Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speak during Malaysia - Philippines Business Forum at Shang Ri La Hotel in Manila. - Bernama

MANILA: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has called on Asean partners to adopt a business model that enables each member country to share its selected industry with other members and secure a bigger market.

Speaking during a keynote address at the Malaysian-Philippine business forum here today, Dr Mahathir said Asean countries should emulate China's success story, having transformed its nation in less than 40 years to become the second biggest economy in the world.

"A big population divided is not going to be very helpful. Despite having more than 600 million people living in Southeast Asia, we are still looking at ourselves as different countries with different domestic markets. This has limited our capacity to grow," he said.

Dr Mahathir recalled that in the beginning of the Asean formation, there was an idea for the member countries to divide the main industries among themselves so that each industry could be focused in one country but with a much bigger market covering all five member countries at the time.

"It was a good idea. However, it did not take off. But a good idea can be revisited and the concept re-studied to enable us to exploit our huge market of 600 million people," he said during the forum which was attended by captains of industry from Malaysia and the Philippines.

Dr Mahathir, who is currently on an official visit to the Philippines, said by having Asean members coming together as effective trading partners, they would be able to tap into the huge market and emerge as a powerful economic unit.

"To do this (to emerge as an economic power), we need Asean members to think together. This is why Malaysia is currently cultivating close relationships with Indonesia — our closest neighbor with the biggest population, Thailand and the Philippines."

At the event, Dr Mahathir also met former Philippine president and house speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Entrepreneurship Asean Business Advisory council president Jose Ma Concepcion.

Dr Mahathir is scheduled to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at Malacang Palace later today to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties.

After the forum, Dr Mahathir will be given the honour of laying the wreath at Rizal Monument, Rizal Park here.

Also present at the forum were Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Datuk Darell Leiking, Philippines' Makati Business Club (MBC) board of trustees member Amb. Jose Cruisia Jr., MBC's chairman Edgar Chua, and Philippines' Trade and Industry Department secretary Ramon Lopez as well as senior officers from the ministries.