Yesterday saw the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Hanoi with the theme “ASEAN 4.0: Entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
The forum will witness over 900 political leaders, business leaders and members of civil society converging to discuss the biggest issues facing the region. The topics discussed at the forum will cover a wide variety of challenges facing ASEAN, particularly pertaining to the potential challenges that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The three-day summit began yesterday with an open forum titled “ASEAN 4.0 for All?”. Speakers on the panel were Yasmin Mahmood, CEO of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Google’s Rajan Anandan, Annie Koh, vice-president at the Office of Business Development at Singapore Management University, Le Hong Minh, Chief Executive Officer, VNG Corporation, and Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports.
Yesterday’s discussion set the tone for the forum and revolved around seeking solutions as to how the region should adapt to new technologies as well as the role of governments and ASEAN in facilitating such change and mitigating the potential problems that come with it.
Despite officially starting yesterday, WEF on ASEAN 2018 truly kicked off today with a full day of events planned. The day’s program started with a discussion titled “Accelerating Inequality Reduction”. The speakers for this session included Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim, WEF co-chair and CEO of Plan International, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Stephen P. Groff from the Asian Development Bank among others.
The main event of the day however was the meeting’s opening plenary, “ASEAN Priorities in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” which saw speeches from ASEAN leaders such as Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister of Vietnam, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu-Kyi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and others. These leaders expressed their hopes in the transformational power of technology.
Although the theme of this year’s forum is based on entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, most of the discussion could not escape the reality of the current economic climate which is marred by the looming threat of a trade war and growing protectionism. Against this backdrop, ASEAN leaders expressed their concerns and also called for a more integrated ASEAN economy.
“ASEAN is committed to further economic integration,” Lee Hsien Loong said in his speech. "We need to strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system: it has underpinned our growth and stability but is under pressure and under threat,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Xuan Phuc called for ASEAN to harmonise its business environment. He also recommended that ASEAN establish a standardized ASEAN code on data sharing.
It was President Joko Widodo’s speech however, that stole the show. Jokowi likened himself to one of the Avengers and called for the international community to focus on working together.
"We must prevent trade wars from becoming the infinity war," he said, referring to the plot of a Marvel comic turned Hollywood blockbuster.
He also took a subtle swipe at the United States’ (US) reaction to the rise of other countries by threatening them with tariffs and other protectionist measures. “The rise of some does not mean the decline of others”, Jokowi added.
Other sessions on today’s agenda included one on Asia’s economic outlook featuring speakers from prominent banks in the region. There was also a session titled “ASEAN Pluralism: Under Threat?” which looked at safeguarding the region’s diverse cultures from threats such as racism, nationalism and xenophobia.