In the Vithes Samosorn room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 Thai university students convened recently in Bangkok to showcase their oratorical and diplomatic skills and to expound on sustainable development among Asem countries.
Participants and organisers of the Asem 8 Student Summit pose for a celebratory picture. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN
Twenty-two of those students each represented a member country of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem), while two others each represented the European Commission and the Asean Secretariat.
The three best speakers were to be awarded a free trip to Brussels. So, after nearly two hours of oratory, Nattapon Lertpraival from Thammasat University, Pakkamol Siriwat from Mahidol University International College and Worrachon Dulyavitya from Chulalongkorn University were awarded the five-day trip.
The activity was the first "Asem 8 Student Summit" organised recently by the Embassy of Belgium in collaboration with the delegation of the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From over 90 applicants, 24 were chosen to serve as finalists.
The event was a simulation of the 8th Asia-European Meeting being held in Brussels, in which 48 leaders from Asia and European countries, the European Commission and the Asean Secretariat participated.
The simulative summit provided not only opportunities for the student participants to showcase their oratorical skills, but it also demonstrated their deep understanding of the cross-border political conflicts and presented an opportunity to present their arguments constructively and persuasively in a fashion that mimicked the real summit.
The Asem 8 Student Summit dovetailed concurrent regional meetings, where the countries' representatives met within their assigned groups, such as the European Union (EU) and Asean. The parallel meetings were followed by the plenary session, where all the representatives presented their ideas in a four-minute speech.
Nattapon, who represented the European Commission, proposed the idea of an Asem Integrated Rail Transport System that would link Europe and Asia. He believed that this scheme would be economically beneficial as it would reduce the costs of transportation and encourage international trade.
In addition, the environment would benefit because the system would leave much smaller ecological footprints, and social gains would be apparent from the reduction in the number of accidents caused by conventional road transportation.
Pakkamol, role-playing the person in charge of the Asean Secretariat, encouraged win-win multilateral collaborations that would have positive social, economic and environmental results as well as promote small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Meanwhile, Thailand's representative, Worrachon, raised issues regarding food security and maritime transportation.
"The students' research was very good, and they knew the positions of the various Asem member countries," praised David Lipman, the EU ambassador and head of the European Commission to Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia, who added that a similar event might be organised at the next Asem, scheduled for Vientiane, Laos, in 2012.
Assist Prof Surat Horachaikul, from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, and the chair of the panel of judges, revealed that points were awarded for creativity, the ability to convey the message in an eloquent manner, and background knowledge.
Prof Surat commented that Nattapon's presentation was original, constructive and well-structured. It also stayed on topic.
As for Pakkamol, she revealed solid knowledge of Asean issues and could refer back to agreements made in the past, while Worrachon clearly explained Thailand's positions and vigorously defended its interests.
"It was exciting because I had to sit in a circle with many people, which was like being at a real leaders' meeting," Worrachon said, adding that being one of the champions was beyond his wildest expectations. The make-believe leader of Thailand admitted that he had never taken part in a grand event on the scale of the student summit.
"This is a new world for me," said finance student Nattapon. In his case, he had previously competed in four international business case competitions, but this was his first time inside the political arena.
He admitted panicking slightly after learning he was to represent the European Commission. "I had to represent all the EU countries, which meant I had to do extensive research. However, at the same time I was deeply honoured that the organising committee felt that I could be trusted to execute the momentous task," he said.
Pakkamol explained that the event gave her the opportunity to learn and apply leadership skills. "It inculcated in all of us the courage to dare to talk and to voice our opinions in a coherent and reasonable fashion. Self-confidence is a very important foundation for youths today," she said, stressing, however, that it was vital to express opinions that were backed by facts.
"It is also important that our speech is well-structured in a way that can intellectually convince the audience and yet remain diplomatically inoffensive," said Nattapon.