“Asian continent cannot be the playground of other forces, who seek our wealth, our assets of nature and human resources. Our progress must draw from the best of our own cultures, while learning from the best of others who come with genuine friendship.
“We are seeing the dawn of the Age of Asia. We must together see it bring new light to a troubled world dominated by the grave errors of other continents,” said President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the first Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) Summit in Kuwait, earlier this week.
This first ACD Summit since the organization was established in 2002 came at a time when Asia is fast gaining in importance in global economic development.
Today, Europe remains in deep crisis and European leaders fail to come to terms with the issue of political union, offering patchwork solutions to growing threats to the EU and the Euro. The USA is unable to overcome the recessionary trends that broke out with the crisis in banking more than four years ago, and shows no signs of improving after the November Presidential Election, whoever wins the race.
As the crises across the Atlantic keeps worsening, Asia is fast emerging as the economic powerhouse of the world. There is increased interest in Asia, led by the economic growth in China and India, even though the slowdown of the global economy caused mainly by Europe, has pushed down the pace of growth in China to 7 percent and in India to just above 5 percent, from an average of 9 percent to 10 percent in both countries in recent years.
Western leaders from what is known as the developed world are coming to Asia, especially to China and India, almost in a procession to strengthen links that help their markets and economies. They look at Asia to avoid the dangers of rising political instability, especially in Europe, due to huge debt burdens in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, which have also impacted on France and Germany.
These developments gave special importance to the ACD Summit, as it sought to bring Asia together with a new regional and continental voice to solve the problems among the member nations of the world’s largest and most populous continent.
The ACD main objectives are to:
• Promote interdependence among Asian countries in all areas of cooperation by identifying Asia’s common strengths and opportunities which will help reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for Asian people whilst developing a knowledge-based society within Asia and enhancing community and people empowerment;
• Expand the trade and financial market within Asia and increase the bargaining power of Asian countries in lieu of competition and, in turn, enhance Asia’s economic competitiveness in the global market;
• Serve as the missing link in Asian cooperation by building upon Asia’s potentials and strengths through supplementing and complementing existing cooperative frameworks so as to become a viable partner for other regions;
• Ultimately transform the Asian continent into an Asian Community, capable of interacting with the rest of the world on a more equal footing and contributing more positively towards mutual peace and prosperity
President Rajapaksa brought out the moving spirit of the ACD in his address at the Kuwait Summit when he said that, “Asia should strive to regain and safeguard its independence that is challenged on many fronts and across many borders.
The countries of Asia can succeed in rebuilding our continent by greater reliance on our cultural affinity, rich history, and the strength of our human resources.
“The ambition for progress and development in our continent of Asia is limitless. Our tasks will not end till our cooperation makes us fully realize the economic, political, social, technological and human capabilities and potential of our continent.
“The strides we have made have helped enlarge our ambitions with greater tasks to achieve with determination and persistence. This is the call from our great history and the hopes and promises of the future.”
Looking at current developments and realities in Asia, the Sri Lankan President said that, “With rapidly growing economies and income levels, Asia is one of the most promising markets in the world. The abundance of our natural resources has the potential to address the challenges of food and energy security. Yet, our people are faced with threats to traditional exports as the world economy shrinks due to the crises in other regions.
“We are also confronted with pressing challenges such as the menace of terrorism, piracy, Climate Change, natural disasters, environmental pollution and anti-social activities. These challenges are a call for greater cooperation as we now see in the ACD.
“One other challenge many developing countries, such as mine, are facing is the burden placed on the developing world by rapidly fluctuating oil prices. This has imposed a heavy strain on our resources thereby hampering our long term plans on development.”
Speaking of the history, assets, and resources of what is seen as the rising continent of the future that is not too far away, President Rajapaksa said: “We are rightly proud of Asia’s rich, multi-faceted heritage. Many civilizations have flourished in Asia. The four major religions that prevail today have their origins in Asia. Asia has also been a major source for food, energy, education, manpower and industrial products to the world.
“Today, Asia is the world’s largest and most populous continent. Together with great diversity Asia also has great unity among its people the feeling of Asianness. While modern transport links us today we were linked in the past, with the legendary Silk Routes of land and sea. We now look for new links to make our bonds stronger.
“With more than half of the world’s population Asia has an abundance of much needed human resources. It is moving ahead in exploring and the use of natural resources in manufacturing and new technology. Asia is now producing the giants of the emerging world and once powerful economies are competing for opportunities here. We stand out among the biggest producers of energy in the world and look forward to moving further ahead with new technology.
“With some of the world’s largest and fast growing economies Asia also has the smallest and the least developed. Similarly, within our countries we have the rich and the poor living side by side resulting in poverty alleviation an area of high priority for all of us.
With rapidly growing economies and income levels, Asia is one of the most promising markets in the world. The abundance of our natural resources has the potential to address the challenges of food and energy security. Yet, our people are faced with threats to traditional exports as the world economy shrinks due to the crises in other regions.
He shared Sri Lanka’s own experience on the Development Framework in addressing the challenges of combining the positive attributes of a free market economy with domestic aspirations. Development of the rural economy and support for small and medium enterprises are the central pillars of our policy where domestic enterprises can be supported while encouraging foreign investment.
There are many other fields which we are developing to achieve poverty alleviation an important area of cooperation in our continent. We are investing heavily in infrastructure and Information Technology, to empower our large rural population who are the main beneficiaries of our economy. We see tourism as a rapidly developing sector with useful stimulus to create and sustain employment. With increased employment opportunities particularly to the rural youth these also reduce the gaps in income levels.
Effective regional forum
Here are more excerpts from President Rajapaksa’s address in Kuwait City: “Over the last 10 years, the ACD has made important advances in identifying 20 areas of cooperation. It is now time to follow up on decisions made. This will help take the ACD towards further progress for the people of Asia.
After its first decade, the ACD must now move to implement the projects of cooperation to significantly transform our vision into reality. In a world of increasing crisis the urgent areas of action include reducing the impact of climate change, protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable development. We must work hard to generate employment, ensure food security while reducing poverty, expanding literacy and ensuring gender equality. It is our belief that Asia should strive to regain and safeguard its independence that is challenged on many fronts and across many borders. The countries of Asia can succeed in rebuilding our continent by greater reliance on our cultural affinity rich history, and the strength of our human resources.
Today, we see two contrasting, and opposing trends in the world, namely, the increased competition among countries in a globalized market place and the strengthening of regional integration. These two trends provide good reason why we, as Asians, should consider the importance of regional forums such as the ACD.
As the only pan-Asian regional cooperation mechanism, the ACD has the potential to bring diverse voices together. This will help forge collective economic strategies to maintain Asia’s competitive advantage over other regional groupings. This is important at a time when the troubles in one regional grouping are causing grave problems the world over.
As countries in diverse regions come together for better economic strength, we cannot be the only continent without an effective regional forum to consolidate our strengths and to project a unified voice in world affairs. The ambition for progress and development in our continent of Asia is limitless. Our tasks will not end till our cooperation makes us fully realize the economic, political, social, technological and human capabilities and potential of our continent.
The strides we have made have helped enlarge our ambitions with greater tasks to achieve with determination and persistence. This is the call from our great history and the hopes and promises of the future.
I am confident that our commitment to cooperate within the Asian framework will see the progress of the Asian Dialogue. I wish all the ACD Member States success in implementing their goals and tasks to fully realize the Age of Asia.”