Don't take peace for granted

To give you a rough idea about the economic potential of Asia, I would like to remind you how it took, more or less, a whole century and billions of pounds worth of trade to transform London into a world financial centre. Then, almost another century after London, came New York.

But today, trillions of dollars are moved within a matter of minutes around the many Asian super-cities that are gaining power increasingly as global financial centres.

These include Tokyo, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok.

The potential for Asia remains enormous, but whether it can be fully realised depends on our actions.

If the future of Asia is to deliver real and sustainable prosperity for our people, one needs to balance looking after domestic industries and having sufficient social-safety nets with reaping the benefits from a more open economy.

The most difficult factor in achieving such a balance is not the strength of the private sector. It is the actions, vision and farsightedness of politicians.

The strategic waterways of East Asia act as arteries for global energy supplies and commercial trade. As it stands, military-modernisation programmes in Asia have been on the rise.

And, while there are no signs of any Asian country intending to pursue territorial expansion through the use of force, the danger of accidents or miscalculations leading to military clashes remains.

While Asia has many highly-qualified personalities who have helped countries and societies in Asia and other regions achieve peace and reconciliation, it did not have a mechanism where the expertise of these people can be drawn into a collective effort to create peaceful dialogue among parties in a conflict.

It was against this backdrop that the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council was launched in September last year.

It is the only conflict-resolution mechanism in Asia where the experiences of its members are pooled to reduce tension and create peace.

To me, peace is like good health, we only realise how much we need it when we do not have it - and that is always too late.

As much as we should not be complacent about taking care of our health, let's not be complacent in taking care of peace.

- Dr Surakiart Sathirathai 

Dr Surakiart Sathirathai is chairman of the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council, and former deputy prime minister of Thailand. This article was adapted from a speech he delivered at a gala dinner to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Thailand's Nation Multimedia Group.