ABOUT three years ago, the United Nations revised its goals to upgrade human lives, expanding them from eight to 17, and extending the timeline to 2040. But the top priorities remained the same, including eradication of extreme poverty and basic education for the people.
The Asean 10 followed similar objectives in their economic integration, adopting inclusive growth as the flagship project and called for financial assistance to small and medium enterprises/industries. These, as carefully charted by the national economic planners of the member-countries, are supposed to speed up the emergence of the region as a solid market in the world economic race, also known as globalization.
In simple terms, globalization is supposed to mean—and be accepted—as a trade interaction between sovereign nation-members of the UN under the rule of international laws.
On closer scrutiny, however, realities show globalization to be full of pitfalls where industrialized countries, or the First World, have the edge over most of the 199 current UN member-countries. Remember the recent special feature article of the Associated Press, which exposed that less than 10 billionaires hold assets equivalent to the wealth of half of the world’s nations?
In the next 20 years, Asean 10 is expected to be the fastest growing region, outstripping China whose economy will slow down due to geopolitics, world economic conditions (especially with the US under the Trump presidency in the next four years), its own domestic political and economic problems, and its border disputes with its neighbors—even with Russia in the Chinese northeastern border.
And Asean leaders obviously agree it is in the region’s best interest to start with small and medium enterprises because the mentality of the average Asean individual is toward a tribal or family enterprise. They are apprehensive they will lose their identities and businesses to the rich investor if they join up with corporations.
These are precisely the reasons why China has taken the economic offensive, particularly in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa and South America. Beijing is concentrating on helping build and finance infrastructure projects (which these regions need for economic growth) and creating jobs for the greater number of the populations.
Figures from the World Bank, the US-Asean Business Council and the East West Center show Asean 10’s aggregate gross domestic product has grown by 300 percent since 2001 for a combined $2.4 trillion, pushed by its free-trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, India and China.
By comparison, China has a GDP of $8.9 trillion, Japan $5.0 trillion, India $1.8 trillion, Australia $1.5 trillion, South Korea $1.2 trillion and Taiwan $485 billion.
But because of the population factor, Australia topped the per capita income race with $64,157, followed by Japan with $39,321, South Korea with $23,838, Taiwan with $20,706, China with $6,569, Asean 10 with $3,852 and India with $1,414.
Basically, economic growth is greatly determined by a country’s geography, natural and human resources, local politics and leadership in governance, internal peace and order, geopolitics, including foreign direct private investments of which inflow is dependent on the “friendliness” or liberal laws and rules for businesses, available cheap energy, modern technologies, infrastructure efficiency (including communications), availability of qualified labor and management, and social environment.
It is a lot easier to say that Asean 10 in its 50-year stretch will push harder for inclusive growth this year under the Philippine chairmanship of the summit. There is more hard work ahead, and the integration of the region is admittedly not moving as fast as it should.
One factor that slows down collective integration efforts is the differences of their colonial histories that rendered them strangers to each other within a tropical geography of 1.7 million square miles with abundant mineral resources.
Asean’s growing population is comparatively young—both a potential source of qualified labor and a huge consumer market, once the governments implement institutional economic and political reforms to be in cadence with the First World.
The Asean member-countries need to improve their communicative skills in English, the predominant language of globalization, trade, science, information and communication technologies in this century. The local communicators must be proficient enough in English and their original languages to prevent transliterations. It will prevent wrong interpretations of messages and instructions, and upgrade productivity too.
The communicators are the most efficient way to talk the Asean 10 people toward complete integration although that will be equally hard work. But that is the faster way to make them understand that unless the region is integrated as a market economy, it will always be a pawn in the competition for work influence among the superpowers.
It will take the native Aseans to explain to their own people (in their mother tongues) modern technologies so labor and management can understand the importance of organized businesses and services to the national economic growth.
In all the Asean 10 countries I have covered as a foreign news correspondent for decades, I found one common demand among the educated communities: they all want to be consulted by their governments on public policies and economic planning “because we are all affected anyway.”
They are now all enjoying their liberation from their colonial pasts and want to participate even indirectly in governance. The proficient communicators—explainers if you wish—can convince the common people that they are vital cogs of their nations’ wheels toward progress and better lives.
It is the best way for them to understand why small and medium-scale industries will benefit them directly. That will even push them to initiate organizing themselves into associations and get off the archaic notion that they are better off individually or as a tribe/family.
Reactions and comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Gil H. A. Santos is president of the Futuristics Center, and teaches journalism and geopolitics at the Lyceum of the Philippines University. He is a veteran news correspondent for the international networks.