PETALING JAYA: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad says it is high time Asean member countries took special efforts to increase trade within the grouping.
The Prime Minister said trade within Asean was small, only 35% compared to other groupings like the European Union that recorded trade ties exceeding 40%.
“Special efforts need to be made to strengthen trade ties within the 10 Asean countries.
“There is a need to look into procedures and processes to increase trade between Asean countries,” he said at a press conference in Bangkok after concluding his four-day working visit to Thailand to attend the 34th Asean Summit.
Dr Mahathir said Asean should also look into making its own cars to substitute imported brands.
He also welcomes idea for Asean to jointly bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup as the matches could be held in all the Asean countries.
“Just like when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the World Cup,” he said.
On the perception that Asean was a dormant grouping, Dr Mahathir said it was not true as Asean had made quite a lot of progress.
“Compared to other regional groupings, Asean members work together, assist each other’s economy and co-exist peacefully.
“Other regional groupings do not enjoy a peaceful co-existence like Asean,” he said.
On the Rohingya issue, Dr Mahathir said the refugees feared to return to the Rakhine State in Myanmar.“The international community could supervise to ensure the Rakhine and Myanmar authorities do not take certain action against returning refugees,” he said.
Bernama reported that earlier, Asean chairman, Thailand Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, laid out his vision for the 10-nation regional grouping.
In his opening statement, carrying the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”, Prayut said the kingdom would take forward the good work and initiatives of the previous chairs in the endeavour “to realise the dreams that we all have set out and to ensure the peoples of Asean, present and future, can deal with the challenges that come and truly benefit from Asean”.
He said Thailand’s chairmanship reflects the dream of creating a people-centred Asean Community that leaves no one behind and ensures the people live in a region of sustainable peace, stability and prosperity. He also said that Asean member countries should take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to enhance their competitiveness and build immunity to the negative effects of disruptive technologies so as to advance towards a “Digital and Green Asean”.Prayut called on member countries to strengthen partnership through deepening cooperation both within Asean and with its external partners.
He also urged all member countries to promote connectivity in all dimensions, from digital infrastructure, rules and regulations to people-to-people links to build a “Seamless Asean”.
“We aspire to be a ‘Sustainable Asean’ in all dimensions, from security to the economy, environment and human security.
“From now on, the ‘Sustainability of Things’, or SOT, concept should inform every decision Asean takes and become the Asean DNA to pass on to future generations.
“A sustainable Asean Community will serve as a protective shield for our peoples in the face of regional and global changes and uncertainties,” he said.
One of the highlights of the summit was the traditional Asean leaders’ handshake.
Understandably, the focus of the local and international media was on Dr Mahathir, who was standing at far left, and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was standing next to him, as the two leaders are not on the same page on the Rohingya crisis.
Earlier, all the Asean leaders launched the Satellite Warehouse in Chainat Province under the Disaster Emergency Logistics System for Asean (Delsa).
Thailand said the satellite warehouse will enable Asean and the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) in Indonesia to more effectively pursue rapid mobilisation and distribution of relief items to disaster-affected Asean member states in mainland South-East Asia.
The Asean Secretariat said the satellite warehouse will further strengthen Asean’s collective response to natural disasters under the “One Asean, One Response” spirit across the grouping, following networking with the regional warehouse in Malaysia and the satellite warehouse in the Philippines.