By Sonia K.
Even though Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) governments have emerged stronger from the 1997 "financial mess", there is a new one at our doorsteps, which needs to be cleaned up again.
One of the causes of this latest economic crisis is that "we didn't get globalisation right", said His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Prince, Duli Pengiran Perdana Wazir, the chief of the traditional advisors to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, delivered a sabda (keynote address) yesterday during the opening of the 34th Asean-Japan Business Meeting at The Empire Hotel and Country Club.
The first time the Prince spoke at an Asean-Japan Business meeting was 11 years ago, and he remembered back then Asia faced a very worrying situation in the region known as the "Asian Financial Crisis".
HRH said the ordinary people were more direct with describing the 1997 financial crisis. "They called it a mess! And I think that was the right word. It was indeed "a mess" and that was how I thought it should be dealt with," the Prince added.
This was because when you get something called a "financial crisis", there is usually a classic response, HRH said.
"You round up all the experts and hold discussions. Nobody usually understands what they are talking about. They often disagree with each other and some of their ideas may well have caused the crisis in the first place."
On the other hand, if it is called "a mess", HRH said everyone, from PhDs to little children, knows what it is. They might not understand exactly why it's happened but they certainly know what needs to be done.
To overcome this financial situation that Asia faced years ago, the Asean governments all strengthened their economies and banking systems and built up political goodwill, HRH added.
The businessmen and women also played a great part by creating new products and opened up new markets and new opportunities, the Prince said.
"Our people did what they do best. They proved that they are some of the hardest and most disciplined workers in the world," HRH added. The regional partners such as Japan gave Asean tremendous support.
"The result of all that is clear. Our region is now stronger and more confident than it has ever been. And so ... end of the mess! Or at least we thought it was until a few weeks ago when another one suddenly appeared. And this time it's an even bigger one," HRH said.
His Royal Highness said most people call it the "global financial crisis" but whatever it is called, it is very serious and it is directly affecting everyone, in particular businessmen and women and their staff and employees.
"You could be the major victims and it is already costing you a high price. So, yet again, there is a mess and we all have to work together to clean it up," HRH continued.
"Japan has given Asean a lot to be grateful for. It has played a great part in the region's economic recovery. It has done much to make sure we have the stability we need and, along with the US, it is now Asean's largest trade partner and a major aid donor to Asean's development.
"As a result, we are now an important destination for Japanese investment and, in Brunei, we are well aware of all this since Japanese companies have added much to our own economic development.
"That's a fine record and my questions don't concern that. They concern the situation right now and the mess we all see.
"We all know what was achieved in the last 11 years but, obviously, things are not good now. So, surely we must have got something wrong?
"That's my first question. What did we get wrong?
"There was nothing we got wrong! The people of our region have done well. We have never had as many opportunities as we have today and I don't think many would disagree. In spite of that, however, the region is now full of doubt and there is even the possibility of panic. Any feelings of confidence are under great strain," said HRH.
"So if we didn't get anything wrong ... there has to be something we didn't get it right. What didn't we get right?
"That's what I think we have to look at now. We have to work out what it was and we have to put it right, as quickly as possible," said the Prince.
His Royal Highness feels that one of the causes of this economic crisis is, "We didn't get globalisation right. We all learned and accepted the theory but we made a very human error. We fell in love with three little words, 'The Global Village'."
Unfortunately, few of us know very much about real life in any real village. "It is a very strict life. People in villages share every single thing. They are part of everything that happens. Each villager is bound into the village culture, the Prince said.
"This can be very good sometimes but it can also be very dangerous. When something goes wrong in one corner of the village, everyone else is deeply affected. That is the reality of village life and it is certainly the reality of life in any global village, whether it is in a remote corner of Southeast Asia or in the centre of New York, many thousands of miles away," he said.
His Royal Highness said many of us did not appreciate the full consequences of this. Many did not even suspect them, not even the world's greatest economists.
"I can't remember it being debated, for example, at the World Economic Forum," the Prince told those who attended the opening of the meeting.
"We believed that life in the global village was all about sharing good things. We did not try hard enough to understand that village life is rough and tough."
Instead, it survives on rules, regulations and basic ways of doing business properly and only now, after what we have seen over the last few weeks, are we beginning to understand this in real terms, said HRH Prince Mohamed.
Although it has given us a great shock, HRH sees no reason for panic and he certainly doesn't think we should be trying to move out of the global village. "Everything we have done over the last 11 years has made us a strong and fully committed part of it. So, what I think we should be doing is what any good village does," he said.
"When a serious problem arises, everyone, from the leaders down to the ordinary families, meet and offer anything they can to help put things right. This is well tried and tested at many levels and, to help us, this is the best thing that globalisation has given us," HRH added.
The Prince said this is the chance for Asean and Japan to work on a global scale as this is new and it gives a very good chance to succeed.
That is why His Royal Highness is pleased to see it starting to take place.
"Government leaders all over the world are regularly meeting. Ideas are being exchanged. Action is already being taken. We are all learning. And I see meetings like the one you are holding here as a vital part of the process. In fact, this is certainly the most important session that you have ever held," he added.
"We must immediately begin to live in the real world, not the imaginary one," also said.
"And how do we do this? That's where I feel businessmen and women like yourselves have special insights.
"Your world is one in which everything is real. You buy and sell real things. You calculate real risks and you pay real prices. You face real costs and you work with real people.
"In the part of the village we call Asean-Japan, you run the market. You are our lifeline to the world," said HRH Prince Mohamed.
- Borneo Bulletin
(4th Nov 2008)