Quality infrastructure is necessary for Asean to boost inter-connectivity within the 10-nation bloc, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said yesterday.
Despite the great need for urgent infrastructure development in some of the countries, it is crucial that South-east Asia does not lose sight of quality as a priority in pursuit of mere quantity, he added.
"Substandard infrastructure will not only inhibit inclusive and sustainable development, but it could even become bottlenecks to growth."
He was speaking at the first ministerial conference, Inclusive Asean, held under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's South-east Asia regional programme, now co-chaired by Japan and Indonesia.
South-east Asia requires US$210 billion (S$276 billion) of infrastructure investment annually from 2016 to 2030 - or 5.7 per cent of the region's economy, and only a quarter of this demand is being met, Mr Kono said, citing data from the Asian Development Bank.
"Only quality infrastructure will truly contribute to inclusive and sustainable development," he added.
These investments must adhere to such principles as economic efficiency, job creation and transfer of technology, an assessment of the social and environment impact, and openness and transparency in procurement, development and operation.
Asean also faces challenges that could threaten growth and create a gulf in socio-economic development both between and within nations, Mr Kono said, while noting that South-east Asia is located at a critical juncture between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This makes the region important geopolitically to the country's Free And Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, he said, as he vowed to put Asean at the core of its strategy. "Japan will especially expand infrastructure development, trade and investment, and enhance the environment for business and human development while respecting Asean priorities," Mr Kono said.
He lauded Singapore's priorities of "resilience" and "innovation" as Asean chair this year .
Speaking at the same session, Singapore Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohamad Maliki Osman said: "As Asean faces an increasingly complex global geopolitical landscape, it is important to keep Asean resilient to challenges such as terrorism, cyber threats and natural disasters, and by promoting and upholding a rules-based regional order.
"Disruptive technology is (also) changing our lives, and there is a need to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of industry."
Among Singapore's areas of focus are advancing trade rules in e-commerce, improving digital connectivity and developing a network of smart cities across the region. Asean's digital economy is projected to grow 500 per cent to US$200 billion in 2025.
And it is against this backdrop that Dr Maliki stressed the need for investment so that "our people have the right skills for the right jobs, that a new middle class can rise, and that no one is left behind".