Last week I was thrilled to attend a lunch program with ambassadors from the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), hosted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The ambassadors present at the lunch and on the panel included:
- Dato Yusoff Abd Hamid, Ambassador of Brunei to the US
- Seng Soukhathivong, Ambassador of Laos to the US
- Awang Adek bin Hussin, Ambassador of Malaysia to the US
- Kyaw Myo Htut, Ambassador of Myanmar to the US
- Ashok Mirpuri, Ambassador of Singapore to the US
- Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to the US
Ambassador Mirpuri of Singapore outlined that that main goals of ASEAN are to create a production base that is economically competitive, ensure equitable development for all member states, and to fully integrate with the global economy. The United States has been critical to the success of ASEAN over the past 50 years and will continue to be essential in the future.
The panelists were asked an important question by the moderator prompting them to discuss what factors will be important to ensure future economic growth in the region. The ambassadors stated that ASEAN is well-prepared for future growth, but no mention was made of meeting future energy needs. So, I prompted the question of how they plan to meet energy needs with growing economic development, increasing population, and a higher quality of life. The answers were vague but I was able to discuss this issue further with Ambassador Mirpuri after the session. He said that Singapore is very concerned with energy issues because they import ALL of their energy. He also said that current nuclear reactor technology is not suitable for their needs. However, Singapore was looking at the nuclear energy option before Fukushima.
In my opinion, energy is one of the most important factors for future economic development. Being a production base requires electricity, infrastructure, and transportation. As the economy develops, the middle class also grows and quality of life is directly related to electricity production. Meeting energy needs in a sustainable way is an issue that needs to be discussed now, and especially in growing economies.