Hundreds of government, business and academic leaders gathered in the Philippines on Thursday to discuss East Asia’s economic prospects amid tensions in the South China Sea and political instability in some countries in the region.

The 23rd World Economic Forum on East Asia was being held for the first time in Manila, allowing the Philippines to showcase its recent economic turnaround.

The meetings would discuss how to address rising inequality amid the region’s robust growth, according to organizers.

“Growth is meaningless, however, unless it benefits all,” said Philipp Rosler, Managing Director and member of the board of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

“The income gap in the Philippines is larger than in other regional economies, such as Indonesia and Thailand, with the top 10 per cent of the population earning about 20 times as much as the poorest 10 per cent,” he added.

Mr. Rosler stressed the need for countries such as the Philippines to continue combating corruption and implementing reforms to help bridge the income gap.

Another “notable danger for the region” is political instability both within and between countries, he said.

“It is no coincidence that historically strong economic growth has tended to go hand-in-hand with political stability and peaceful and cooperative relationships among neighbouring states,” he said.

The meeting was being held amid increasing tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea between Vietnam, the Philippines and China, as well as concerns over the impact of anti-Chinese protests and martial law in Thailand.

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