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Highlights from the World Economic Forum on Asean 2017

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Young people take a selfie on the first day of the World Economic Forum on Asean. More than 2,700 people gathered for a talk on 'The Asean Dream' at the Cambodian Institute of Technology in Phnom Penh. Jenni Reid

Highlights from the World Economic Forum on Asean 2017

More than 700 people, including world leaders, analysts, businesspeople and journalists, gathered at Phnom Penh's Sokha Hotel last week, as the capital hosted the annual World Economic Forum on Asean for the first time. From Prime Minister Hun Sen's rebuke of reporters to a debate on dethroning cash in the Kingdom and an analysis of what the Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean for Asia, catch up with some of the main events.

Hun Sen’s fighting talk
In his first public talk of the forum, the Cambodian Prime Minister used a press conference to chide reporters from two news outlets for working for “American” publications, ignoring their business-related questions.

He linked his achievements in eliminating the Khmer Rouge with the journalists’ ability to work for what he classified as foreign news outlets. “Your grandparents and parents could survive, so that is why you can work for American radio and newspapers,” he said. “Is this not a live example of what the Royal Government is doing for you?”

Read our analysis and watch the whole press conference below:

Asean: 50 Years Young

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Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith (L), Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (2L), Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) and the Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc (R) arrive for a plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Phnom Penh. Jenni Reid

Asean, an economic bloc now with 10 member states, turns 50 this year. What has it achieved in this time, and what do countries hope it can do for them in the future?

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc delivered short speeches outlining their perspective.

Duterte hailed the youth of Asean as “among the best, most creative, intelligent and innovative in the world.” He then turned to the topic with which his presidency so far has been most associated, saying that the potential of young people should not be squandered by the ‘threat’ of drugs. “We need to make a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus,” he said.

In contrast to his earlier press conference, Hun Sen stuck to a discussion of business and economics, pointing to the Kingdom’s “remarkable poverty reduction,” and calling it “one of the most successful emerging economies in the world.”

Watch the full event here:

Asean Young Leader series

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Director Davy Chou (L) and writer Miguel Syjuco (R) discuss art, identity and politics at the World Economic Forum on Asean. Jenni Reid

More than half of Asean’s population is under 30, and one of the themes of this year’s forum was how to nurture their potential and secure a better future for them. In the Global Young Leader series, speakers shared insights into the issues that matter to them, from ‘trashion’ designer Francis Sollano, who discussed sustainability and consumption in the region, to Nurul Izzah Anwar, a Malaysian politician who talked about the importance of free speech.

Izzah Anwar told The Post: “By 2030, the challenges facing Asean, whether economic, climate change or the pressures stemming from a growing population, will be far greater. You shouldn't take that for granted. If you want a more healthy, inclusive future for Asean, you need fundamental changes. It starts not with political will, but by ensuring all voices have the courage to speak out.”

Cambodian-French film director Davy Chou and Filipino writer Miguel Syjuco discussed what it means to connect with your identity when you grew up partly in a different culture, and how art can help bridge that gap. Chou talked about how his film Diamond Island is his attempt to rediscover the nature of distinctively Cambodian cinema, and challenge people's continued association of the Kingdom with the Khmer Rouge and the destruction of culture. Syjuco explored the nature of democracy, the importance of standing up to authority, and how “a voice is a vote”.

Meanwhile Cassandra Chiu, a psychotherapist from Singapore who has been blind since she was 8, talked about the importance of integrating disabled people into the workplace in Asean countries, both for their benefit and to increase the region’s economic potential. She also highlighted the issue of challenging negative stereotypes that people in Asia often hold about the disabled. She shares a personal anecdote below:

The Post spoke to five speakers from the series about their hopes for the future:

Panel discussion: Dethroning Cash as King

While digital payments show great promise to drive economic growth and increase financial inclusion in Southeast Asia, targeted approaches that address local cultural barriers are key to the widespread adoption of e-commerce and e-payments, industry players said in a talk on Friday.

In Channy, president and group managing director of Acleda Bank, noted that there are three main barriers to the widespread adoption of e-commerce in Cambodia. He cited inadequate consumer education, lack of regulation and the limited reach of institutional financial networks.

“There is a clear correlation between the share of electronic payments and the opportunity for GDP growth,” Tim Murphy, general counsel and chief franchise officer for MasterCard, told The Post on the forum’s sidelines.

Read our analysis and watch the full talk below:

Asean at 50: What next for the region?

In a session covering both Asean's achievements so far and the challenges that lie ahead, panellists discussed ways to boost free trade and attract investment, while also considering the needs of the workers who may be left behind, particularly as some workers in factory jobs are usurped by technology and cheap labour becomes less of an asset for countries.

Watch the full event here:

Panel discussion: Countering the Connectivity Conundrum

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President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Jin Liqun, regional CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Anna Marrs, and CEO of PTT Tevin Vongvanich discuss infrastructure and investment at the World Economic Forum on Asean. Jenni Reid

The transport ministers of Thailand and Cambodia Arkhom Termpittayapaisith and Sun Chanthol, the President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Jin Liqun, the CEO for Asean of Standard Chartered Bank Anna Marrs, and the CEO of PTT Tevin Vongvanich debated and discussed the importance of improving infrastructure and getting better links between Asean countries, and how to encourage investment.

Watch the full event here:

Asean in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Panellists at the World Economic Forum discuss economic disparities within Asean and how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect its member states. Jenni Reid

The 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' brought about by rapid advances in technology is impacting countries everywhere; what does this mean for Asean, when many of its countries are further back on the development curve than big economies?

At a roundtable discussion, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society said: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution has come. We must provide opportunities for the young generation and address the disadvantages of the have-nots.” He told the audience that Thailand will install high-speed broadband networks for 34,700 villages this year, and all villages by the end of next year, to enable them to thrive in the digital economy.

Asean Hub for the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership announced

State officials said Cambodia hopes to leverage its membership in the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership to access much-needed funding for large-scale infrastructure development.

SDIP, jointly managed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), brings together a community of 35 governments, banks, pension funds and charitable organisations committed to mobilising $100 billion worth of projects that support sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure.

An Asean hub for the initiative was announced in a Friday session. The hub is expected to help member countries in the region secure blended finance for sustainable infrastructure investment.

The Asean Dream

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Students and recent graduates gather for a discussion on 'The Asean Dream' at the Cambodian Institute of Technology in Phnom Penh. Jenni Reid

Around 2,700 young people came together for a panel discussion at the Cambodian Institute of Technology, which covered the opportunities of being part of Asean, the potential of new technologies in Cambodia, and diversity, democracy and development in the region.

Closing remarks

In a final speech, Hun Sen expressed optimism for the future of economic growth in the region and said he hopes Asean will “obstruct the policies of protectionism and increase the spirit of integration as well as globalisation.” It was announced that Vietnam will host the World Economic Forum on Asean in 2018, with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc praising Cambodia's hosting of the event, adding that he looked forward to welcoming countries in a year's time.

Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga, Matthieu de Gaudemar and Kay Kimsong


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