HEADS OF state from across the region hailed the transformative technological potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on Asean in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, according to a WEF statement yesterday.
“The opportunities brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are indeed enormous,” noted Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister of Vietnam . “The start-up atmosphere is truly permeating throughout Asean.” The bloc is a shining star among emerging market economies, with robust growth rates of almost 7 per cent .
The Vietnamese prime minister emphasised the need to seize technological pportunities brought about by rapid technological growth. The prime minister added that, later in the day, he was to inaugurate a digital passenger transport service based on the 4.0 model – a collaboration between cutting-edge start-ups GoViet and GoJek, from Vietnam and Indonesia.
Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor of Myanmar, emphasised the technological leaps the country has achieved in the past five years, the dramatic drop in the price of mobile phones for example, but also stressed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution should be human-centric. “Our approach to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is based on our belief in the creativity, empathy and stewardship qualities of our people, especially the young,” she said.
“This Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. The global economy is being transformed by new and far-reaching breakthroughs in technologies,” pointed out Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore. “Here in Asean, member states are in a good position to take advantage of the new opportunities that this Fourth Industrial Revolution can bring. First of all, our economic fundamentals are robust. Asean will become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2020, after the United States, China and the European Union.”
“For Thailand, the Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a big turning point for the way we live and do our business; technology is now an integral part of society at all levels but also poses immense challenges for SMEs and marginal groups,” said Prajin Juntong, deputy prime minister and minister of justice of Thailand, adding that the country has implemented a “Thailand 4.0” policy to shift its economic focus towards an innovation-driven economy.
Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, said that the narrative that the resources available to humanity are finite is flawed: “As our economies develop, they are driven increasingly not by natural resources, which are limited, but human talent, which is unlimited,” he said. Widodo noted that, in Indonesia, there are at least four start-ups now valued at $1 billion each.
Across the Asean region, the effects of the technological transformation will be keenly felt, particularly among the region’s young demographic, with 11,000 people entering the labour force each day. Acknowledging that “digitalisation has become a new growth catalyst,” Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen said that while the technological frontier will create positive change, it will also cause anxiety about job losses, as increasing automation affects manual labour and Asean as a traditional factory hub. “We need to focus on education and skills training to address job losses and economic and social inequality,” he said, calling for regional initiatives to support research, talent incubation and entrepreneurial skills.
Noting that collaborative advances in the regional market have been achieved, Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, urged continued unity in an “evolving regional architecture to ensure that ASEAN connectivity grows.”
On the back of rising purchasing power of its 630 million citizens, the 10-member ASEAN has a collective GDP of $2.8 trillion, making it the sixth-largest economy in the world, one that has not escaped the attention of its regional neighbour, China. “ASEAN is China’s good neighbour. Strengthening our relationship with ASEAN is always a top priority in China’s foreign policy,” said Hu Chunhua, Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China.
Bringing together more than 1,000 leaders from government, business, academia and civil society, as well as almost 80 start-ups, this year’s World Economic Forum on Asean is testament to the growing clout of the region, leaders agreed.
“This year is the most powerful ASEAN summit we have ever organized. It shows the potential of the region, which combined represents 10 countries and forms one of the most powerful economic and potentially political forces in a fragmented world today,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“Despite our differences, we should never forget that we have common global interests and a common global responsibility,” Schwab added, “The ASEAN way of striving for consensus among rival countries can serve, particularly during those times, as a good role model for our world.”