Is Asean close to being One Asean?

By Debbie Too

BRUNEI - Just how close is Asean to becoming "One Asian"?

That's one of the main questions, executives, government leaders and members of civil society will tackle in the upcoming Asean 100 Leadership Forum, said Dato Paduka Timothy Ong (pic), Asia Inc Forum founder and chairman.

As the convenor of the Asean 100 forum, Dato Ong hopes the forum will provide an avenue for people to agree, or disagree to "learn from each other effectively".

The One Asean question is one of two questions that Dato Ong finds important in order to help Asean businesses and leaders advance further.

"Some people will say we are close, some will say we are not close, but no one will say we are already there. So how close are we and what do we need to do to get to 'One Asean'?"

The second question was made to be "slightly provocative", where Asean 100 asked if the Philippines can be the next "Asian Tiger".

Dato Ong felt that this second question was timely and appropriate mainly because of the history of the Philippines. Fifty years ago, the Philippines was the country where very "clever Southeast Asians" would go to, to study dentistry, business, medicine and so on. "In the last 50 years, the country has gone into steady decline and today it is considered a laggard, but if you look at the country, it has potential, such as the high quality people, the great companies like Jollibee, ICTSI and Ayala," he said.

One of the forum's highlights is a dinner with Philippine President Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III, his first time participating in the Asean 100, which has already seen other presidents like Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, participating. His address on whether the Philippines is indeed ready to be the next "Asian Tiger" will allow participants to have a session with the president on what his views are and to provide him with some exposure to a "cross section of people in Asean".

"Modern life is all about interdependence, whether we like it or not, business people require politicians who understand business, politicians require business people who are beyond just making money, and intellectuals, in order to be practical, have to understand how the real world works," said Dato Ong, who explained that one of the foundations of the Asean 100 is that "everyone has something for each other to learn from".

Participants will come from across the region. "We try to have some from each country and try to give it that diversity and we find that we have created an environment that people are comfortable to talk openly in," said Dato Ong.

His formula for having diverse people from diverse backgrounds, providing diverse ideas does have the promise of one common element: no judgement. "We are not judgemental and frankly, we try not to invite people who are very judgemental of others.

We try to invite people who have strong opinions but are also tolerant of other opinions, and those are our kind of 'Asean 100 favourites'," said Dato Ong.

Has it proven to be a success? Has the Asean 100 helped with the progress of the Asean region economically, politically and intellectually? Dato Ong explained that while it would be inappropriate for the Asean 100 Forum to claim credit for Asean's progress, one thing is certain, relationships and partnerships are strengthened.

"Using an example of an Indonesian company that was having a problem relating to the Philippines, through the Asean 100 network, it was resolved," he said. He said that the Asean 100 Forum is a "collaborative effort" that isn't about coming to an agreement about something, but it is about "bringing interesting people, who are likely to play a part in the shaping of their societies, together".

"From each country, we invite interesting people who are in key positions to shape their societies in the near future, and hope that when these people come together, interesting things come out," he said.The Brunei Times