Former Indonesian president Yudhoyono optimistic about Asia's future, but says hard work lies ahead

Former Indonesian president Yudhoyono optimistic about Asia's future, but says hard work lies ahead
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee hosting lunch for former Indonesian President Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Mrs Ani Yudhoyono. Dr Yudhoyono is in Singapore to deliver the Keynote Address at the inaugural Singapore Forum.

SINGAPORE - Asia is set to continue to grow and prosper, raising the living standards of hundreds of millions of people in the next generation, but its continued success is not a preordained destination, former Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Saturday.

Countries have to press on and work together to the keep the region on this path of progress, Dr Yudhoyono said in a keynote address at the inaugural Singapore Forum at the Shangri-La Hotel.


Get the full story from The Straits Times.

In his speech, Dr Yudhoyono highlighted several forces which continue to change the face of Asia for the better. They are - the rise of the middle class, the spread of entrepreneurship, the proliferation of connectivity, and the growth of regionalism.

He also touched on the challenges ahead and the threat of ISIS: " In my view, ISIS is a hybrid threat : it is not just a terrorist organization, even though it uses the same tactics as a terror group. Defeating ISIS will require more than military measures alone : we will need a combination of military, political, social, informatio-nal approach. We will need greater global and regional collaboration."

Dr Yudhoyono, who was Indonesia's sixth president and held office from 2004 to 2014, cautioned that hard work lies ahead.

"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. We therefore need to nurture all the good things that are already brewing in our region and spread them around," he said.

Below is an exerpt from his speech, where Dr Yudhoyono spoke about the forces which would change Asia. The full speech can be found here.

"Asians today live in momentous times. I am positive that most Asians believe that their future will be better than the present. I share this optimism. I predict that Asia would continue to grow and prosper, and hopefully become more peaceful. I believe that Asian countries will be able to mainstream green growth and sustainable development. But that is not a preordained destination. 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.

"We therefore need to nurture all the good things that are already brewing in our region and spread them around. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was right in his remakrs last night that Asia has a quality of strength and resilience that have enabled itspeoples to defy the odds and prevail.

"In my view, there are several forces which continue to change the face of Asia for the better.

"The FIRST is the phenomenal growth of the middle-class. We are, I believe, on our way to change a continent of poverty to a continent of wealth, and the middle-class is right at the core of this historic process.

"The middle class is a special type of people. Different countries have different definitions and measurement of who should be counted as middle-class. I will not offer you a numerical definition, but I see the middle-class as more than people with enough money in the bank and discretionary spending power.

"People in the middle class usually get there by working hard, which means they have a strong work ethics. Which means they tend to value competition, fairness and meritocracy.

"They are mostly educated, with at least one University degree, which means they are informed and make decisions intelligently.

"They have bank accounts -- usually several acounts -- and they pay taxes, and because of that they have a demanding attitude towards the Government. They certainly want their Government to be competent and clean, because they feel they are paying for it. They do not like to be taken for granted, and they want their voices to be heard.

"They are very conscious of their rights, and they also have the luxury to be more conscientious about the world than, say, the poor. They are usually not satisfied with having good pay checks, for they want a good quality of life, for them and their children.

"And because many of them have investments in many forms, they expect rule of law, and legal certainty, and they attach great importance to the security of their hard-won wealth and the security for their family.

"I would say that the growth of the middle-class is arguably the most revolutionary thing that can happen to a society. It is revolutionary in terms of its transformational effects to the physical, mental, economic and political make-up of a society. When the middle-class proliferates, you see its powerful impacts in many forms : in the rise of cities, in economic growth, in tax revenues, and others.

"The Asian Development Bank predicted that by 2050 there will be an additional 3 billion people joining the middle class in Asia. Imagine that : 3 billion people ! That is several times more than the entire population of the Uniteds States, Canada, and Latin America combined. Those 3 billion new middle class also mean automatically that the poor have been reduced by 3 billion. That is a matter of enormous historical significance for Asia.

"Closely connected to the rise of the middle-class is the SECOND force that I believe will sweep Asia : the rapid spread of entrepreneurship, throughout countries, and throughout the region.

"I know Singaporeans have always been accustomed to entrepreneurship. You had no choice. Your geography, your history, your circum-stances as immigrant society -- all these forced you to be entrepreneurial from the beginning of your nationhood.

"But in many countries in Asia, including Indonesia, entrepreneurship was, for a long time, an alien concept. Indeed, some of our cultures were hostile to the growth of entrepreneurship. In some parts of Asia, entrepreneurs were even seen as the scourge of society. Besides, for many generations, the glorious thing was to be a politician, or a warrior soldier, or a civil servant, or a cleric.

