José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Former President, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Asia’s social and economic performance over the past three decades has been the most important development in the economic world, and in the 21st century, it has become the powerhouse of the global economy. With this in mind, the prospect of developing Asia-oriented institutions designed to tackle some of the region’s most pressing challenges is now within reach.
Four countries—China, India, Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea—have been growing at annual rates of between 6 and 10 percent for decades. The combined GDP of China, India, Korea, and Japan amounts to US$14 trillion. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is another fast-growing Asian economic region that represents approximately US$2 trillion of combined annual GDP.
In short, the world has changed much, but Asia is changing fast, and in the face of the financial and economic predicaments of the United States and Europe, Asia must be able to forge international partnerships and seek common ground to tackle the challenges we face in the 21st century. The region has the resources to alleviate and finally eradicate poverty; we have a mastery of sciences and technology; we possess the know-how to lead the search for global answers to the challenges facing sustainable development. Asia should, in theory, take the lead on reversing environmental damage and ensuring sustained development, while keeping up with the welfare of our peoples.
With this in mind, Asia should create its own Asian Fund for Sustainable Development that can be managed by an existing institution such as the Asian Development Bank, in partnership with UN specialized agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, or FAO, or in partnership with NGOs that have good regional or international reputations such as OXFAM. To lead effectively, Asia needs to forge partnerships with other stakeholders and especially those with similar, fast-developing societies such as Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela.
It should be mandatory for each country to contribute to such a fund, according to its GDP. Additionally, maybe the various claimant states in the South China Sea dispute should agree to turn the whole area into a Zone of Peace and Joint Development. Revenues from the oil, gas, and other wealth extracted from the area would go to such a fund to be allocated and invested in the whole of Asia, with a view to attaining our common dream of eliminating extreme poverty, preventable illnesses, and illiteracy, and saving our forests, rivers, lakes, and seas. Essentially, rather than engaging in dangerous brinkmanship and saber rattling, the claimant states in the South China Seas should engage in dialogue, build bridges of understanding, and search for common ground beneficial to all in Asia.
José Ramos Horta is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the former president of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Watch his plenary address at the BSR Conference 2012 here.
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