SINGAPORE, Feb 6 (AFP): East Asia can achieve a European standard of living in less than 50 years, former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong said Monday.
The economic progress by member countries including Malaysia, Thailand and India bodes well for the 16 mostly Southeast Asian nations that met last December for the inaugural East Asian Summit that also included Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China and Japan, Goh said.
"These countries aim to achieve a prosperous and peaceful East Asian Community in the future," Goh said in a speech at a regional forum.
"I think that is realisable. We now have a unique set of circumstances to enable Asians to scale the mountain of prosperity.
"There is peace, although there are flashpoints. And globalisation and the IT revolution have opened up hitherto closed societies and connected economies," said Goh, who stepped down in 2004 and now holds the cabinet title of senior minister.
"I believe that East Asia can achieve Europe's present standard of living by 2030 or latest, by 2050. "In East Asia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are already enjoying a standard of living comparable to Europe's."
For East Asia to realise its full potential, the 16 member-countries must be prepared to play a more active role, Goh said.
"Decades of high growth and deepening market-driven integration have now created conditions for East Asia to recover its autonomy to be a player, not an arena," he said.
"This is not merely an opportunity but a necessity... We have to help ourselves. We cannot just be an arena for others to advance their interests," he said.
Leaders from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with South Korea, China, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand gathered in Kuala Lumpur in December for the first East Asian Summit.
They vowed to work together on enhancing the region's economic prosperity and to tackle other issues including energy security and financial stability. Observers questioned what such a disparate group of nations could truly achieve.