ASEAN Must Push For Greater Connectivity To Deepen Integration, Says Vijay Eswaran

AC_logoKUALA LUMPUR, May 20 (Bernama) — Prominent entrepreneur and founder of Qi Group Datuk Seri Dr Vijay Eswaran says ASEAN countries must deepen regional connectivity and integration centered on people-centric initiatives.

Otherwise, he said the 10-member grouping might just remain a club for the elite, political leaders and businessmen as criticised by some quarters rather than the people for which the ASEAN Community is targeted at.

To this end, the executive chairman of the Qi Group of Companies urged ASEAN leaders to show greater political will and push for an open sky policy to enhance connectivity between secondary destinations and not just capital cities.

“A lack of interconnectivity may result in disadvantages in building ASEAN as a single market and an economic powerhouse with far-reaching benefits to its more than 625 million populace,” he said when sharing his remarks made at the 24th World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia 2015 in Jakarta last month.

He told Bernama here Tuesday that ASEAN was also not exploiting the potential of the region’s fast-growing middle class.

Vijay, who transformed Qi into a multi-billion dollar global conglomerate, lamented over the lack of flights between secondary destinations such as Palawan in the Philippines and Kota Kinabalu or Bali to Langkawi or Langkawi to Phuket, although ASEAN was arguably the world’s third largest economic bloc.

“For instance, Palawan to Kota Kinabalu takes only about four hours by boat but by flight it might take about one to two days flying from Palawan via Manila, Singapore and lastly Sandakan.

“We also do not even realise that between Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, there is the huge Indonesian island of Natuna, which is 20 times the size of Singapore and whose potential should be exploited fully, he said.

Ultimately, it is the people — not the chief executive officers and trade ministers, who can verify what was happening on the ground and whether regional integration was actually working.

He stressed ASEAN has overlooked the ties potential member countries have with each other and focused more in penetrating western markets, saying that the “trade pattern has changed.”

In the process, ASEAN countries have neglected the Asian market which is the cutting edge of the world at present and in the next millennium.

“Why is (national car maker) Proton not everywhere, we should take Proton to the Philippines, manufacture an Asean car with Philippine designs and create jobs for the Filipinos. We should also go to China and India.

As for palm oil, Malaysia is focusing on selling crude palm oil, but it should endeavour to set up refineries in ASEAN countries with ASEAN partners instead of faraway Japan.

“We must consider ASEAN as one nation and exploit our regional strengths to penetrate more deeply China and India and the world at large and for Malaysia in this context to be a bridge for these countries.”

“We have to leverage on ASEAN first in order to survive.”

He said it was crucial for ASEAN to shrug off the yoke of colonialism which has resulted in different systems of governments and concentrate on establishing a single ASEAN identity.

Also, before even ASEAN talks about digital citizens, there must be an integral sense of ASEAN unity rather than member countries propagating the interests of their colonial masters or superpowers.

Besides trade and investment, ASEAN countries were still looking at their former colonial masters for education, legal systems, tourism etc, which impedes the people in this region to look inwards.

Vijay also told the WEF gathering that polarisation should be stamped out in ASEAN and notably for Indonesia and Philippines — two major ASEAN countries with the largest populations, to work more closely together.

“The sad reality is that there are more barriers rather than bridges between these countries, for which Malaysia can play a far more effective role in bringing them closer together,” he said.

He said Malaysia should not have the misperception that it is the biggest market and that everyone is dying to come here. “No one is dying if they don’t trade with us.”

Malaysia should exploit ASEAN’s potential as a single regional economic powerhouse.


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