "We should create a society, a country and a region that are safe for shared prosperity."

Citing an HSBC report that Asian countries like China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea will be among the world's top 10 biggest economies by 2030, Hatta said Asia is full of economic potential due to its large number of young people and the rapid development of digitalization.

Globalization is the right way going forward, and Asia's future will need cooperation and partnership, said Su Ge, chair of the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation.

"Trade wars serve nobody's interest,… cooperation is the only correct way for Sino-American trade-and it will be good for the two countries, to Asia, and in a sense, good to the world," said Su, also former president of the China Institute of International Studies.

Noting President Xi Jinping's visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on June 20-21 ahead of the G20 Osaka summit, Su said China is committed to regional stability through peace and negotiation.

Speaking of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, Su said it is about generating more cooperation in the region for mutual benefit.

Minister Azmin Ali called for cooperation among ASEAN member states and under international initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative, or the BRI.

This view was echoed by Goh Peng Ooi, group executive chairman of Malaysian software company Silverlake Group, who said trade is what ties the world together.

"Conflicts usually won't last long. … We have different systems, values, cultures, but one thing is that we all live economic lives-that is the thing that ties us together and that is why trade can tie us all together," said Goh.

Cultivating the right attitude in society is also important for making use of connectivity, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Noting that China has invested greatly in high-speed rail infrastructure, Oh said one of the main reasons for the country's rapid growth is its people's attitude of entrepreneurship.

"China continues to be very eager to link up a large part of Asia," he said, referring to increasing investment under the BRI.

"In a country like Malaysia, we do need more railway systems," said Oh.

"Under BRI, China could indeed assist us both financially and technically to build such networks," said Oh. "We also welcome more Chinese investment in ports."

The BRI can also help bridge development gaps among nations.

"Asia is facing digital disruption and technological transformation on a scale that perhaps has never been seen before in the region," said Michael Yeoh, organizing chairman and president of Kingsley Strategic Institute. "However, while some parts of Asia are undergoing the fourth industrial revolution, some regions have not even seen the second industrial revolution."

To bridge the huge development gap, Yeoh said it is important to emphasize and prioritize sustainable development, by resolving issues such as income, inequality, investment, innovation and infrastructure.

While the advancement of digital technology can be part of future solutions addressing global and regional issues, Michael Walsh, chief executive of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, said it is also important to pay heed to the growing potential negative side effects. These include personal and corporate reputational risk, health issues, cyberbullying, and threats to intellectual property rights.