MANILA -- (UPDATE) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should invest more on its people to re-assert itself at the center of "evolving regional architecture," President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday.
Duterte, who is in Bangkok, Thailand for the 34th ASEAN Summit, called on neighboring countries to act as partners instead of competitors for development.
"Now more than ever, the ASEAN has to provide a new vision for our region. It has to re-assert itself at the center of an evolving regional architecture," he said during his intervention at the summit plenary.
"Amidst sweeping [changes] in the region and beyond, ASEAN must rise up to the challenges. ASEAN must do more to bring positive change to the lives of its [peoples]," he said.
Duterte said ASEAN members should invest more in people development through technical-vocational education, and micro, small and medium enterprises, which he described as the "backbone" of ASEAN economy.
"Let us help MSMEs harness digital technology so they can play a bigger role in the global value chain. We need to recognize that MSMEs can be powerful engines of growth and job creation in our region," he said.
"We must promote greater people-to-people connectivity in the region. We must improve on the mobility of our tourists, students, and skilled workers to realize our vision of one ASEAN community," he said.
The Philippine leader also called for stronger cooperation against challenges to ASEAN development, citing terrorism, transnational crimes, illegal drugs, and human trafficking.
"They divide our communities, destroy families, and undermine the growth we fought hard to achieve," he said.
Thailand is hosting this year's ASEAN Summit under the theme of "Advancing Partnership for Sustainability."