Some 600 delegates from 50 countries, including five prime ministers and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are in Bangkok for the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
In the lobby of the five-star Shangri-La hotel in central Bangkok, television crews are milling around and reporters are talking frantically on their phones or typing away at their laptops. Everyone is trying to get hold of a president, a minister or perhaps even a Nobel Prize laureate…
The star guest at this year's World Economic Forum on East Asia is peace Nobel Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been allowed to leave Myanmar for the first time in 24 years.
After years of house arrest, the pro-democracy icon has now effectively taken on the role of ambassador for Myanmar's rosy future.
However, she is cautious. On Friday, she advised the investors in Bangkok to maintain a "healthy skepticism" regarding the reform process that is currently underway in her country. "I would not like you to be over-optimistic" she said. "We need a balanced approach."
"We don't want more investment to mean more possibilities for corruption. We do not want it to mean greater inequality."
Aung San Suu Kyi added that it was crucial foreign investment help promote job creation and professional training, as unemployment was very high in Myanmar, especially among young people.
Myanmar is not the only state in the region trying to boost its image at the World Economic Forum; Thailand too wants to promote itself as a business hub.
In the first interview she has given with a European broadcaster, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told DW with a smile that her country offered several advantages to foreign investors. "Our economy is growing. We predict a rate of between 5.5 and 6.5 percent this year and our exports are going to increase by 15 percent. This is a good time to invest in Thailand."
The prime minister, whose first day in office coincided with the first day of the devastating floods that ravaged parts of the country last year, including the capital, said that Thailand had been "able to turn the crisis into an opportunity."
The government has launched a huge infrastructure program to overhaul roads and build dams and boost the economy.
Reaching beyond ASEAN
Shinawatra also said she had high hopes for the ASEAN single economic zone that she forecast would be created by 2015. This was perhaps an optimistic prediction considering so many trade barriers have to be lifted, and a business visa which would be valid for the entire region has to be put in place first.
The Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong said at the opening ceremony that the market could also eventually develop beyond ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "What is important is that people and goods can move freely," he insisted.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed and said the new architecture was not limited to the 10 member states of ASEAN, but also included China, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
Yudhoyono also pointed out that the future of ASEAN was not just about economic targets but also about achieving peace and stability across the region.
Meanwhile, Prince Al Khalifa, the prime minister of Bahrain, said ASEAN served as an inspiration to the world's other regional groupings.
Some 600 million people live in Southeast Asia - twice as many as in the US and the regional GDP totals three billion US dollars per year.
With a wealth of natural resources and a young ambitious population, the "region has all the preconditions to become a cornerstone of the world economy," said Shinawatra confidently.
Author: Manuela Kasper-Claridge / Anne Thomas (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan