MANILA, Philippines – At a World Economic Forum event in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, President Rodrigo Duterte underscored the need to bridge the development gap in Southeast Asia.
Duterte, representing the Philippines as this year's chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was speaking at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN on Thursday, May 11.
He said that despite the economic gains of ASEAN as a region in eradicating poverty, there is still a large gap between the rich and poor.
"While the region had seen poverty levels decreased by half in the last 50 years, development remains skewed," Duterte said in the presence of other Southeast Asian leaders.
"There remains a huge disparity in our GDP per capita: from a low of $1,200 to a high of nearly $53,000," he said.
Duterte said that for ASEAN to succeed in improving the quality of life of its people, governments should consider people from all walks of life when crafting economic policies.
"ASEAN is cognizant of the need for more inclusive participation in the community building process. We want to ensure that the benefits of integration are felt by all our peoples in the region. But we face a development gap that must be addressed," he said.
A young ASEAN
Duterte highlighted the large youth population in ASEAN as an opportunity that the regional bloc must seize.
ASEAN, along with India and Africa, are among the regions in the world where a significant chunk of the population is young. Southeast Asian countries with a relatively young population include the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The median age in these countries are 22.3, 26.9, and 28.5 years old, respectively.
"Analysts point out that the Philippines, together with Southeast Asian countries, is in a demographic sweet spot and is likely to post Asia's fastest economic growth rates in the coming years. The youth is certainly a key sector that we must invest in," said Duterte.
He called for the full implementation of the ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 which includes programs for youth entrepreneurship and employment.
Duterte, a professed hardliner against illegal drugs, also stressed the importance of combating drugs in protecting the ASEAN youth.
"We cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies. We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus," he said.
WEF events bring together political and business leaders to talk about economic trends and outlooks, with the aim of promoting cooperation between the public and private sectors. – Rappler.com