Cambodia should view China’s economic prosperity as an opportunity and not a threat, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday at the opening of the fourth Asian Economic Forum in Phnom Penh.
“Don’t wish that China should be poor. We should wish that China would be rich. It’s not a threat. It will help us…. [China’s] neighbor Cambodia and Asean will receive benefits,” Hun Sen said, adding that he will soon be traveling to Beijing, where he plans to ask for $300 million in aid.
“I need more than $300 million,” he said, “$300 million is not equal to a Chinese hair.”
Many of the other featured speakers at the forum, which is focusing this year on challenges specific to Asia in a globalizing world, said that coping with China’s enormous presence should be a top priority.
Ong Keng Yong, former Asean secretary-general from Singapore, presented China as a major factor driving the agenda of Asean over the last 10 years.
“How do we deal with the huge giant China?” he asked, saying that the answer, in part, is further development of Asean in order to be able to compete in an economy of scale.
On the sidelines of the conference, Ong said that much progress has already been made to economically harmonize Asean’s 10 member countries, mainly in the form of tariff reductions between Asean nations.
Phan Phalla, deputy secretary-general of the Supreme National Economic Council, said that China posed an opportunity ripe for the picking in terms of exports.
The current economic crisis may most affect Asian countries if the US, which is a huge market for many Asian countries, cuts it’s imports, Phan Phalla said, adding that diversifying to export markets other than the US should now be a major focal point.
Almost every speaker also mentioned the current economic crisis, though most did not seem to think the effects in Asia would be crippling in the long term.
Hun Sen said that even though millions in Asia will feel the burn from today’s financial situation in the form of inflation and downsized development programs, he believed that ultimately Cambodia won’t feel a large impact.
“Others in the world are worried about the collapse of their stock exchange, but Cambodia has no stock exchange. So, there’s nothing to collapse,” he said.
Imron Cotan, secretary-general at Indonesia’s department of foreign affairs, said that most Asian markets might experience a temporary slowdown, but will ultimately prove resilient. In the meantime, he highlighted stopgap measures including buy-back sales schemes and security blankets that would secure savings in affected banks.
Jebamalai Vinanchiarachi, principal adviser to the director-general of the UN Industrial Development Organization, said that though there is growing evidence in Asia of an economic slowdown, the growth forecast for 2009 (7.1 percent) is only marginally lower than 2008 (7.7 percent).
He said he agreed with Hun Sen’s take on the spillover of Chinese wealth.
“When your neighbors grow, you tend to grow,” he said.