Further integration seen in 'era of disruption'

Yang Han in Kuala Lumpur

Further integration seen in 'era of disruption'

With Asia playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, the region’s countries are being urged to work together for robust and sustainable future growth.

“The world now faces several geopolitical and geo-economic threats, but I guess all the problems are created by men ourselves, so there should be solutions,” said Mohd Hatta Ramli, Malaysia’s deputy minister of entrepreneur development. “We should create a society, a country and a region that is 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.

“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,” he said.

Hatta was speaking at the Asia Economic and Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday. Organized jointly by Kingsley Strategic Institute and the Pacific Basin Economic Council, with the support of China Daily, 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.

“Malaysia is trying to position entrepreneurship as a lead contributor to GDP by 2030,” said Hatta. He noted that small and medium-sized enterprises account for over 37 percent of GDP at present, seen growing to more than 50 percent by 2020.

A national entrepreneurship policy is expected to be launched by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on July 11, according to Hatta, who believes the new policy will be conducive to promoting innovation and creating more opportunities for youth.

“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.

“The four ‘E’s will have a big impact on Asia’s future growth – economy, environment, employment and energy,” said Walsh.

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

Su said it is necessary for Asian countries to jointly take regional integration to a higher level, including promoting negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership multilateral free trade pact.

Speaking of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, Su said it is not just about China helping others, but also about generating more cooperation in the region for mutual benefit.

This view was echoed by Goh Peng Ooi, group executive chairman of Malaysian software company Silverlake Group, saying 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.

For a small country like Brunei, improving infrastructure and enhancing connectivity is key for future development, as it can allow the country to export and transport its goods to more countries more cheaply, said Shazali Sulaiman, partner at consultancy KPMG Brunei.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ ASEAN Economic Community was formally established in 2015 to promote regional economic integration and improve competitiveness, but Sulaiman said there are still many challenges ahead to connect the member states.

For example, visa-free travel in ASEAN countries for people who live in the region has not been fully realized yet, Sulaiman said, adding that tourism connectivity is important for regional economic connectivity and development.

ASEAN is a regional bloc comprising 10 Southeast Asian nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Cultivating the right attitude in society is also important to 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. Though China and Malaysia agreed to proceed with the East Coast Rail Link, he said more railway networks need to be built within the country, as well as linking it with Singapore to meet the high demand of cross-border travel.

“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.”

Asia needs to adopt a cleaner and more efficient development mode for sustainable economic development, said Alexandra Boakes Tracy, president of Hong Kong-based Hoi Ping Ventures. She was speaking at a China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable panel session themed Envisioning and Promoting the Green Economy: Towards a Sustainable and Transformative Asia.

“Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population but much less than half of its natural resources. Asia is also the fastest-growing source of new greenhouse gas emissions,” said Tracy, adding that regional financial institutions are already investing proactively in green finance.

A ceremony was held alongside the summit to present the Asia Business Leadership Excellence Awards and Lifetime Achievement Awards to recognize the efforts of entrepreneurs from around Asia.

Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia’s minister of economic affairs, said amid the trade conflict between China and the US, the world’s two largest economies, smaller economies including Malaysia can be expected to suffer consequences.

“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 Azmin, who called for cooperation among ASEAN member states and under international initiatives like the BRI.

“While the BRI will help bridge the connectivity gap in the region, even more importantly it will open doors to the great expansion of global trade, enabling economies in the region to mutually grow and prosper,” said Azmin.