HANOI – Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations stressed on Wednesday the need to strengthen ties between countries in the region to survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution and warned against growing trade protectionism during a session at the regional World Economic Forum summit.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said trade wars have been a reality through the ages, and the region is capable of combating another – an indirect reference to the ongoing tariff disputes between China and the United States.
“Not since the great depression of the 1930s have trade wars erupted with the intensity that they have today, but rest assured, I and my fellow avengers stand ready to defend Thanos from wiping out half of the population,” Widodo said, referencing an Avengers film.
However, he warned that trade wars should not become the plot of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and stressed that it was a misguided belief that “the rise of some means the decline of others.”
Other ASEAN leaders who spoke also stressed regional cooperation and openness.
Hu Chunhua, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, condemned an increasingly protectionist climate and called for a more open global economy.
“China’s resolve to open its doors even wider will not change. We will pursue opening up at (our) own pace. This will offer opportunities for ASEAN countries and beyond,” he added.
Myanmar’s state counselor and de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi challenged the concept of “leapfrogging” or rapid progress in developing economies.
“What we have been engaged with is not mere amphibian hops but quantum leaps,” she said.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called for a common ASEAN code on data sharing and further cooperation across the region to benefit from the digital era.
“In the Fourth Industrial Revolution and with the rapid march of science and technology, ASEAN is known as the cradle of many new and innovative ideas in the world,” he said.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Hsien Loong said ASEAN was committed to further economic integration and added there was a need to boost the rules-based multilateral trading system.
“It has underpinned our growth and stability, but is under pressure and under threat,” he warned.
The WEC Forum on ASEAN runs until Thursday.