At Apec, Dr M highlights dark side of the 'age of disruption'

Boo Su-Lyn
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks at the Apec CEO Summit 2018 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea November 17 2018. ― Picture courtesy of Information Department of Malaysia

PORT MORESBY, Nov 17 ― Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad warned business leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) 2018 Summit here today that technological disruptions, normally viewed positively in business, should not widen inequality.

He highlighted the effects of disruptive technology in Malaysia and other countries, like ride-sharing apps that replaced taxis, sparking protests, as well as hoteliers' frustration with home-sharing platforms, or brick and mortar shops facing increasing competition from online retailers.

“The challenge is how to ensure no one is left behind in the age of disruption,” Dr Mahathir said in a keynote address at the Apec CEO Summit here held on P&O cruise ship “The Pacific Explorer.”

“Some will be slow on the uptake but others will be faster. But once we understand, the pace will certainly increase. Still we must be careful that the disruption will not widen inequality. And inequality is bad for growth, and bad for social stability,” he added.

Dr Mahathir expected further disruptions amid greater automation that would render both unskilled and skilled workers irrelevant, which he cautioned, if unattended, would cause unemployment and upheaval.

Dr Mahathir said such disruptions were not only found in technology, but also in politics and economics.

“The benefits of free and fair trade and economic integration have been ruptured, exemplified by Brexit and trade wars between major economies. The trade war between the US and China has amplified further the disruptions to our trade and commerce,” the Malaysian leader said.

Dr Mahathir said governments must ensure technology is accessible and affordable, and that education is also crucial.

“History has shown that nations which respond quickly to disruption with systematic and coherent strategies for its citizenry had always been able to ride the wave of radical changes,” said Dr Mahathir.

He highlighted in Malaysia retraining programmes, more scholarships for professional and postgraduate studies, and programmes for youths on technology to tackle technological disruption and the so-called fourth industrial revolution.

He added that Malaysia was considering introducing the latest technology modules in the school curriculum.

“Second, the policy must also take care of the ‘losers’. For instance, those brick and mortar shops, taxi drivers, small hotels, and displaced workers who are losing to disruptive technologies must not lose out entirely. The policy must encourage them to be retrained and re-hired.

“Third, there is a need to build capacity, especially in developing countries, to face the disruption. Investment in infrastructures such as in 5G can be facilitated by multilateral organisations. Every country must invest in advanced technologies,” said the Malaysian prime minister.

He also called for international cooperation to manage technological disruptions.

“Are we to assume that the age of disruption that demands adjustments and sweeping changes so as to deal with the radical changes brought about by technological advancement also includes the need for us to re-evaluate trade globalisation and economic integrations?

“The debate on data localisation, intellectual property rights, and other related matters will continue, but the philosophy of finding a mutual agreement is that it must benefit national government, and not just big multinational corporations or advanced economies,” said Dr Mahathir.

He stressed the need for global collaboration to ensure everyone benefits from advances in technology.

“To a certain degree, the very process of building our capacity opens up opportunities for inclusiveness, especially in trade.”

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