Jakarta. Young people in Southeast Asia are looking forward to a regional economic integration which they believe will bring better job opportunities and career prospects, a recent survey by Switzerland-based nonprofit foundation World Economic Forum revealed.
The survey gathered online response from nearly 20,000 respondents mostly between the age of 16 to 22 in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — all major members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, or Asean — over the past few weeks.
"Three-quarter of people [surveyed] said they felt their country would be better off by being in Asean," Justin Wood, the head of Asia-Pacific regional strategies at the World Economic Forum, said on Friday (12/05).
Wood said the survey painted a bullish outlook for the region's integration as the Southeast Asian youths expressed a "very strong belief" that Asean has a positive impact on their lives.
"Many of them feel that globalization is a force for good," he said. "They feel the flow of information and goods and people around the world is positive for them and positive for their society."
The optimism posed a stark contrast to the wave of populism and rising movement of anti-globalization in the United States and parts of Europe.
Young people form a significant part of Asean's population. There were 161.1 million people aged 15 to 29 years old in Asean in 2015, about 26 percent of the total population of 628.9 million.
Young people, according to the survey, are well aware of Asean and its plan for an economic integration that envisions Asean as a single market of $2.6 trillion known as the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
The initiative can be traced back to 1992 when Asean leaders set up the Asean Free Trade Area. The leaders then agreed to broaden and deepen regional cooperation in 2003 by committing AEC as one of the pillars of Asean Community along with the Political Security Community and Sociocultural Community.
"Now perhaps it's time to move from building awareness to action, to actually driving integration at a faster pace and in a more meaningful way," Wood said.
To justify the survey, Wood said young people in Asean countries are increasingly connected to the internet and spend a significant part of their lives living through and on the internet.
The survey found that about a third of respondents spend more than seven hours a day on the internet and more than half spend more than five hours a day.
"Clearly, this region is transforming at an incredible speed and embracing a new form of interaction and a new source of intelligence and information, and policy makers need to recognize and respond to that," he said.