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Home Articles & Speeches Welcoming Remarks - The Asian Financial Crisis Conference
Welcoming Remarks - The Asian Financial Crisis Conference
Opening Session (Transcript)
The Asian Financial Crisis Conference
Los Angeles, California
October 19, 1998

Good morning, everyone. We're somewhat a victim this morning, I think, of Los Angeles's infamous traffic. Someone mentioned to me that coming in from the airport, even the taxi drivers were especially complaining this morning; so I guess that it's pretty rough because they know the turf. But we have a real important day ahead of us today.

Just to give you a little bit of background on what we have been doing this weekend, the Pacific Basin Economic Council meets twice a year, and one of the meetings is an annual gathering that is quite a sight to behold. It is typically, historically, rotated to different economies around the Pacific Rim. Usually we bring together anywhere from 700 to 1000 senior business executives with government and the media and think-tank people to discuss the issues of importance. Then we do a smaller mid-term meeting which is at this time of year, and we held it here in Los Angeles over the last several days. It was quite a successful meeting, and our chairman will be talking about one of the results of that meeting. But for those of you that do not know us, PBEC is the Asia Pacific's oldest regional business organization with now thirty-one years of experience. Before there was an APEC and other organizations, there was PBEC. We have been fighting the good fight over the years to make a business-friendly environment and to bring the people of the Pacific Rim together. In addition to these meetings, on occasion we do a smaller meeting, and that's what we are doing today. That's where we bring smaller groups of people together to talk about an issue that is probably the highest on our agenda. If it's on PBEC's agenda, it is obviously put on that agenda by senior business people who are very, very concerned about the events that are occurring around us.

For this meeting, we had some good support from local organizations such as the Foreign Trade Association, the Asia Society, USC's IBEAR Program, the Hong Kong Association, Japan-America Society, and the World Trade Centers Group, and I want to thank them. We also had support from World Wide Shipping Group, Hughes Electronics Corporation, and the Pacific Century Bank Group. What we hope to do today is to have experts in the field, which in some cases are academic and in some cases have the bottom line responsibility, talk about an issue that is most pressing to all of us and that is the Asian Financial Crisis, which, of course, is no longer the exclusive domain of Asia because it clearly has spread beyond Asia's borders. As Secretary General of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, I travel a lot and meet with our member committees. Even though I talk quite often to very senior government leaders and needless to say the region's top business leaders, I also sometimes take a sidestep and talk to people such as, in the case of Indonesia, the head of UNICEF, the children's fund. I learned that just before the Asian Crisis hit, the United Nations had done a fairly extensive and quite scientifically focused and accurate study on hunger among the children in Indonesia. They determined that just before the crisis hit that about 8% of the total children in Indonesia were actually very hungry. Because the study was so good and was performed so well and again was done the correct way and they felt so good with the results, they decided that 15 months later they would do the same study just to see what the impact of the crisis on the children of Indonesia has been. The Director of UNICEF in Indonesia reported that that figure had gone from 8% of the children being hungry to over 30% of the children. They reckoned that by the end of the year that number could be as high as 40%; so it is very, very serious.

In the trip to Korea, I noticed in a line of day-workers lined up to cut trees and dig ditches, that quite a few individuals standing in line were wearing business suits and carrying a briefcase. I was told and others observed as well that in the briefcase was a worksuit in order to do this manual labor. These were actually laid-off young bankers and finance people and others who didn't have the heart to tell their wives that they had been laid off from their company jobs. So they were going off as if they were still working for the corporation. It's a real tragedy that we have on our hands and one that certainly we are not going to solve today. But if we can do our little part, we're going to do our best.

I personally have seen in travelling the region that a lot of good things are being done in places like Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others, but they tend to go somewhat unreported. So we're hoping today to hear what's happening in the region, not dwelling so much on the why's maybe--we've read enough about that--but focussing on what the current activities are and where this will more than likely lead us in the future. We are hoping to get back on track to the Pacific Century. We seem to have gotten somewhat derailed.

So in starting off the program this morning, it is my pleasure to introduce the Chairman of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, Dr. Helmut Sohmen. Dr. Sohmen is chairman of a good company in Hong Kong that's well known called World Wide Shipping Group, which has over the last year or so acquired one of Sweden's largest shipping companies. He is quite involved in the Hong Kong community in many, many, many ways and has been the recipient of many awards for the humanitarian work that he has done. His own homeland of Austria recently honored him with the Schumpeter Award which is an award that is given sporadically to individuals that have really brought fame back to the homeland of Austria. So let me begin by introducing the Chairman of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, Dr. Helmut Sohmen.