South-east Asian countries are upbeat and raring to go

Asia Society business conference ——————————–
‘Dominoes’ have become ‘dynamos’: Jaya

SOUTH-EAST Asian countries are in a confident mood and their leaders, no longer looking only to the West as a model for development, are becoming more assertive.

They are upbeat about their future prospects, have faith in their abilities and are raring to go.

This much can be said of the sentiments expressed by some participants at The Asia Society’s international business conference at Shangri-La Hotel yesterday.

In fact, the title of the three-day conference – Waves of the Future: Asean, Vietnam and China – says it all.

Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar, speaking about Asean’s growing importance as a regional organisation, went straight to the point: “There is a mood of confidence prevailing in South- east Asia today,” he said.

“The countries are at peace and their economic outlook is buoyant. Our good relations with the major powers have advanced our interests without compromising our sovereignty.”

After three decades, Asean had matured, he said.

“It has emerged as an anchor of stability in the Southeast Asian region and beyond. It has gained a credibility in the Asia-Pacific and on the global stage.

“The ‘dominoes’ of the 1970s have become the ‘dynamos’ of economic development in Asia.”

His remarks captured the mood of the other speakers.

Dr Noordin Sopiee, head of Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said the future had arrived for Asian countries.

Asia had been through great political, economic and social changes that would revolutionalise the lives of their people and their ways of thinking.

“The winds of democracy cannot be stopped,” he said.

“Asians are increasingly growing to be more assertive. The United States is no longer the model.”

Washington might criticise Beijing about human rights, but great changes were taking place in China.

“So much has been done for so many in such a short time,” he said.

In his view, the Americans, British and Japanese lacked leadership.

“The US needs a wake-up call because the bulk of America is still sleeping as far as Asia is concerned.”

The trouble, he concluded, was that the Clinton administration could not decide on its priorities.

Several American participants among the 1,000-odd delegates from 21 countries at the conference also homed in on this point.

They questioned Assistant US Trade Representative Ira Wolf about what they thought were “inscrutable” and “inconsistent”American policies towards Asian countries.

Mr Washington Sycip, chairman of the management consultancy SGV group, said the Western emphasis on individual freedom ran counter to Asian thinking.

“Eloquent and thoughtful leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Mahathir are pointing to other alternatives with solutions quite different from the Western model,” he said.

The Western countries were no longer in a position to talk down to Asian countries, he added. That Asean countries are brimming with confidence is becoming increasingly evident.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet yesterday reiterated that his country was “making necessary preparations to be a full member of Asean at an early time”.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Amnuay Virawan proposed the creation of an institute for transitional economies to help the command economies of the Indochina countries make the transition to market economies.

Even the Philippines, whose growth has lagged behind the rest of the other booming Asean economies, is in an upbeat mood.

Philippine Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo said his country had finally licked the power shortage problem. There was political stability, inflation was down and things were looking up.

“The Philippines is back in business,” he declared. “The days of looking inward are over.”

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