Yang Han in Bangkok
Being at different development stages, the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must form partnerships based on real understanding to achieve inclusive and sustainable economies, said speakers at an international forum. The level of prosperity should not be measured by the total growth of a country, but by the living quality of the poorest 40 percent, said Supachai Panitchpakdi, former deputy prime minister of Thailand and former director-general of the World Trade Organization. Speaking during the 2019 ASEAN Community Leadership and Partnership Forum held in Bangkok from June 23 to 24, Supachai said ASEAN countries need to unite to develop strong rules of law and a peaceful society. He added that partnerships will help achieve the 17 sustainable development goals listed by the United Nations. The SDGs address issues including the eradication of extreme poverty, halting deforestation, promoting gender equality and reducing conflict. Thailand is this year’s chair of ASEAN, a regional bloc formed by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and the Philippines. “Trade tension is something that is going to have a negative impact on the global trade system and economic growth. ASEAN will also suffer from it because it is an open economy,” said Supachai. Maintaining close cooperation will be effective for the bloc to cope with the fast-changing situation, he added. Held in conjunction with the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, the forum was jointly organized by Kingsley Strategic Institute in Malaysia, ASEAN Business Advisory Council, ASEAN Studies Centre of Chulalongkorn University, and Bangkok-based organizations Nation-Building Institute and Asia Centre. China Daily was the media partner of the forum. Under the theme Building Partnership for a Sustainable and Inclusive ASEAN, around 300 representatives from government, business, academic, think tanks and civil society gathered to discuss challenges and strategic issues facing the region. Topics included sustainable development, the young generation, the digital economy and connectivity. ALSO READ: CICA members call for sustainable development in Asia “We have to fulfill the AEC as much as possible,” said Supachai, referring to the ASEAN Economic Community. He noted that more work is required throughout the region to eliminate trade barriers. With about 6,000 non-tariff measures in ASEAN, governments need to expose themselves and create a better business environment, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. The AEC was formally established in 2015 to promote economic integration and enhance the region’s global competitiveness as a whole. Pichet Durongkaveroj, Thailand’s minister of digital economy and society, said that through greater cooperation and sustainability in ASEAN, regional development will become more vibrant. Connectivity in transportation and digital infrastructure will also become stronger, he added. “Time is on our side,” said Pichet. “Transformation is the key word. It rests upon all ASEAN economies to define what sort of transformation each and every ASEAN member is going through, which is very crucial.” Pichet said his ministry is gearing up for a digital Thailand through the SIGMA framework, which focuses on cybersecurity, digital infrastructure, digital government, digital manpower and digital applications. Kriengsak Chareonwongsak, chairman of Nation-Building Institute, said governments must prioritize issues concerning sustainable and inclusive development. He added that partnerships among ASEAN members require more than collaboration, cooperation and coordination, which is why leaderships and management can promote integration and synergy. “The public, private and people sectors working toward integration in the sense of partnership could produce marvelous results,” said Kriengsak. Michael Yeoh, president of Kingsley Strategic Institute said the digital economy will drive the future growth of ASEAN. “With the growth of the internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, ASEAN needs to make a quantum leap to compete in the digital era,” he said. Asia will be the main driver of global growth over the coming decade, and ASEAN can take advantage of this phenomenon, said Arin Jira, chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council. He said ASEAN should engage in regional partnerships through cooperation frameworks like Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – a free trade agreement between ASEAN and six of its FTA partners including China. The RCEP is expected to conclude negotiations this year. A better connected ASEAN is needed for the future of the young generation, improving areas like physical transport and digital technology, said Suthiphand Chirathivat, executive director of the ASEAN Studies Center and professor emeritus of economics at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. The young generation in ASEAN spends an average of six hours and four minutes online daily, with 61 percent of time spent on leisure, in comparison to 39 percent on work, according to a 2018 survey of 64,000 ASEAN citizens by the World Economic Forum.