Key strategic economic trends, Asean connectivity and infrastructure were major areas of concern at the Leadership Forum.
The 8th Asean Leadership Forum was held on
The Forum opened with speeches by key Asean leaders, including Deputy President of Indonesia Boediono, who spoke on behalf of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, about the
importance of Asean from an Indonesian perspective. Also speaking from the Indonesian perspective was H.E. Bapak Aburizal Bakrie, chairman of the Forum, who gave a dynamic address about the importance for Asean to achieve tangible and substantial progress from an economic development and trade perspective. H.E. Dato Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia, gave a stirring call for leadership within the Asean membership, highlighting the importance of decisive and strategic leadership for Asean to achieve far-reaching progress and results.
The first working session of the conference focused on the outlook for the Asean Economic Community in 2015. Asean Deputy-Secretary General S. Pushpanathan as well as two Asia Chief Economists, Joseph Tan from Credit Suisse and Rajiv Biswas from IHS Global Insight, provided an overview of the business climate and economic outlook for Asean during the medium term. Key strategic trends that support the rise of Asean as an economic region include the rapid economic growth of China and India, as well as Indonesia’s own emergence as a major developing economy on the global stage.
A session on Asean Connectivity included a number of members of the Asean High Level Task Force on Connectivity, who presented a summary of progress to date in development of the Asean Masterplan on Connectivity that was adopted in October 2010 in Hanoi at the 17th Asean Summit. The speakers included H.E. Ambassador Pradap Pibulsonggram, Thailand’s Representative to the Asean Task Force, as well as Hidetoshi Nishimura, Executive Director for the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia.
A number of private sector representatives gave important insights into the infrastructure barriers and key challenges to accelerate regional connectivity, including Anindya Bakrie, President Commission-er of PT Bakrie Connectivity, Hasnul Suhaimi, President Director of PT XL Axiata Indonesia, and Kamran Khan, Program Director for the World Bank Singapore Hub. Some of the public policy issues discussed included the need for accelerated development of power infrastructure, improved regulatory and tax incentives for infrastructure development and greater clarity and cooperation across Asean in establishing regulations that enable cross-border connectivity.
In a special session, Ernest Bower, Senior Adviser and Director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies discussed the US relationship with Asean. He identified three main pillars for the relationship, including the economic relationship through trade and investment, the security relationship, and the people to people relationship.
He said that the last decade had been a lost decade for the US in its ties with Asean, due to the US policy focus on the Middle East. Even the US private sector had diverted its attention from Asean in the last decade.
However, US attention was now refocusing on Asean, both at the government and private sector levels. One key driver is that President Obama is looking for international trade to be an engine for growth for the US, and the Asean region is an important part of that initiative. The Asean Forum also included sessions on Promoting Green Growth and Sustainable Development in Asean. Darwin Silalahi, Country Chairman and President Director of PT Shell Indonesia, discussed the need to make alternative energy an important part of the energy mix for the future, discussing the important role that biofuels can play in reducing CO2 emissions.
Swarup Roy, Founder and Chairman of Asean Affairs, highlighted the environmental challenges facing Asean from climate change, emphasizing the urgent need for action by describing the increasing vulnerability of Jakarta to catastrophic flooding and rising sea levels.
Providing a youthful perspective on the future of Asean, in which young leaders from across Asean discussed “What the Next Generation Thinks of ASEAN”. The session highlighted the importance of ensuring that Asean established its relevance to young citizens of the Asean region, in order to win their support for the concept of Asean and the potential benefits the regional grouping of nations could bring to its citizens.
Overall, the Forum highlighted the considerable economic strengths of the Asean region and the tremendous opportunities for the grouping in coming decades. However, there was also a recognition among many that much more needed to be done to build effective leadership and also achieve more implementation and tangible results to ensure that Asean remains relevant and plays a constructive role in economic development through greater cooperation across member nations.
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