Asia's continued growth will raise the living standards of hundreds of millions of people in the region, but countries have to keep working together to make progress, Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday.
"We need to work hard and stay the course to get there, because, as has happened to other regions, a golden decade can turn into a lost decade in a moment," he said in a keynote speech at the Singapore Forum yesterday.
"We, therefore, need to nurture all the good things that are already brewing in our region and spread them around," he told the inaugural forum, which was attended by 250 leaders, officials and academics from the region.
Dr Yudhoyono, who was Indonesia's sixth president and held office from 2004 to 2014, highlighted four forces that, if managed well, would continue to reshape Asia for the better: the phenomenal growth of the middle class, the rapid spread of entrepreneurship, growing connectivity and regional integration.
He noted that by 2050, an additional three billion people are expected to join the middle class. They will have an impact on the physical, mental, economic and political make-up of societies.
The rise in number of entrepreneurs will also be a powerful game-changer for Asian economies, he added.
"It signals can do-ism," he said. "It signals independence and innovation. It reflects confidence and risk-taking."
And while the 20th century saw most nations preoccupied with the issue of sovereignty, the 21st century will be driven by connectivity, which links nations to the world economy and the global marketplace of ideas, and empowers individuals.
"Social media has become the most powerful and ubiquitous tool of democracy and liberty, and politicians ignore the power of social media at their own peril," he said.
As for regional integration, he said the wider region can learn from South-east Asia's experience in bringing 10 diverse countries together: "Our Asean experience demonstrated that we can evolve both national identity and regional identity at the same time.
"Asean countries have become more secure, more united and more prosperous... If this healthy regionalism can also be made to grow in other parts of Asia, the impact on Asia will be far-reaching. The Asian Century will have much better prospects."
But Dr Yudhoyono said the region will need to brace itself for greater turbulence and uncertainty, with relations between major powers marked by mutual suspicion and tension.
He called for a "geopolitics of cooperation", where countries focus on what they have in common over what divides them and strategic trust is built among nations.
"Any durable and peaceful 21st century world order would much depend on how much we can deviate from the unhealthy zero-sum mindset of the 19th and 20th century, where power shifts were always accompanied by new conflicts and even war," he said. "We need to find a new path forward."
Dr Yudhoyono also offered advice for current and future Indonesian leaders: Maintain and speed up reforms, and continue to play a positive role to foster peace, stability and progress in the region.
This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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