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2012 CommonWealth Economic Forum

The Search for Well-being in Asia


The Search for Well-being in Asia


The 2012 CommonWealth Economic Forum gathered Asia's academic and business elites to discuss the region's future and explore the ideas of economic well-being and sustainability.

The Search for Well-being in Asia

By Sara Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 492 )

2012 opened in a shroud of uncertainty. Taiwan introduced a new Cabinet, the European debt crisis was raging on, and world economy entered a new era of risk. The CommonWealth Economic Forum (CWEF), hosted by CommonWealth Magazine in Taipei in February, offered an international, forward-looking stage on which to make sense of these developments and examine Asia's transformation and growth opportunities.

For the past three years, the CWEF has assembled Asia's academic, business and political elite in Taipei. This year's forum featured 31 speakers and panelists from around the world, and more than 10 percent of the 600 audience members were from abroad, including ethnic-Chinese entrepreneurs from 15 different countries.

Diane Ying, the chairman of the CommonWealth Magazine Group, recalled that the forum's main theme three years ago was the idea of a "well-being economy," and a year later the concept was sweeping the world.

"Economic growth is a means to an end," Ying said, quoting British prime minister David Cameron. The goal should be "to help make a better life for people."

She also expressed optimism about Taiwan's chances to create a new "leading indicator" that could help it become one of Asia's happiest countries, expressing the hope that President Ma Ying-jeou would institute Taiwan's own "National Happiness" index.

President Ma's Top Priorities – Equality and Prosperity

The president, who appeared at the forum for the third consecutive year, identified his four major policy directions for his second four-year term as: "wealth distribution, employment, innovation, and the expansion of regional economic ties." His stated goals were to narrow the widening gap between rich and poor, bring down unemployment, create an economy driven by innovation and enter into regional economic alliances.

"The speech by Taiwan's leader was very concrete and sincere. At the beginning of the speech, he said ‘my boss' (the people) allowed me to have another four years. That left me deeply impressed," observed Zhang Yue, chairman of the China-based Broad Group, who also spoke at the forum.

Another keynote speaker was Murray Sherwin, the chairman of the New Zealand Productivity Commission, who talked about what was behind the strong performance of small economies, with 23 of 34 advanced economies as defined by the IMF having populations of less than 20 million people.

"Influences favoring smaller economies may include a stronger sense of social cohesion and smaller societies, more effective governance with stronger strategic coherence, better policy-making and policy implementation capability, plus greater capacity to adapt to changing circumstances," he said.

Sherwin concluded that sound fiscal policy (avoiding dependency on international capital markets and promoting tax fairness), strong monetary policy (targeted at price stability), credential policy (the sound regulation of banks and regulatory quality) and strong basic institutions (protection of property rights and rule of law) were all critical to the success of smaller economies such as New Zealand and Taiwan.

The forum also featured many other elite entrepreneurs speaking publicly in Taiwan for the first time. Among them: Wei Ying-chiao, group chairman of food company giant Ting Hsin International Group; Charles Chao, president and CEO of influential Chinese media company Sina Corporation; Zhang Yue; Tom Sun, president and CEO of touch technology giant TPK Touch Solutions; Setyono Djuandi Darmono, president director of Indonesia-based industrial estate developer Jababeka Tbk.; and Oh-Seok Hyun, president of the Korea Development Institute, one of Korea's leading think tanks.

Pegatron Technology Corp. president and CEO Jason Cheng, who was in the audience for both days of the forum accompanied by senior executives from his company, was impressed by the depth of the discussion of many topics.

"The way the three panelists went back and forth on the topic of cultivating future leaders was excellent," Cheng said. "I also didn't realize that Dachan Food chairman Mark Han has brought so much advanced know-how to the livestock industry. That was really stimulating. The discussion on the liberalization of the cross-Taiwan Strait banking sector was closely related to our company's operations."

Cheng described the forum as broad-ranging, and particularly well-suited to senior executives, especially because of what they can learn from people in other industries.

Tsou Jo-chi, chairman of Taiwan-based China Steel Corporation, had one request for next year's forum, however. "Aside from Asian speakers, speakers from Europe and the U.S. should be invited, because the entire world is interconnected."

Many entrepreneurs from central and southern Taiwan make the trip north to attend the forum every year and often meet up with old friends, sometimes surprised by who else has shown up, and that was again the case this year. Maggi Chen, the CEO of chassis solution provider Chenbro Micom Co., was pleasantly surprised to see her good friend Viola Chen, the chairwoman of design house Kuan's Living.

Over a Million People Browse CWEF News

A total of 160 journalists from 60 media outlets covered this year's CWEF, continuously filing stories over the two-day event.

International news organizations Bloomberg News and Reuters, Chinese media groups Caixin Media and Xinhua News Agency, Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore, the Sin Chew Daily of Malaysia, Hong Kong STV, the Japanese weekly Shukan Post, Voice of America, and Macau Asia Satellite TV were all represented at the event.

After receiving six Asian digital publishing awards last year, CommonWealth Magazine again demonstrated its growing digital influence with a live broadcast of the forum's segment "Digital Content: A New Gold Mine." Nearly 5,000 netizens watched the broadcast via Sina Corporation, YouTube and Chunghwa Telecom and submitted questions. CommonWealth Magazine's Facebook page got 2.2 million hits from 900,000 visitors over the two-day event.

In the future, CommonWealth Magazine looks forward to promoting cutting-edge knowledge of business and economics through the CWEF, a unique platform linking Taiwan with the rest of Asia.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier