15th Asian Corporate Conference
Southeast Asia Rising:
A Region Booming Among Asia's Economic Giants
June 8-10, 2005
The Asia Society held its 15th Asian Corporate Conference June 8-10, 2005 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Co-organized by Dow Jones & Company and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, the event drew nearly 1000 delegates representing 38 countries around the world. In addition, 200 local and international press, covered the event through print media, photo wire services and radio and television broadcasts.
Delegates included senior business executives from multinational, regional, and local companies, as well as heads of state and government officials from Thailand and the region. Strong participation from the diplomatic community, as well as non-profit and academic organizations also contributed to the diverse audience. Business delegations were organized from China, India, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Lao PDR and the United States. Overall conference themes explored Southeast Asia’s potential to sustain long-term economic growth and expand economic ties to the U.S., China, India and the other countries throughout Asia.
H.E. Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand, delivered the Opening Keynote Address at a dinner on June 8 th. During his remarks, Prime Minister Thaksin emphasized “value creation” as a strategy aimed at sustaining and improving upon the growth that the Thai economy has experienced since the financial crisis of 1997. The speech was broadcast live on local television network, and substantial press coverage of the event followed.
The first day of conference sessions began with keynote remarks from Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kantathi Suphamongkhon. Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart began with discussion of “Southeast Asia’s Rise” explaining how it must be contextualized within the broader rise of Asia in international society. He went on to provide insight on how Thailand and a united ASEAN are strengthening to protect against a future financial crisis.
Foreign Minister Kantathi focused his remarks on how globalization is affecting Asia, and the path that should be taken as a result. He remarked, “ Asian nations must take the next step together. We must synthesise all the comparative advantages that we have in a coherent and coordinated manner.”
Session One, “After the Tsunami: Rebuilding and Recovery Across South and Southeast Asia,” began in an interactive panel discussion format. The discussion, including questions from the audience, sparked honest and dynamic debate as to how Asia in recovering from the tsunami disaster and the steps to be taken to efficiently aid in reconstruction and economic recovery in affected industries. The panel brought together representatives with unique expertise on the on-the-ground reconstruction efforts in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Just a few of the proposed next steps included development of a plan to clearly dictate responsibilities to each party, integrating efforts by social sectors, micro-finance schemes, community empowerment, an early disaster warning system, public awareness campaigns, and private sector-sponsored rebuilding.
Session Two, “Does Thailand’s Economic Resurgence Represent a Sustainable Growth Model?” focused on Thailand’s business environment, its ability to enhance competitiveness and sustain economic growth. Participants held varied outlooks on Thailand’s economic future, but were in basic agreement on the country’s need to improve the educational system, produce more skilled workers, improve corporate governance, strengthen government regulation, and enhance labor productivity.
Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister of Singapore, delivered the Afternoon Keynote Address, focusing on the growing strength of regionalism, and how regionalism in East Asia has yet to fully form. The Senior Minister remarked, “ I believe that a key macro strategic issue of the 21st Century will be how the Americas, Europe and East Asia act and react with each other. The decisions that we make now - how we construct East Asia - will therefore have a profound influence on these dynamics.”
Viset Choopiban , Minister of Energy of Thailand, opened the last session of the day, “Meeting Southeast Asia’s Energy and Infrastructure Needs.”
On the evening of June 9 th, Prime Minister Thaksin hosted a private reception for conference speakers and sponsors at Government House.
Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai delivered welcoming remarks summing up the progress of the conference thus far. Thailand’sMinister of Industry, Watana Muangsook then opened Session Four, “Achieving Trade Liberalization and Drawing Investment in Southeast Asia’s Key Sectors.” The panel began with brief keynote remarks from three participants: Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General, ASEAN; Laura Cha, Member, Executive Council of the Hong Kong SAR; and Rajat Nag, Director-General, Mekong Department, ADB, who then joined the remaining panelists for a discussion on the progress of integration in ASEAN’s fast track sectors, the path forward for region’s less-developed economies, and the implications of the U.S.-Thailand FTA and other bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.
Session Five, “The ‘India Factor’: Building a New Relationship with South Asia,” focused primarily on the current state of India’s economy, and how India’s economic role in Southeast Asia is evolving. Specific topics included the Thailand-India FTA and India’s new leadership in Asia.
Thailand’s Commerce Minister, Thanong Bidaya, opened Session Six, with remarks on the “Implications of China’s Rise and Japan’s Recovery.” A number of China scholars, including Kevin M. Rudd, MP, Federal Member for Griffith and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security, Australia and Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, Former USTR, examined China’s extraordinary economic growth. Discussion ranged from the latest statistics on trade and investment to a historical perspective on China’s role in the region and the world. Makio Miyagawa, Director of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, led discussion on how economic recovery in Japan would alter its role in the region.
The conference ended with a special concluding discussion entitled, “The Path Ahead for Thailand and Southeast Asia.” Participants, including U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce, Asia Society President Vishakha Desai, Editor of the Nation, Pana Javiroj and Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, wrapped up the themes discussed throughout the course of the conference and shared their thoughts on developing an agenda for future reform and progress.