South-east Asian leaders have called for increased co-operation and urgent reform to deal with the global financial crisis as they wrapped up a summit dominated by their economic woes. Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have spent much of their annual meeting seeking ways to soften the impact of the meltdown on their export-driven economies, with millions of jobs at risk.
In a joint statement issued at the end of the summit, they urged developed and developing countries to show "more co-ordinated action ... to restore financial stability and ensure the continued functioning of financial markets." They further called for "bold and urgent reform of the international financial system," while agreeing to "stand firm against protectionism". The leaders also signed a declaration on setting up an EU-style ASEAN community by 2015 that is aimed at protecting the diverse bloc of about 570 million people from future economic turmoil.
The Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also currently chairman of ASEAN, said the leaders "have sent a clear signal about our guidelines to solve economic problems in the region." "We will not turn our backs on our members, we will work as a network and with the same direction to help all members move forward," he said in a pre-recorded television address shown today. ASEAN, with a combined gross domestic product of about US$1.4 trillion, had until recently been a relative bright spot in the world economy since its recovery from the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
But because the region is largely dependent on exports, it is at the mercy of the chaos in the rest of the world's economies, with Singapore already in recession and Thailand's economy shrinking in the last quarter of 2008. * AFP