This week, the leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) nations will meet in Bangkok. This year's summit is crucial, as it takes place amid increasing geopolitical temperatures as well as the growing risk of a global recession.
From Wednesday to Saturday, leaders and representatives from 21 economies in the Pacific Rim region will attend meetings in the capital, with the aim of promoting trade and investment, liberalisation of trade rules and digitalisation of economies, among other things.
After decades of leading the world in economic growth, the Asia-Pacific region today is a massive economic bloc marked by stark socioeconomic divisions between its richest and poorest members.
Indeed, the region is unique as it encompasses such a diverse set of members, ranging from some of the world's most populous economies to very small island economies and landlocked regions. In terms of economic capacity, they also range from global economic powerhouses to lower-middle-income economies.
As such, Apec leaders shouldn't be content with mere trade promotion. It is vital that they redefine their plans to achieve "inclusive growth" -- the very goal those leaders boldly announced in past summits and which they have consistently failed to achieve. They must highlight the importance of promoting economic, financial and social inclusion as ways to achieve inclusive growth.
The World Bank's definition of inclusive growth focuses on shared prosperity, which economists generally measure by analysing the annual growth of income among the poorest 40% of a nation's population. As such, shared prosperity cannot be achieved when these households do not benefit from the nation's overall economic growth.
In the last two decades, the Asia-Pacific region has enjoyed rapid growth and increased prosperity. The new challenge now is to make sure all Apec economies enjoy the same rate of positive growth. Apec leaders must acknowledge that growing inequality is a serious threat to the region.
Therefore, they must each set a national timeline and goal to reduce the gap between their nation's richest and poorest people, in line with their commitments to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.
Chamnong Nuphan, a representative of the 4 Regions Slum Network, said recently that international forums like Apec rarely result in solutions for the problems of ordinary people.
More than 50 civil society movements in Thailand have declared their opposition to the government's proposed Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy Model, a plan which the government hopes to showcase at the summit.
They are concerned the model will have a negative impact on livelihoods across the nation by effectively granting corporations a monopolistic hold on the policy process and exploitation of natural resources.
They also complained that forums such as Apec often have no formal channel for ordinary people and non-governmental organisations to communicate with the leaders.
The actions of these civic groups reflect the public's perception towards gatherings like the Apec summit.
Instead of trying to silence their voices, the government must allow them to raise their issues in a peaceful manner. Without listening to the voices of ordinary people, Apec's dream of achieving inclusive growth will be just a pipe dream.