Growing up global
One of the more striking theses that the three Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation business leaders made in Monday’s Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum was the argument from, or rather for, maturity. Asked specifically what was “in it” for the Philippines to host the biggest annual gathering of heads of government outside the United Nations system, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala offered three answers, two of which were related to a different definition of growth.
Aside from exposure—that is, the opportunity to showcase the Philippines to thousands of visiting decision-makers, including but not limited to the delegates who attended the 40-plus ministerial or subministerial meetings that the country has already hosted—the chair and CEO of Ayala Corp. also spoke about engagement and leadership.
Why should we put up with the disruption of our regular schedules when we host a high-profile gathering like next week’s Apec Summit of 21 “economic leaders”?
Because we must engage. “I think we have to learn as a country to host big events. The world is increasingly interconnected. It’s global. Exchange of information, and movement of people, and convening, are part and parcel of a mature, growing economy. This has forced us, as other gatherings have done, to just host. And hosting should be a natural strength of our country. We’re very service-oriented, we’re a welcoming people, we all speak to a certain extent a great deal of English in the country. It should be a natural.”
And because we must seize the chance to exercise leadership. “Just the chance to provide leadership in a global setting—our minister level, our President, our business community—to lead the discussions, lead the CEO conference. This is part of becoming a grownup in a global economy. They are things we should get used to.”
In other words: It’s time for the Philippines to level up.
As hosts, the Philippines has designed the Apec process so that discussions will focus on inclusive growth—that is, how to bring the benefits of open markets to ordinary citizens, to expand the middle class. “Our theme was really premised on where we conceive the biggest potential for growth,” Doris Magsaysay Ho, this year’s chair of the Apec Business Advisory Council, told the forum. “This regional integration has really brought in huge growth in the middle class. What we want to see is where we could find different areas of growth through regional integration.” Bill Luz of the National Competitiveness Council sharpened the focus on inclusive growth: “Curing poverty is much more complex than any of us have ever imagined. The key is job generation,” he said.
But Zobel de Ayala’s remarks—and those of Ho and Luz—suggest that another kind of growth is also in focus here. Ho called it “a new mindset,” a better understanding of the opportunities and responsibilities open to Filipinos in a world where they can set the pace, where they have the power to lead and persuade and convene.
Beyond the practical challenge of surmounting the logistical nightmare of the coming week, then, is something less material: an attitude change, a reorientation that places the greater burdens imposed on a rising star of the regional economy in clearer perspective.
This may come across as impertinence to motorists and commuters who may get stuck in rerouted traffic in the capital region next week, or as an irrelevance to those students and employees vacationing during the extra holidays.
But it might be worth thinking about: What does it matter to the Philippines to host the leaders and other officials of the world’s biggest economies (and, no coincidence, some of the world’s strongest militaries), if it were simply an event, something filed in the memory as soon as Barack Obama and Xi Jinping and other leaders shed their barong?
It has to be seen as a test of our capacities, indeed a rite of passage. Only in that way will the strain on the country’s fabled reputation for hospitality be seen for what it can be: growing pains.
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