KUALA LUMPUR: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) future competitiveness will be driven by growth dividends the region is reaping from rapid technological development and youthful demographics, the leaders of four members said at the opening session of the 26th World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Phnom Pennh, Cambodia Thursday (May 11).
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that fifty years since its founding and despite the more volatile global environment, "ASEAN has managed to maintain stable and strong peace and security with good cooperation among its members".
"ASEAN must have an integrated agenda aligning its strengths to seize opportunities and address unexpected problems, promoting education and skills development and addressing issues such as inequality and cyber security," said Hun Sen in a WEF statement.
Another ASEAN leader, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, said that investment should be made in human capital.
"The Philippines, along with other southeast asian countries, is in a demographic sweet spot," said Duterte. "The youth is a key sector in which we must invest."
Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith called on the private sector to continue improving and adapting to increase competitiveness.
"We need quality education aimed at developing labour skills to increase effectiveness and efficiency," he said. "Private enterprise will play a critical role if ASEAN is to meet the challenges ahead."
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed. "To maintain dynamic growth, we cannot rely on natural resources and unskilled labour but have to strive towards sustainable development and better quality growth so we can move up the value chain," he said.
Duterte cautioned that while young people represent the great opportunities ahead for ASEAN, it was necessary to ensure their well-being and safety by tackling the drug threat in the region.
"We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus. We must realise our commitment to a drug-free community," said the ASEAN 2017 chairman.
More than 700 business, government and civil society leaders from 40 countries participated in the three-day event themed ''Youth, Technology and Growth: Securing ASEAN''s Digital and Demographic Dividends".
Meanwhile, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship recognised Gregory Dajer and Nga Tuyet Trang of Hanoi-based medical devices company Medical Technology Transfer and Services (MTTS) as the 2017 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year for Asia.