Ramos-Horta in Dhaka, on “The Rising Asia, Challenges and Risks”


Visiting Bangladesh for the first time, Nov 16-21, former President J. Ramos-Horta delivered the convocation (commencement) speech at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka to an audience of about 1,000 people including more than 700 graduating students, their families, faculty and staff.

Here we reproduce main parts of the speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen,Excellencies:
We are living in times of great challenges in much of the world but also of hope and optimism for our peoples and our continent.

As the US and NATO forces begin their phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is growing anxiety and fear among many AghansAfghans about the future; – about their hard-won democratic gains; – will these gains survive the American withdrawal in 2014 or once again will the country and the people be overrun by the Taliban? And what will happen in Pakistan which faces its own internal Taliban and other security challenges?

But let us look at the good news about Asia. Asia’s social and economic performance has been the single most important development in the economic world order in the last three decades. Hundreds of millions of people have been freed from poverty, in particular in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, The Philippines, Thailand; and others. The Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore continue to outshine much of the world in science, technology and innovation.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st CentruryCentury, Asian economies have become the powerhouse of global economy.

The 2008 dramatic meltdown in the US caused by greed, excessive deregulation and anarchy in the US financial markets and banking system continues to have reverberations in Europe.

The most striking feature in the international economic system is its lacking of transparency and accountability. This has had strong negative impacts on global financial and social stability and investment outlooks.

Key decisions that impact the financial health of the United States and other major developed countries are beeingbeing made in opaque boardrooms of financial institutions with global reach.

For some years now, Governments governments and public financial regulators have been at a loss with the lack of transparency of financial instruments and financial dealings that unceremoniously drag the public purse to foot the bill whenever they go wrong. And they have the tendency of goingto go awfully wrong since 2008 and even before 2008.

European countries and the United States are burdened by debt incurred in the last 10 years to save banks and the international financial system from collapse and by an ever increasing gap between obligations and tax returns, the latter dwindling as developed economies stop growing.

Political options in the allocation of resources, that used to be in the hands of democratic institutions, have been hijacked under the pressure of impending financial collapses by private financial institutions, oblivious of the national and social disruptions imposed upon countries.

Dealings on the opaque financial derivatives that caused the 2008 crisis are back in fashion and still mostly free of regulation and public oversight.

The overall moral of this story is that heavy debt burdens, political radicalism and deficit of oversight in the international financial sector are a dangerous mix undermining business confidence, social stability and trust in elected representatives – ultimately undermining conditions for prosperity. But the fact is that while most economies in developed countries are stagnant or at best have had anemic growth for the last four years, leading Asian economies and other emerging economies have continued booming and have become the life jacket of the global economy.

China, the Republic of Korea, India and Indonesia have been growing at annual rates of between 6 and 10 percent for sustained long periods, indeed,for decades. The economies of China, Korea, Japan and India put together already account for over 14 trillion dollars of annual GDP. ASEAN, another fast growing economic region, represents some 2 trillion dollars of combined annual GDP.

Asian economic powerhouses put together are already a formidable force, side by side with the 16 trillion dollars of combined output in EU countries and the 15 trillion dollars US economy, according with IMF estimates for 2010.

And, every day, the sustained high economic performance of leading Asian countries help pulling smaller neighbors into the path of growth and economic development. Asia accounts for 4 billion people in our present 7 billion people person world.

In a few words, the world has changed much, Asia is changing fast, and in the face of the financial and economic predicaments of the US and Europe, Asia must seek to be take center stage and lead.

But to lead is to inspire, to be able to forge partnerships,to build bridges and to seek common ground. Asia can and should lead on tackling the challenges we face in the 21st Century: we have the resources to alleviate and finally erradicateeradicate poverty; we master sciences and technology; we posesspossess the know-how to lead the search for global answers to the challenges of climate change and the need for sustained increase in food production.

