People have casually referred to the 21st century as one belonging to Asia. Some scholars of political economy have said that there is nothing inherently novel in that. It’s just that the natural order of wealth distribution is being restored to its erstwhile position when India and China alone accounted for almost half of the world’s GDP. But if Asia has to re-emerge as the global economic engine that it used to be until the middle of the 18th century, no one is going to present it to us on a platter. Asia has to win it by its sheer force of enterprise, innovation and outreach. And in that context, Asian economies have to work in unison, operate in tandem, feeding off each other’s strengths and often putting contentious political issues between member nations off the table.
No body is asking countries not to engage in healthy competition. Let there be competition for resources, for newer markets. Let there be competition in product innova- tion, in simplifying logistics chains. In this regard, Asian corporates have an equal or more impor- tant role to play than the governments of Asian nations. They can show the path of collaboration and linkages to the govern- ments, act as a significant pressure group on their policy makers when drafting free trade pacts and other bilateral and multilat- eral agreements. Many have already done that successfully and Leaders Asia seeks to further this process.
In a continent like Asia, the responsibility of corporate citizens just can’t be and has not been limited to just ensuring profits for shareholders of a particular company or corporation. The experiences of India, China, Indonesia, Malayasia and Vietnam have shown that free economic enterprise can pull consider- able number of people out of the pits of poverty. However, a large number of people still continue to live in absolute poverty, having little or no access to education and healthcare. In a re- gion, which is also at considerable risk from religious extremism, ethnic tensions and unresolved political disputes, elements like poverty, ignorance, neglect and unemployment can often create an explosive concoction, derailing a region’s economic growth. So it’s important to sustain economic growth, to expand opera- tions, to endow the unskilled with the skills that can make them a part of an employable workforce.
It’s important for Asian cor- porates to enter this virtuous cycle and stay there. Leaders Asia arrives as the new kid on the block not just to stake a claim to a part of the advertising pie. Leaders Asia, in slight rephrasal of the masthead, wants Asia to emerge as the undisputed leader of the 21st century world. It wants to provide a neutral platform to Asian corporates to recognise each other’s strengths and benefit from them. Let trade and economics be the new deterrents and not nuclear warheads. If the member nations of Europe could put their century-old ri- valries and war-ravaged history behind to create the Eurozone, we can do that too.