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Opinion | UN report: Education, social safety vital for Asia to grow rich

By Augustus K. Yeung

What the UN report points out is worth noting. It spells out the trends and threats that countries in Asia and the Pacific are facing, which can cause social disruption or even chaos if not properly addressed. The Ukraine war is a warning – clearly showing the region's countries that they must ward off war whenever possible and that they should keep away from NATO which is seeking to expand its influence in Asia.

So, this report comes at a good time so that countries can now take note and then formulate proactive "action plans" individually at home, and in association with others among them China, the world's second largest economy – to strengthen their trade, commerce and economic "connectivity", a key concept which associates with the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping's signature project.

Some ASEAN countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are already spearheading to China's Greater Bay Area (GBA) which is a conglomerate consisting of Hong Kong, Macau plus nine selected modernized cities in Guangdong.

The GBA is China's national pride, whose aim is to economically reach out to the Southeast Asian region, connecting with these countries by means of infrastructure - be it "on land, at sea or in the air".

For example, Chinese-made speed trains are already making their debut in Indonesia, Laos etc., and the newly constructed passenger cruises are already in service travelling between Shanghai and key Southeast Asian countries. And the nation's C919 is making road shows in Singapore and other neighboring countries, test-flying, getting ready to reconfigure a brave new Asian-world – that promises to be the pride of Asia.

Now listen to what the UN report has to say.

"As economies in Asia and the Pacific slow and grow older, countries need to do more to ensure that workers get the education, training and social safety nets needed – to raise income and ensure social equity, a United Nations report said on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

The report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) said that growth in productivity has slowed, hurting incomes and undermining the purchasing power of the region's 2 billion workers. By improving productivity, governments can boost incomes and better prepare – for the aging of their work forces, the report said.

Two in three workers in the Asia-Pacific region were in informal employment in 2023, such as day labor, lacking the kinds of protections that come from formal jobs.

"The lack of job opportunities that meet decent work criteria, including good incomes, not only jeopardizes social justice in the region – but it also presents a risk factor for the labor market outlook," the UN report said.

Showing the potential for improvement, labor productivity grew at an average annual rate of 4.3% in 2004-2021, helping to raise incomes per worker – in terms of purchasing power parity, which compares standards of living in different countries using a common currency, to $15,700 from $7,700. But it has slowed in the past decade, the report said – hindering progress toward greater affluence.

The UN report highlighted various challenges, especially unemployment among young people not in school, which is more than triple the adult rate, at 13.7%.

Increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation technology will cause some people to lose their jobs, it said, with women engaged in clerical and information technology (IT) work most likely to be affected as companies roll back their reliance on offshore call centers jobs in countries like the Philippines and India.

Other factors such as "trade disputes" and "political turmoil" threaten to disrupt.

The ratio of people in Asia aged older than 65 to those 15-64 years old is projected to double to nearly a third by 2050 from about 15% in 2023, the ILO report says.

In places like Japan, short-handed employers have moved to alleviate workloads – by using robots and computerized ordering in restaurants, cutting hours and installing self-checkout machines.

The UN report noted that a key reason why some countries face labor shortages despite having ample numbers of unemployed workers is a mismatch between jobs and skills and education.

"The [Asia-Pacific] region still has huge potential for upskilling, productivity improvements and efficiency gains, which can alleviate demographic pressures on the labor market," it said.

The report noted that more than a third of workers in the region have educational levels too low for their occupations, compared with 18% of workers in high-income countries.

Among other findings: People in Asia and the Pacific still work more hours than workers in other regions, at 44 hours per week on average, though that is down from more than 47 hours in 2005.

In 2023, nearly 73 million workers in the region lived in extreme poverty – with daily incomes of less than $2.15 in purchasing power parity per person. (Source: MDT/AP)

Economically, China has long had the master plan in its pocket. A modernized China is able, willing and ready to cooperate with the Asia-Pacific countries. The two are destined to be "ironclad" brothers in business and economy.

What worries China, and most members of ASEAN is the United States, which has pivoted to the Asia-Pacific region – and its intention is to check China's rise, which the U.S. misperceived as a "threat" and at best a competitor.

That is not a problem as China's global goal is not hegemony, but multilateralism. Time will clear China's name.

Economically, the way the United States has been waging disturbing trade wars – since the arrival of Donald Trump's reign of terror has bring brute "bans" and unfair "sanctions" to "China trade". The Biden administration is not making life easy for China either.

Politically, the United States has been marshalling its Western allies, and rounding up Japan and Korea – in attempts to corner China, here and there, now and then.

Worst of all, the U.S. has purposely been noncommittal in its pledge to honor the "one China" policy, especially the House of Representative. It has faithfully, purposely and provocatively violated this principle!


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

To contact the writer, please direct email: AugustusKYeung@ymail.com

Read more articles by Augustus K. Yeung:

Opinion | Putin's visit highlights ties amid Ukraine war, Israel-Palestinian conflict

Opinion | Trump: Chinese migrants are 'here to build an army' – What do authorities think?

Opinion | Xi's visit to Serbia – 'demonstration of growing global reach'

Opinion | President Xi is making inroads in Europe


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