"Perhaps they still do -- those are great jobs, because I did them -- but there is no doubt that in our time, it has become very fashionable to be an entrepreneur, especially among young graduates.

"Entrepreneurs in our time today are respected, celebrated, and cosidered cool .. hip. And the public likes entrepreneurialism because, unlike the term "capitalism", it is dogma-free and ideology-free, it can blossom in a variety of political systems.

"In Indonesia, many Universities now have faculties and studies called entrepreneurship, and new graduates go out to set up businesses that provide jobs instead of applying for one. Many of our national icons are successful entrepreneurs, and there is a growing army of technopreneurs. There is an element of meritocracy about this : unlike in the past, entrepreneurship no longer has to belong to certain ethnic group : it can be practiced by anybody, by everybody.

"I believe that there is a strong correlation between the number of entrepreneurs in a society and its degree of dynamism and progress. Entrepreneurship is important because it signals a shift in the state of mind of a society. It signals can do-ism. It signals positive energy. It signals independence and innovation. It reflects confidence and risk taking.

"That is why I am convinced that the rapid contagion of entrepreneurialism will be one of the most powerful game-changers for Asian economies.

"The THIRD force that will shape Asia's future is connectivity. In the 20th century, many nations were preoccupied with the issue of sovereignty. But in the 21st century, more and more the game is about connectivity. Its about how connected you are to the world economy, to the global marketplace of ideas, to the infrastructures that connect the dots.

"I would not underestimate the power of connectedness. In my country, for centuries the poor were weak not just because they lacked economic means, but because they were marginalized, isolated, and disconnected. They felt alone, and therefore they felt helpless, and became fatalistic, accepting of their fate.

"Connectivity changes that. Today, a poor person will feel empowered if he or she feels connected to others. If a person has access to the internet, an email, youtube, twitter, facebook, instagram and other digital things, that person will somehow feel entitled, enabled, even powerful. This is how young people in the Middle-East -- many of them poor and unemployed -- brought down strong governments during the Arab Spring. Today, social media has become the most powerful and ubiquitous tools of democracy and liberty, and politicians ignore the power of social media at their own peril. Which is why as President I developed a twitter account which today has grown to some 6,9 million followers.

"In any case, digital connectivity will spread because today most Asians will have the tools in their pocket. Having a mobile phone, a tablet, or wifi is already a common thing in Asian societies : for those where this has not happened yet, you can bet that it will happen soon. After all, the whole world will be wired in our life time.

"Connectivity in all its dimensions will transform individuals, economies and regions. And harnes-sing connectivity will require better partnership between government and business, at local, national and regional levels.

"In short, whether it is the two and half billion mobile phone users in Asia-Pacific, or China's maritime silk road, or the seaports and pipelines being built in Central and South Asia, or the 80,000 km trans-Asian railway, or the ASEAN one-stop on line trade system, connectivity will be a critical part of the "Asian century" that we are all expecting.

"There are of course many more forces driving change in Asia, but I would pick this as my FOURTH, something that I spent a full decade as President of Indonesia trying promote : regionalism.

"There is already a lot of nationalism and plenty of national interests in the diplomatic arena. Yet, I believe peace would be assured if such nationalism is coupled with a healthy dose of regionalism. We must avoid living in a paradox where we profess open regionalism but at the same time adopt narrow nationalism.

"Regionalism does not always grow easily. Northeast Asia is still having a difficult time evolving one. Regionalism has also been difficult to take root in South Asia. Even in Europe, there is a sensitive debate over how far should European regionalism expand without creating new strategic tensions.

"Southeast Asia's experience has been a lot better. ASEAN has peacefully expanded from 5 members to 6, and then to 10 members, covering all of Southeast Asia. Next year, come January 1, we will all formally enter into an ASEAN Community.

"Membership in ASEAN has changed relation-ships among its member-states. We bend more towards one another, and we try harder to find commonalities and work out differences based on neighborliness. Because of regionalism, when we formulate and execute our respective national interests, we are obliged to consider how it would impact our friends in the region.

"Our ASEAN experience demonstrated that we can evolve both national identity and regional identity at the same time. Regionalism has also delivered good dividends : ASEAN countries have become more secure, more united and more prosperous because of it. And that is why in the spirit of deepening ASEAN, as President of Indonesia I proposed the target of doubling GDP and halving poverty for ASEAN 15 years after it becomes a community.

"I believe that if this healthy regionalism can also be made to grow in other parts of Asia, then the impact on Asia will be far-reaching. The Asian Century will have much better prospects.

"All these forces -- the rise of the middle class, the spread of entrepreneurship, the proliferation of connectivity, and the growth of regionalism -- would fundamentally change Asia."

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