PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday called on world and economic leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to remain committed in realizing an integrated and drug-free economic community to secure not only the future of the region’s youth but the future of ASEAN as well.
In his speech during the opening of plenary for the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Cambodia’s capital, the Philippine President highlighted the significance of securing the youth of today on tomorrow’s ASEAN.
The WEF on ASEAN is a major regional conference focusing on ASEAN’s development that brings together leaders of nations, thought leaders, ministers and top CEOs of private companies.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Youth, Technology and Growth: Securing ASEAN’s Demographic and Digital Dividends.”
President Duterte, who chairs this year’s ASEAN, noted that 50 years since the founding of the regional bloc, ASEAN had emerged into a significant global player in promoting peace and stability in the region and as an emerging economic powerhouse.
“The region is now the world’s sixth largest economy, the third largest consumer base. ASEAN is home to more than 600 million] people, making it larger than the European Union or North America. ASEAN has the third-largest labor force in the world and our young population is producing a demographic dividend,” he told hundreds of world and business leaders.
“But while we celebrate ASEAN’s achievement, we recognize that more needs to be done for our people,” he added.
Among ASEAN’s aim in moving forward is to operationalize the ASEAN’s goal of achieving a vibrant, sustainable, and highly integrated economy; strengthened channels for connectivity and narrowing the development gap across all areas, among others.
The President said that in this regard, an integrated ASEAN must focus on sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence, and people mobility.
“(But) Most importantly, we should invest in human capital development,” Duterte stressed as he noted that the youth is an essential consideration for the region.
“Analysts point out that the Philippines, together with Southeast Asian countries, is in a demographic sweet spot and is likely to post Asia’s fastest economic growth rates in the coming years,” he said.
According to experts, the 630 million citizens of ASEAN, except for Singapore and Thailand, are still extremely young.
Having a young and growing population creates a golden moment in a country’s economic development, promising a powerful demographic dividend.
As the working-age population grows in number, it will boost the region’s spending, but also increase its savings and hence its capacity to invest.
“The youth is certainly a key sector that we must invest in,” President Duterte stressed, citing the ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 that encourages youth entrepreneurship, employment and employability, awareness, volunteerism, and resilience.
“The plan deserves our full support. The ASEAN youth are among the best and most creative, intelligent and innovative in the world. We must empower them to be the best version of themselves,” he said.
And in doing so, the President said that ASEAN’s youth should also be secured from the evils of illegal drugs.
“But we cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies. We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus. We must reaffirm our commitment to realize a drug-free ASEAN community,” he said.