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East Asia/Economic Growth
June 25, 2007

East Asia progress to come for years: Lee
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed confidence that East Asia's growth will sustain and the region will not retrace the financial crisis a decade ago.

He made the comments at the welcome reception for delegates attending the World Economic Forum on East Asia, which opened June 24.

"I believe that there is greater resilience in the region today compared to 10 years ago. Provided countries do not become complacent and make big mistakes, East Asia as a whole should continue progressing for many more years," he told participants, including Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Vietnam's First Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung.

Compared to a decade ago, Lee said, the economic fundamentals are different as most East Asian countries have continued to keep themselves open to competition, court foreign investments and promote exports.

At the same time, the countries pursued sound macroeconomic policies, and strengthened their financial supervision and corporate governance, he added.

"Today, the East Asian countries are running balance of payment surpluses, not deficits. Their currencies are not overvalued, some may even be underpriced. They have also built up foreign reserves to deal with contingencies and unexpected situations," Lee said.

He pointed out that East Asia now has a broader base of growth, with the rising of China and India, the re-emergence of Japan and South Korea after the financial disaster.

The prime minister praised China for its significant role in East Asia's development. "It has made tremendous progress in its transformation over the decade, and the impact is being felt all over the region," Lee said.

"China has become a major trading partner of all East Asian countries. Chinese tourists are flooding the region, and Chinese companies are starting to invest abroad," he added.

Furthermore, East Asia has become more integrated over the last decade, reflecting the growing intra-regional trade, investment and people linkages, he elaborated.

"East Asian countries still depend on key markets in the United States and Europe. But the strong and growing demand from within the region is making Asia's growth more self sustaining," he said.

New mechanisms of regional cooperation are emerging with greater interaction in trade and investments, such as establishing free trade agreements (FTAs) within and beyond the ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, said the prime minister.

However, he warned that mishaps could still happen, because of the widening income disparities, the mounting global imbalances, as well as other political and security risks.

"In a world which is seeing more and more rapid and discontinuous change, there are surely many surprises and 'unknown unknowns' ahead. While we may not always be able to come up with definitive solutions to these problems, we can and must manage them by working together, pooling our resources and drawing on our complementary strengths," he said.

The reception was held for about 300 political and business leaders from 26 countries attending the meeting to exchange views on challenges and risks facing Asia.
The two-day meeting, themed "The leadership Imperative for an Asian Century", is organised by the World Economic Forum, a Geneva-based international organization. PNA/Xinhua

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