Good morning. I am honoured to speak at the Chosun Ilbo Asian Leadership Conference alongside a very illustrious roster of speakers for this morning’s Global Top Leaders’ Session.
2. Before I begin, I would like to congratulate Chosun Ilbo on the 10th iteration of the Asian Leadership Conference. Over the years, the Asian Leadership Conference has become one of the leading international conferences held in the Republic of Korea. I am happy to attend this conference for the third time.
3. As reflected in the theme of this year’s Conference, the world is indeed at a crossroads. Recent global geopolitical developments have challenged the Asian growth story. Over the past few decades, countries like China and India have seen incredible economic growth. ASEAN, as a group, has done well and is the world’s seventh largest economy. We hope it will rise to be the fourth by 2050. ASEAN has a young and vibrant population of over 640 million, with over 60% being below 35 years of age. Its economic growth has also outstripped the global average of 3.8% and currently stands at around 5%.
4. Despite Asia’s progress and potential, there are three key risks confronting Asia that could stymie the rise of the Asian Century.
5. First, the tail-end negative effects of globalisation are beginning to surface. There is unequal growth between and within countries. The influx of foreign labour has made immigration a key political issue for many countries. Innovation and emerging technologies have also disrupted traditional economic models and raised fears that jobs will be made redundant. For instance, the emergence of ride-sharing services like Uber and Grab have elicited reactions, sometimes violent, from taxi drivers around the world. The exponential growth of e-commerce has also affected the way brick and mortar retailers do business. As a result of these concerns, governments have had to adapt and develop policies to address such challenges. Unfortunately, some have opted for inward-looking, nationalistic and populist approaches. They have chosen short-term quick fixes which will have serious implications in the medium and long-term.
6. This leads to the second key risk, which is the shift away from multilateralism to unilateralism and nationalism. The post-World War II era saw the rise of strong multilateral institutions like the UN, IMF and WTO. These organisations gave all countries, big or small, an equal voice on the international stage. They have also served to underpin the global order through a strong respect for the rule of law. However, this world order is being undermined. Some countries are trying to forcefully change international norms and have even ignored rules laid down by inter-governmental organisations.The proliferation of this approach will undermine the rules-based global order we have painstakingly created together over the years.
7. The third and perhaps most central threat to Asia’s peace and prosperity is the ongoing strategic rivalry between the US and China. This is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. The US has identified China as a long-term strategic threat to its predominance, while China has concluded that the US is actively trying to contain its growth. The rest of us in Asia are unfortunately caught in the middle. Diplomatic manoeuvring space has been circumscribed, and countries are sometimes forced to choose sides. This will be a major test of Asia’s resilience. If this strategic rivalry between the US and China continues unabated, it will have major repercussions on Asia and the world.
8. To manage these risks, I recommend, or suggest, that we identify principles; principles that will allow us to address our common challenges. One of these principles is the commitment to an open and connected world, based on a rules-based global order and strong multilateral institutions. An international framework that is conducive for the global trading system and national economies will bring about greater predictability and stability. There will be knock-on benefits for all countries that are plugged into the global supply chain. These international norms will not be unilaterally decided, and every country, regardless of size, will have a say in shaping them. Such a system will enhance mutual understanding and trust between countries, which is fundamental to a cohesive, peaceful and prosperous world.
9. I will be delivering the keynote address at tonight’s dinner, and will not elaborate further. At this point, I will stop here and hand the time over to the other speakers. Thank you.