Reimagining Southeast Asia 2018: A recap

(L to R) Azizi Meor Ngah, Chairman, The ASEAN Post, Maria Castillo Fernandez, Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to Malaysia, Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia, Darell Leiking, Minister of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia, Hanim Hamzah, Regional Managing Partner, ZICO Law Network, Narong Sasitorn, Ambassador of Thailand to Malaysia, and Rohan Ramakrishnan, CEO and Founder, The ASEAN Post at the Reimagining Southeast Asia 2018 forum.

Last week, The ASEAN Post held its inaugural forum, titled Reimagining Southeast Asia 2018. The half-day forum aimed to facilitate better understanding of the issues in the region and offer insights that affect decision-making processes and outcomes in relation to the many pressing issues and challenges within the region.  

Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia delivered an exclusive policy brief on Malaysia’s aspirations for ASEAN.

Held in Kuala Lumpur, the forum also witnessed the launch of The ASEAN Post, a regional communications and intelligence platform dedicated to Southeast Asian markets.

The forum was an invitation-only event and was well attended by diplomats from Embassies of ASEAN and EU countries as well as representatives from Malaysia’s corporate and business elite. Readers of The ASEAN Post were also able to follow the entire Forum via livestream.

The main purpose of the forum was simple – to promote and facilitate compelling conversations on matters facing Southeast Asia. The fruits of the conversations held on the day were not just for the panellists involved or the ambassadors in attendance, but are also useful to Malaysian businesses as well as civil society champions in the future as the region becomes more integrated.

People-centric ASEAN

One of the main themes that was discussed in Saifuddin’s keynote address that was later carried on in the panel discussion that followed is the concept of making ASEAN more people-centric. While ASEAN represents a bloc of over 600 million people, the perception that ASEAN is merely an association where politicians and technocrats make regional decisions still very much persists in the minds of ASEAN’s citizens.

In Saifuddin’s keynote address, he called for increased consultation and cooperation between different sectors and other parties.

“ASEAN as a whole should move towards a worldview that looks at the business sector and at civil society organisations which includes the media, women, youth, workers, professionals and technocrats as our partners.

“And we consult them with the objective of making decisions together. It is not about inviting civil societies and businesses into consultation platforms as an afterthought, which happens more often than not”, Saifuddin said.

In the panel discussion titled “ASEAN 2025: Reimagining Southeast Asia”, Saifuddin together with Darell Leiking, Minister of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia, Narong Sasitorn, Ambassador of Thailand to Malaysia and Hanim Hamzah of ZICO Law Network discussed the future of ASEAN economic integration.

According to Leiking, the imminent conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will prove ASEAN’s worth in the global community.

“As we progress and as we will probably conclude [the RCEP discussions] next year, we will be able to show to the rest of the world what ASEAN is all about,” the minister said. Currently still in the later stage of discussions, if signed, the RCEP will comprise of 25 percent global gross domestic product (GDP), 45 percent of the total population, 30 percent of global income and 30 percent global trade.

On the other hand, Ambassador Sasitorn spoke of the government’s role in facilitating trade and economic integration in ASEAN. “I think the government’s role is to facilitate and to provide the right environment. I think we can do more in reducing non-trade barriers.” He also highlighted that Thailand – who is the chair for ASEAN in 2019 – will be pushing for the ASEAN Single Window to be fully operational next year.

Sustainability

Another big talking point on the day was sustainability. With the United Nations report revealing that the world could face a climate change catastrophe in the near future, sustainability is one of the biggest issues the region has to deal with. Thailand has recognised the importance of this and has even made it the theme of their chairmanship next year, “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”.

In another panel held on the day, Dr Mike Kavanaugh, advisor to Heart of Borneo and Dr Simon Lord, Chief Sustainability Officer of Sime Darby Plantations provided an overview on the adoption of sustainable principles and alignment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlighting the economic, environmental and social perspectives in terms of the region’s growth.

“If we’re really going to really reimagine, we need to go beyond the borders of compliance, we need to go just further than simply walking up to the limits of regulations or legislations, we need to go beyond that if we are going to develop sustainably and have a future in the ASEAN region,” Dr Lord said.

The conversations held at the Forum showed that while we are making progress there is still a long way to go and everyone in ASEAN has an important role to play.

The ASEAN Post’s inaugural forum provided an enabling platform to facilitate the critical communications and networking that is essential to ensuring these “conversations” are accurately captured and featured for the betterment of Southeast Asia and the world in general.

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