MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Rajak urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to make sure economic growth is felt by citizens, to prevent marginalization in society that breeds extremism and the radicalization of young people.
Najib touted Malaysia’s success in ensuring that “no one is left behind” regardless of ethnicity and faith, because uneven growth lures the poor toward extremism.
“We know that those who see no hope in their own societies are more prone to the calls of terrorists who can exploit their vulnerability and lure them with their lies,” said Najib in his keynote speech in the “Prosperity for All” forum at City of Dreams Manila, organized by the Asean Business Advisory Council.
“A neglected underclass of those who felt left behind by economic growth, prosperity and the benefits of globalization can overturn elections and political systems,” he said ahead of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ summit in Manila.
Najib said Asean needs to raise awareness to make the 50-year-old regional trade bloc more relevant and tangible to its citizens.
“We are one of the most successful regional associations in the world and while some have criticized us for moving too slowly we have avoided the downside of moving too fast,” he said.
The Malaysian leader emphasized the need to make the bonds between Asean countries and its peoples more evident.
“That is what our association is all about as we celebrate the half century of Asean. What better way for us to do than working towards the theme of the summit, ‘Prosperity for All,’ and turning that into reality,” he added.
Najib called for more tariff cuts, even as the average tariff in Asean was already at 4 percent in 2015 according to the World Trade Organization.
“On that we still have a long way to go, we have to bring down further trade tariffs that still exist,” he said.
He also called for more trade facilitation, saying national single customs windows should be linked to Asean and standardized custom procedures.
“Most of all, non-tariff barriers and measures must be reduced and ultimately removed. This is a nagging or somewhat stubborn worldwide problem, but it is in Asean’s own interests to lead the way in this endeavor,” he said.
A reduction of at least 50 percent of non-tariff barriers is crucial for Asean to become a $9.2-trillion economy by 2050, he said.
From 1975 to 2014, the Asean economy multiplied 28 times, from $87.2 billion to $2.5 trillion, Najib noted. By November 2015 the Asean economy was valued at $2.7 trillion.
“And recent estimates suggest that taken as one, Asean would now represent the sixth largest economy in the world,” the Malaysian leader added.
Ramos: Replace ‘Pax Americana’
Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, in a separate forum, likewise called on Asean countries to pursue the creation of the Asean Economic Community that allows the free flow of goods and services.
“Asean economic integration must continue to be a top priority for the Asean leaders in order that the Asean Economic Community remains on track,” he said in a speech at the 14th Asean Leadership Forum organized by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute of Malaysia and the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands at the Manila Hotel.
The next big challenge, he said, is to maintain peace and stability in Southeast Asia and in the larger Asia-Pacific region, which the United States has been maintaining for the last 70 years.
Ramos said it was high time for Asean member-nations to take over the policeman’s role with its own maritime and military self-defense.
“It is time to replace Pax America… That we who are big and important enough in our region and in the Asia-Pacific assume the responsibilities for providing peace, law and order, and especially stability in the bigger region of the Asia-Pacific,” Ramos said. WITH RAADEE S. SAUSA AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, WITH REPORTS FROM MARY GRACE DATILES AND ASHLEY ERIKA O. JOSE