6th August 2016, George Town
On behalf of the Penang Institute, I bid you all a warm welcome to Penang, and to our new home. It is indeed an auspicious day, as we celebrate not only the launch of the Penang Institute’s brand new office building, but also the inaugural Penang in the World Conference held here at our very own premises.
This conference marks the beginning of what is set to be our flagship annual conference. With the twin objectives of projecting Penang as a leading city in the region and providing a platform for the sharing of knowledge, this conference seeks to bring together views of local and international thought leaders on key issues and challenges that are relevant to Penang, Malaysia and indeed the world.
Our conference will begin with an examination of the state of the global economy, and in particular its implications for our regional economy. With more than 600 million people, a booming middle class and the world’s third largest young labour force, Asean is set to be an important node in the global market. Already, Asean is the seventh largest economy in the world, with a combined GDP of USD2.4 trillion in 2013. At current growth trends, it is set to become the fourth largest economy by 2050.
However, global trade is now slowing down due to various reasons, and the situation will certainly not be helped by the rise in terror attacks around the world and the increasing saliency of isolationism over globalism. Divisive rhetoric such as those espoused by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have become the new normal, while ultranationalist parties are gaining ground in Europe. Britain’s shocking Brexit from the European Union can be seen as a manifestation of this xenophobic, anti-globalist movement. Certainly, all these factors would produce more uncertainty in the world, not least of all in trade-dependent Asean.
Besides, these externalities, Southeast Asian economies also face internal pressures. Caught in the middle-income trap, many countries, ours included, are struggling to cope with the rapidly changing business environment, including how disruptive technologies challenge traditional business models. At the same time, widening inequality, political instability and rampant corruption continues to haunt many economies in this region.
The many experts speaking in this conference will no doubt shed light upon these questions, and perhaps also offer ideas about how we can move forward, not just as a city and nation but also as a region.
Closer to home, the conference will also tackle some key domestic issues, such as the generational transition that is occurring within Malaysia. With over 70 per cent of our population below the age of 40 and more than a third below the age of 20, we are set to reap a “demographic dividend” over the next decade or so. However, our youth are faced with many problems, such as the vicious cycle that begins with a lacklustre education system, producing underemployment, unemployment, low wages and high debt levels. To speak on this issue, we have invited prominent young leaders from across different sectors to share their thoughts on how the Gen-Ys and Gen-Zs of our country can overcome the obstacles and effect positive transformation.
Of course, a conference entitled Penang in the World would be amiss without the Penang perspective. In a special panel discussing the factors that make Penang unique as a city of history, culture and yet at the same time one of the most liveable in the region, we will discover how these aspects have been integral to the production, retention and attraction of human talent to our shores. As a land deprived of natural resources, our people are our strength.
We are also fortunate to have with us a special guest, Dr Muhamad Chatib Basri, the former Finance Minister of Indonesia, who will deliver a special dinner lecture. I am sure there will be much for us to learn about the Indonesian experience, being both the largest country and economy in Asean, as well as the world’s largest Muslim democracy.
Finally, as the world enters into a state of flux, it is important that Penang does not stand still. We need to adapt to emerging challenges and position ourselves ahead of the game, socially, politically and economically. Since 2008, we have shown how good and clean governance, combined with socially progressive and environmentally sustainable policies, can result in positive growth and more inclusive development. However, more needs to be done, particularly now in the face of global economic uncertainty and existential threats in the political domain. We are therefore fortunate to have our chief minister and chairman of the Penang Institute deliver the keynote address, during which he will no doubt expound on this important issue.
To all our distinguished speakers, some of whom have travelled far to be with us, I wish to convey our heartfelt gratitude. We are blessed to have you with us, and we look forward to hearing your learned thoughts on the various topics of the conference.
We would also like to take this opportunity to express our sincerest appreciations to the state government of Penang, not only for this gift of a new building, but also because of the unwavering support for our efforts in promoting intellectual discourse and public policy research. It is certainly a feather in the cap for Penang, when we see other states beginning to emulate the work of our institute.
This conference would not have been possible without the hard work put in by the team at the Penang Institute, and to each of you I give my thanks and respect. Thank you everyone, and have a fruitful conference ahead.
ZAIRIL KHIR JOHARI
Executive Director, Penang Institute