Inaugural forum on Asia starts today

Former Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Wong Kan Seng

A forum for Asia's political and business leaders to discuss the challenges facing the region will be launched today, in a move partly to get Asia's voice heard beyond its shores and improve communication between East and West.

Called the Singapore Forum, it is organised by the S Rajaratnam Endowment and will complement other forums such as the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on security matters.

"Having only one forum would not be adequate for having good discussions on the major problems facing Asia and the world," said former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng yesterday. He chairs the nine-member Singapore Forum Advisory Board.

Noting that Asia is the world's biggest region in terms of population, he said "developments in other parts of the world have a deep impact on Asia".

Hence the forum's theme: Asia and the World - New Growth, New Strategies.

Fellow board member Long Yongtu, former vice-minister of China's Ministry of Commerce, said the forum gives Asia the chance to be better heard, especially by the Western media.

"In this world, the Western media gets the upper hand in message delivery. It's better for Asia to make its voice heard, so that its message gets across, especially to the West, and improve the communication between East and West," he said.

The inaugural event will start with a welcome dinner tonight, followed by a one-day conference tomorrow at Shangri-La Hotel. At the dinner, there will be a dialogue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Tomorrow's conference will see former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono giving the keynote address and there will be a dialogue at lunch with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

About 250 policymakers and opinion shapers will attend the Singapore Forum, which will be an annual event.

Others on the advisory board include former deputy chairman of India's planning commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia; holding company CT Corp's chairman and former Indonesian coordinating minister for economic affairs Chairul Tanjung;

University of North Korean Studies president and former South Korean minister for foreign affairs and trade Song Min Soon; and former Malaysian deputy prime minister and World Islamic Economic Forum chairman Musa Hitam.

From Singapore are Ambassador-at-large and Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities chairman Chan Heng Chee; Ambassador-at-large and Ministry of Foreign Affairs policy adviser Bilahari Kausikan; and business space provider Ascendas' chairman Teh Kok Peng. Prof Chan said of the board's international composition:

"The Singapore Forum is the one forum which... draws in other Asian advisory members to help us formulate the programme of the conference and that's what makes it different."

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