Asia can and should lead on reversing environmental damage and ensuring sustained development, while keeping up with the welfare of our peoples. In our globalized world, Asia can lead only in partnership with other stakeholders, specially emerging countries like Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, and other fast developing economies and societies that are looking for solutions to challenges similar to those we face.

However, the challenges facing Asia as a whole are enormous and should not be underestimated.

I thoroughly disagree with the optimists, Asian scholars and others elsewhere, who want us to feel good about ourselves and paint too a rosy picture about the emerging 21st Century Asia. Time and again we hear the claim that world power is shifting from the West to Asia. I believe this is overly optimistic, exaggerated, misleading and dangerous.

Our challenges are overwhelming, daunting. And we can overcome these challenges only by pooling our resources and, solutions, in partnerships, without exclusions. Asia must further develop partnerships with the US and the EU, technological powerhouses and large economic areas that have much still to contribute to global solutions.

The world needs a roadmap of priorities and resource allocation to answer our challenges and it needs also needs leadership to establish and implement this roadmap, strengthening peaceful relations. I believe that time has come for Asia to lead and guide the world while navigating the challenges of the 21st Century.

Asian leaders should consider a 30-year Asian Road Map for integrated, sustainable Human Development including goals of eradicating poverty, illiteracy, TB, malaria, etc. and restore our forests, rivers and seas.

With half the world’s population, Asians extract a lot more from our Planet planet to satisfy our needs of survival and development than any other peoples of the world.

For our own survival, by solidarity with our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world, we must act with vision and determination, we must do a lot more to free our people from extreme poverty and save our common planet.

Together China, India, Pakistan, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the rich Gulf countries, and Bangladesh have an unparalleled pool of know-how and financial resources to transform Asia into a prosperous, peaceful and happy region for the 4 billion that live in our region that spreads from Istanbul to Jakarta, Timor-Leste and the Pacific Islands.

Our American and European brothers are enduring great efforts and sacrifices to overcome the crisis that has been lingering since 2008. We should sympathize with them and not gloat over their difficulties and pain. And I am’m convinced that the USA and Europe will rise again stronger from this crisis. The USA and Europe still lead in Science and Technology and they should invest even more on education, research and new technologies.

But Asia should create its own Fund, the 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, FAO, or NGO’s with good regional or international reputation such as OXFAM.

Each country should mandatorily contribute to such a Fund, according to their GDP. Maybe the various claimant States 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, illiteracy, saving our forests, rivers, lakes and seas. In a few words, rather than engaging in dangerous brinkmanship and saber rattling, the claimant States states in the South China Seas should engage in dialogue, build bridges of understanding and search for common ground beneficial to all in Asia.

Asian leaders should rise to the challenges of the 21st Century, to the dreams and hopes of a peaceful and dignified life for our people, and lead with vision and courage.

Asia is the most populous region in the world: we represent half of humanity; the largest, oldest, richest civilizations appeared and met in Asia. Only 50 years ago our region was extremely poor. Today Asia emerges as a center of world power and the 21st century could be Asia’s century; we have the brainpower, advanced technology and financial means to make this dream come true.

But the challenges we face in Asia are immense and complex. I would dare say that our region is the most dangerous in the world, the most militarized, most nuclearized, with complex land and maritime border disputes, regional rivalries, ethnic and religious conflicts that have exploded frequently in and among states. But we cannot continue to demand from the ageing and impoverished Europe and today’s less powerful USA to come to our rescue and lead, much less we should take part in pointing fingers at industrialized countries for the ills of our planet.

If they, Europe and the USA, contributed the most to environmental degradation in the last 100 years, truth be told, they also contributed the most towards advances in Medicine, Science and Technology to all of Humanity’s humanity’s benefit.

Asians, from this vast region that extends from the doors of Constantinople to Dhaka to Dili, a region of great civilizations, religions and cultures, of great challenges and great possibilities, should unite and act responsibly to correct the mistakes inherited from the past and those of the present and adopt a Road road map to build a Future of Peace, Freedom and Prosperity.

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