Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra delivers her keynote speech during the two-day International conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on May 24, 2013.
She says : Asia is on the rise. Asia has a large population and land mass that extends to link two great oceans. This means that we have massive influence on the world.
Indeed, for many centuries, Asia has created many civilizations. And now, we are at an important junction, where the future of Asia will again define the future of the world.
In recent years, the center of world economic growth has shifted towards Asia. In the 1980’s, Japan led the Asian economies’ pack of the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, to achieve increased wealth and prosperity. In the past decade, China and India became the new engines of growth for the world.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has recently forecast 5.7 percent growth for the region this year, and around 6 percent in 2014. A moderate inflation and manageable level of public debt to GDP in most Asian countries have led to stability.
At the same time, Asian innovation and creativity, together with a productive workforce supported by new technology, will promote sustainable growth for the region.
Analysts have projected that the share of Asia’s GDP to global GDP will double to 51 percent by 2050. The consumer base and spending power of Asia is also projected to grow further, where the share of Asian middle class is expected to increase from 28 percent to 66 percent of the global middle class.
In addition, Asia’s international reserves are very high at 6.4 trillion US dollars. If this is used productively, it will help bring about a true Asian Century.
On the political front, Asia has reconnected.
There are effective regional cooperation for all of Asia in the form of ACD (Asia Cooperation Dialogue). For the cooperation of sub regions of Asia, there are the GCC (Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf), SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Initiative for Technical and Economic Cooperation) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The EAS (East Asia Summit) also extends the East Asian cooperation to other regions.
This has promoted understanding between nations as well as people to people relations. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation has been strengthened because of the connectivity of modern technology and transportation. The few who chose not to join remained in the cold of lost opportunities.
So I believe the stage is set for Asia’s rise. But the road is not guaranteed to be easy. Challenges could limit growth and the promised prosperity.
I would like to share some of my thought on these challenges with you.
First, Asia is diverse. I always believe that in diversity we can find strength. Moreover, Asia is not just East Asia. But it also includes other regions of growth and potential, comprising South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Close cooperation from all will promote growth.
But at the same time, I accept that when there is diversity, sometimes there can be conflicting interests. Asia needs to look beyond national interests and take into account the interests of the region as a whole.
We need to start thinking of being part of the same Asian community with an outward-looking approach that will promote shared interests and address challenges together. Because in today’s world, we are all connected.
Countries like Japan have played and can continue to play an important role in achieving this. Moreover, Japan’s recent economic revival under Prime Minister Abe’s leadership has the potential to help promote growth in the region as a whole.
For example, the continued economic challenges in Europe and the U.S. is a big test for Asia. Asia’s fundamentals are strong as I mentioned earlier. But how we act now will determine our future.
The quantitative easing measures of the U.S., U.K., EU and Japan have led to strong capital inflows into the region. And while this can be seen as a strength in our economic fundamentals, Asia needs to work together to manage the inflows productively to ensure stability in the region.
Some say funds flow like water. I believe there should be cooperation between all countries through which the water flows, so that all can benefit and grow together.
Together, we can create immunity by building a vibrant regional market to absorb goods, products and services, while at the same time, excess funds can be used for investments to benefit the whole region.
This brings me to my second point. I propose that we should direct our investments to build connectivity, both on land and sea, since Asia is mostly a large land continent covering two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific.
On land, rail link is the most effective and efficient. From ASEAN on the Southeast Asian mainland, we must build links to North and Northeast Asia. And on the opposite end, to South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
A modern Silk Road to connect the region with high speed trains, and feeder tracks for cargo and passengers will become the new Asia-Euro land bridge linking the two continents, while opening up new growth areas along the way.
At the same time, we will continue to develop road links, airports and sea ports. Dawei deep seaport in Myanmar will create maritime connectivity within the Indian Ocean, and through land links to Laem Chabang port in Thailand, to connecting South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
On the Indian Ocean side, Dawei will link up Southeast Asia with the Middle East and Africa. The port, industrial estate and transport infrastructure will help drive economic growth and development throughout Southeast Asia.
Moreover, it will also add value to the production bases in ASEAN of many countries, in particular Japan.
In other words, Dawei is an investment in the future of Asia. In the long run, it can become a major point for transportation and connectivity to complement other port and industrial estates in Myanmar.
We look forward to participation from foreign partners for investment and also multilateral institutions such as the Asian Development Bank to help consult and assist in this regional project.
Another contribution to the region’s future is Thailand’s 66 billion U.S. dollar in infrastructure development which includes high speed rail link between Thailand, Laos and China. And we plan to link this with infrastructure investment plans of other Asian countries.
The challenge is the rising tension in the Asia-Pacific caused by the geo-politics of maritime challenges. Without a peaceful and stable security environment, there cannot be sustainable growth and a bright future for Asia.
An unstable South China Sea or maritime disputes benefit no one. It is necessary for Asia to move beyond the legacies of the past and manage challenges that can threaten maritime connectivity. Peace and security are an essential foundation for a better future.
Likewise, peace and stability are essential for land links to work. For Asia to realize our full potential, the various jigsaws must fit together.
A borderless ASEAN in 2015 will be a hurdle to jump across. But if we can move beyond 2015 to become more integrated with other sub-regions of Asia, Asia can rise together.
To help bring these jigsaws together, I suggest that we promote closer cooperation on win-win issues that will add value to Asia as a whole. Such issues include food and energy security.
Because addressing these challenges will also contribute to promoting human security for the peoples of our region as well as help reduce potential tensions caused by competition for water and oil.
Asia is rich with land suitable for agriculture. In Thailand, we are restructuring our agriculture production with zonings and post-harvest management to produce higher quality food and at the same time ensure food security, for Thailand, Asia and the world.
We are also investing in water management system that will provide enough supply for agriculture, industry and household uses. Effective measures to build water and food security, as well as protection against natural disasters, will provide a stronger foundation for growth and social harmony within our region.
Complementing this is the issue of energy security which we hope to achieve through green growth and by relying more on alternative energy. As Asia plans towards the path of sustainable growth, Asia will demand for a large amount of energy.
For Asia, I believe that there is great potential in cooperation between the regions, whereby food could be exchanged for energy between ASEAN countries in Southeast Asia and the GCC in the Middle East.
Also, since a rising Asia is outward-looking, cooperation in trade and investment must also be extended to other regions, such as Africa which is also rising. That is why we are launching a Thai-African Conference to enhance engagement with Africa.
The bottom line is that Asia and other regions, Africa, the Americas, Europe need to work together to grow together.
The future of Asia is in our hands. It is up to our generation to set the future course towards sustainable growth for all. It is a path where we work together, learn from each other and grow together, not only in our region but also with the world.