A World Economic Forum conference on youth, technology and growth in Southeast Asia opened Thursday in Cambodia with a call by Prime Minister Hun Sen for greater efforts to make Southeast Asia a highly competitive, fully integrated economic region with equitable development.
Hun Sen made the call in an address at the "World Economic Forum on ASEAN," a three-day gathering of more than 700 participants from 40 countries around the globe, including policymakers, CEOs of multinational corporations and other businessmen, and youths.
The forum, held as part of events marking the 50th anniversary of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is also being attended by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the prime ministers of Laos and Vietnam.
It is being held under the theme, "Youth, Technology and Growth: Securing ASEAN's Digital and Demographic Dividends."
Fifty years since its founding and despite the more volatile global environment, "ASEAN has managed to maintain stable and strong peace and security with good cooperation among its members," said Hun Sen.
"ASEAN must have an integrated agenda aligning its strengths to seize opportunities and address unexpected problems, promoting education and skills development and addressing issues such as inequality and cyber security," he said.
Echoing the point, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose country is the current chair of ASEAN, said, "We should invest in human capital."
"The Philippines, along with other Southeast Asian countries, is in a demographic sweet spot. The youth is a key sector in which we must invest," he added.
In his address at the conference, Duterte noted that investor interest in the region is increasing as it has the third largest labor force in the world and its young population "is producing a democratic dividend."
He envisaged an ASEAN Economic Community that is "relevant, responsive and transformative" and called for "intensifying efforts to narrow the development gap across all areas."
Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said, "We need quality education aimed at developing labor skills to increase effectiveness and efficiency."
"Private enterprise will play a critical role if ASEAN is to meet the challenges ahead," he noted. "I call on the private sector to continue improving and adapting themselves to increase competitiveness in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
Also, speaking at the forum, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, "To maintain dynamic growth, we cannot rely on natural resources and unskilled labor but have to strive towards sustainable development and better quality growth so we can move up the value chain."
The ASEAN region has a population of 630 million people, with more than half under the age of 30. In Cambodia, the median age is just 24. This young demographic profile has the potential to drive already high rates of economic growth for years to come, demography experts believe.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.