“A study from McKinsey & Company shows that a fully integrated Asean economy could raise our economy by 10%,” Ong said. “Without integration, Asean will eventually lose out from competition between India and China.”
To accelerate economic progress, he said, efficient implementation of technology should be considered. Already a digital industry hub, Asean had the potential to be ranked among the world’s top-five digital economies by 2025, he said.
With hundreds of thousands of new mobile phone users in Asean countries, modernization should boost growing markets and not instead hinder traditional employment in industry, allowing job creation to prosper, he said.
Sophisticated technology would also help to balance supply and demand in growing Asean labor markets as well as regulate trans-boundary issues, including the rise of extremism that needed to be checked, he added.
Asean must also pick the right instruments to develop young people as a vital element of Asean’s future, Ong said.
A majority of the 630 million people in Asean, excluding Singapore and Thailand, are young people. The younger generation would not only help maintain dynamic growth in Asean, but also enhance Asean’s capacity to invest, given that economies cannot be wholly reliant on natural resources but also depend on human resources, Ong said.
Ong, a Singaporean diplomat who served as secretary-general from 2003 to 2007, spoke during a special lecture at his country’s foreign ministry on Monday as a part of commemorative activities on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Asean.