TOKYO, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Asian leaders have voiced their wish for strengthening free economic and trade connections among regional countries, warning that protectionism will only bring a more fragmented global economy.
The leaders exchanged opinions here at the 28th Future of Asia Forum, where political, economic and academic leaders from the Asia-Pacific region offered their views on regional issues and the role of Asia in the world. The two-day annual forum starting on Thursday was organized by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance of Singapore Lawrence Wong said that a big risk facing the world is "rising protectionism that is undermining the multilateral trading system and the global economy," warning that the so-called de-risking measures would "prompt reactions and unintended consequences. Over time, we will end up with a more fragmented and decoupled global economy."
In order to emphasize the importance of multilayered relations among regional countries, "Sri Lanka will apply for membership with the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) with the aim of achieving a higher level of economic liberalization," Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.
The two leaders proposed re-strengthening the World Trade Organization to address the headwinds facing multilateral free trade negotiations at the global trade body.
For his part, Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith expressed his willingness to "increase land connectivity with neighboring countries to facilitate trade expansion."
There is "no risk of falling into a debt trap caused by the railroad," Thongloun said, referring to the China-Laos Railway that connects Vientiane in Laos with China's southwestern city of Kunming. He condemned the so-called "debt trap" narrative as nothing but groundless rumors.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang said that Asia continues to see robust economic growth while the global economy is slowing down, and that Asia must fully demonstrate its potential, strength, and responsibility to increase its contribution to solving challenges facing humanity.
In order to sustainably promote multilateral cooperation, he said, it is important to build an international system based on rules with the UN Charter at its core, and greater unity is needed.
Wong said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries "do not want to be forced to choose sides" and "nobody wants to see a new Cold War."
Wickremesinghe warned that woes in U.S.-China relations will set back intra-regional integration of trade in Asia, and the middle-income Asian countries will suffer losses.
Many regional countries and China are economically interdependent, he said, opposing the bifurcation of Asia.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai warned that if Asia continues to be divided geopolitically and strategically, it will not be able to play a due role in solving global issues and the concept of the "Asian Century" will be forgotten.