SINGAPORE – While every country has its own political agenda and domestic realities, Asean should actively identify areas for cooperation amid heightened geopolitical tensions and fragile post-pandemic growth, said Malaysia’s caretaker Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.
“We want to see Asean as a self-sustaining region and also insulated from global uncertainties,” the 49-year-old said at a Straits Times forum in Singapore on Tuesday. One way the 10-member bloc can work towards that is to “pursue an Asean-wide stockpile of crucial items”, including food, medicine and other important raw materials.
This will help the region hedge against global supply chain disruptions and reduce inflationary pressures in the event of a supply crunch, he added.
Datuk Seri Zafrul was addressing some 250 attendees at the inaugural ST Asia Future Summit on Tuesday through a pre-recorded speech and interview with the newspaper’s Malaysia bureau chief Shannon Teoh, as he was unable to attend it in person.
Mr Zafrul also urged Asean policymakers to invest in Asean-wide strategic projects. Citing the production of medical devices as an example, he said all member countries can play to their strengths and be part of the supply chain, with some contributing raw materials and others taking charge of design and assembly.
If this vision comes true, “we don’t have to scramble for medical devices to protect our population” when the next public health crisis hits the world, he said.
“The gains can also be shared equitably,” he added, saying that such strategic projects “will benefit not just our individual economies but also serve as a hedge and glue that binds us together against calamities such as wars and pandemics”.
The former banker also emphasised the need to create a viable international monetary cooperation mechanism – one that ensures monetary policies made in the rich world will not hurt the economies in developing countries.
“I am not advocating anything revolutionary,” he said. “The world has done it before, from the 1985 Plaza Accord, to more recently, the Global Financial Safety Net which quickly stabilised global financial markets during the pandemic.”
The accord was inked against a backdrop of aggressive rate hikes and soaring inflation. The United States, United Kingdom, France, West Germany and Japan agreed to sell US dollars jointly out of a belief that weakening the greenback would help the global economy.
“Cooperation like this is crucial so that developing economies and emerging markets can grow more equitably and sustainably,” Mr Zafrul said.
Mr Zafrul, who was appointed Minister of Finance in March 2020 after being made a senator in the previous Muhyiddin Yassin administration, is widely seen as Umno’s star candidate in November’s election.
He will contest in Kuala Selangor against the incumbent MP, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad from Parti Amanah Negara, which is part of the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan, and Mr Mohd Shaid Rosli from Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
Mr Zafrul acknowledged that having to flip a seat in an opposition stronghold is a “big challenge”, but his party is “up for the challenge”, and he “personally never wants to shy away from the challenge”.
He said it would be a great morale booster for his party if he succeeds in winning an urban seat that has been lost to the opposition.
“I am optimistic and, of course, I am biased as well, that Malaysian voters are ready for change and want to return to a more stable government with a proven track record of responsive economic policies,” said Mr Zafrul. “So I believe BN and our manifesto will provide an unbeatable value proposition to our voters.”