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Yushan Forum panelists talk think tank collaboration, youth dialogue

Scholars, experts and NGO representatives from around the world on Thursday, Oct. 12, gathered in Taipei for a second day to participate in the Yushan Forum -- a newly launched platform for regional dialogue -- where they discussed the important roles of think tanks, as well as nourishing young leaders to create a regional community.

During the session on “Building Intellectual Capital Through Think Tank Collaboration in Asia,” Derek Mitchell, Senior Advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group and former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, touted Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy as “a very smart and strategic policy,” saying the Southeast Asia and South Asia regions are dynamic and very important.

“They (China) of course will then pursue power politics to face your people politics, and I happen to think people politics has great power,” said Mitchell, the former director of the Asia Division of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank.

Think tanks can play an important role in guiding Taiwan in its southbound policy, bringing people together, providing platforms for conversations and introducing ideas, such as why Taiwan should be part of the conversation in Southeast Asia and South Asia, and why Taiwan should matter, Mitchell said.

He suggested that Taiwan cultivate “Taiwan watchers,” build a network of Taiwan watchers throughout the Asian region, and use those think tank allies and advisers to shape and share ideas.

He also called on the governments in the United States and Japan to actively assist Taiwan with their diplomatic assets in Southeast Asia and South Asia, saying it is in the interest of the United States and Japan if Taiwan’s southbound policy succeeds.

Another panelist, Ralf Emmers, Associate Dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said a major transformation in recent years is that think tankers are no longer purely policy defenders as they used to be.

“Think tanks are now perceived to be policy capitalists. They are there to generate new ideas,” Emmers said. “Most of them (ideas) will die rather quickly, but some of those ideas may actually be picked up by policymakers.”

Another transformation is that think tanks no longer target just governments, but are increasingly focused on the civil society and social media, he said. 

“You need to have NGOs on board nowadays,” Emmers said.

Meanwhile, Sunjoy Joshi, director of India’s Observer Research Foundation, argued that traditional and structured organizations -- such as governments, universities and corporations -- are finding themselves in increasingly disadvantaged positions in this new age, as people today work across organizations and disciplines.

He noted that the largest hotel business in the world is Airbnb and the biggest taxi company is Uber, even though it does not own a single taxi.

It is important for people to adapt to these new forms of interaction, and it is the objective of forums, such as the Yushan Forum, to foster such exchanges, Joshi said.

“You create within the forum platforms and opportunities, where competing, diverse organizations can come together and share new ideas,” he said.

Min Ye Paing Hein, Executive Director of the Myanmar Development Institute, spoke about the increasing role of think tanks in Myanmar and the challenges they face.

He said the think tanks in Myanmar are increasingly responsible for human capital formation in the civil society and public sector, and they contribute to peace-building and help consolidate democratic transition.

But they face several challenges. For example, evidence-based policy making is at its infancy, and the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) culture within the government is also at its formative stage, he said.

Alan Hao Yang, Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at National Chengchi University, said his center has adopted three approaches to enhance collaboration and institutional connectivity with think tanks in the Asia-Pacific region.

The first is to jointly nourish young scholars and epistemic communities; the second is to identify common issues and develop joint perspectives and regional awareness among policy experts and young scholars; and the third is to facilitate solid institutional connectivity, he said. 

 “My point is that the New Southbound Policy is not only building up a better Taiwan and a better Taiwan-ASEAN relationship, but also contributing to regional development as well,” Yang said.

During the session on “Nourishing Young Leaders for Making a Regional Community,” Aries A. Arugay, Associate Professor of the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said the youth will play a critical role in the future of the Asia-Pacific region. 

Almost half of the more than 600 million people in the ASEAN region are under the age of 30, he said.

“The key is knowing their values, their priorities and concerns, and how to gain their trust and confidence in the future,” Arugay said.

The young generation does not want to become a clone of the previous generation; they have their own thoughts, their own ways of how things should be changed and they want their voices to be heard, he said. 

“We often say to ASEAN leaders that your version of ASEAN might not be the version of the young people today, and there is no point of you forcing your own version of ASEAN. The norms and principles that drive ASEAN today may not necessarily be the ones that drive ASEAN in the next 50 years,” he said.

In hisremarks, Arugay also stressed the importance of democracy and suggested that the Yushan Forum provide a platform for young people to discuss democracy and other issues. “It is only democracy that can empower the youth, who will in turn nurture it for our future generation,” he said. 

Jamie Lin, co-founder of AppWorks Ventures, a leading startup accelerator in Taiwan, said there is much that Taiwan can offer its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Taiwan is the second biggest market in the greater Southeast Asia region after Indonesia, and it has the biggest retail and service industries in the region, he said.

It also has the ninth largest e-commerce market in the world, totaling almost US$25 billion, he said, adding that countries can immediately double their digital market by partnering with Taiwan. 

Taiwan also has a strong educational system, good engineers and a large Initial public offering (IPO) market for mid-cap companies, Lin said. 

During the session, Kevin Chen, co-founder of One-Forty, an NGO that assists Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan, raised the issue of migrant workers. In the past, people see migrant workers as merely laborers, but now they are also seen as great talents, he said.

After returning to their countries, migrant workers become great talents for Taiwanese businesses in Southeast Asia because they can speak Mandarin Chinese and know about Taiwanese culture, Chen said. 

He said his organization teaches migrant workers Mandarin, business skills and financial literacy. After they leave Taiwan and return to their own countries, some start e-commerce businesses or become owners of convenient stores and restaurants, Chen said.

The Yushan Forum also held dinner speeches on Thursday night, featuring keynote speakers Rizal Ramli, former Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia, and Perfecto Yasay Jr., former secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.

Ramli touted the New Southbound Policy as a great idea and initiative and said he believes Taiwan has the experience, capital,  technology and human resources to take the lead in the region. 

Indonesia can learn many things from Taiwan, including its agricultural technology, information technology, manufacturing practices and the development of its small and medium-sized enterprises, Ramli said.

Small and medium-sized enterprises have more opportunities to innovate and take risks, he said, adding that Indonesia can learn from Taiwan's economic model.

He also stressed the importance of democracy. The British ruled the world in the 19 th century, the Americans ruled the world in the 20 th century and the 21 st century is likely to be the Asian century. “But the question is, is it going to be the democratic Asia or the authoritarian Asia?” he asked, adding that for Southeast Asia, South Asia and Taiwan, it is important to promote democracy.

“Yushan Forum: Asian Dialogue for Innovation and Progress,” a newly launched platform for regional dialogue that aims to promote the exchange of ideas across Asia Pacific, was held in Taipei from Oct. 11-12. With a theme of “Fostering Economic and Social Connectivity with Southeast and South Asia” this year, the event featured speakers and participants from the Asia Pacific region and beyond, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Belgium , Croatia and the Netherlands.