Greater Asian economic integration and social inclusion will be key for the region to stand against the growing tide of anti-trade sentiments around the world.
Former Indonesian trade minister Mari Pangestu and Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Professor Tommy Koh, emphasised the two solutions as panacea in a climate of economic uncertainty and growing nationalism.
They were speaking on a panel with Mr Axel Pannes, managing director of BMW Group Asia, at the DBS Asian Insights Conference held at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday.
Prof Koh urged policymakers in Asia not to be "complacent" and to draw lessons from the recent British decision to exit the European Union, as well as the anti-trade mood in the United States.
"We in Asia have become rather complacent because Asia has in the last 20, 30 years enjoyed high growth. We have linked up with each other. Our trajectory is so positive and optimistic that we have not really considered whether there is a lesson to be learnt from Europe and US," he said.
Dr Pangestu said that Asean must further cooperate.
"Given uncertainty in the world, economic protectionism and Brexit, what we should be doing in the region is to accelerate and deepen economic integration, because it will provide us growth that is absent globally," she said. She added that economic integration could not be done as "business as usual".
"We should take into account why all this nationalism and protectionism is happening."
She later told The Straits Times that "equitable Asean" has also been part of the Asean vision, but it needed to be realised both in regional and national policies.
She was hopeful that digital connectivity could pave the way for equitable and deeper economic integration, and added that tourism could be an "easy win" area where Asean could do more by improving connectivity and with open skies.
Mr Pannes noted that there were positive developments in regional cooperation.
"In the past, every country was interested in having the final assembly of the car in the country. For the first time, Indonesia is looking ... into being part of the value chain... You can't have every country competing for the final assembly of cars - everyone can find a spot in the value chain."
Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino, who stepped down last month after serving a six-year term, also spoke at the event.
He was asked by DBS Group Holdings chief executive Piyush Gupta on the role of bigger countries in the Asean region.
Mr Aquino, whose administration filed a controversial case on the South China Sea dispute, attempted to set the record straight on his discussions with the Chinese. "I think it was Kennedy who said 'a rising tide lifts all boats'. When I talk to the leaders of China, I keep saying that. We are all here to ensure prosperity for our respective peoples and prosperity cannot happen without stability.
"I pointed out how positive the engagement between China and Philippines had been... The response was that the disputes in the waters should not be the be-all, end-all of our relationship because it's a litigable barrier."