Future leaders brush up on security issues
Shangri-La Dialogue gave young thinkers a chance to explore and debate important agendas that will shape the world
For 16 years the Shangri-La Dialogue has been organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British think tank, as a platform where high-level officials in charge of security can discuss issues of concern in the Asia-Pacific region.
On the sidelines of this year's event that ran from June 2-4 in Singapore a second batch of delegates joined the IISS Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme. In addition to observing the main events of the defence summit, the young delegates had a chance to attend breakout meetings with prominent figures including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr, the commander of US Pacific Command.
The principles of rule-based order, conflicts in the South China Sea, tension on the Korean Peninsula and the growing threat of terrorism dominated the plenary session, and the young delegates were able to discuss a number of pressing issues.
Subjects brought up for discussion ranged from the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to general life advice.
In his brief note to the delegates, Admiral Harris talked about time-management.
"I spend 30% of my time on things only I can do. And that's important because there are things only you can do. Only I can take care of my health and fitness. My aide can't work out for me. You can't delegate that," he said.
"I spend time each day connecting with people who matter to me. Only you can decide what's important and how much time you are going to spend with them. If you don't value your time, no one else will. Your staff will take your time if you let them. You are your own best career manager," he added.
He also stressed the importance of being a good communicator.
"Consider how to focus time on your ability to effectively communicate. You must learn to speak and write [without] acronyms and jargon, because they don't help if you are trying to influence people outside your sphere," he said.
His point was later echoed during another session.
Special advisor for Canada's Department of National Defence James A Boutilier told the delegates to choose their words wisely and always be precise, especially when discussing international conflicts and referring to documents.
"Seek precision of language and return to the original documents," he said.
When asked what he thought about the role of women in the military, Mr Harris replied: "Empowering women in your societies, you will be a stronger country for it. If you want the best of something, you don't want to exclude half of your body of choice."
Talking about corruption as a cancer of society, Mr Boutilier warned of the dangers associated with straying from the rule of law. He urged the young delegates to always keep in mind that ignorance and intolerance lead to deep social divisions and violence.
He also stressed the need to respect the environment and conserve forests and wildlife.
"Your responsibility is now -- not next week, not next month -- to attain the well-being of this astonishing region ... rich in natural diversity," he said.
Singapore’s Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung said he is not optimistic about security issues, as new problems will keep arising, but instead considers economic and social development the real goals for the nation.
He emphasised three points for young leaders: Asean unity, embrace diversity and prepare and equip people with the skills to keep up with changes and globalisation.
Prof Paul Evans from the Institute of Asian Research and Liu Institute for Global Issues raised the much-discussed issue of respecting rule-based order.
In his concluding note, he encouraged the future leaders to always question the world they live in, after which he mentioned climate change. He said in the future it may be more difficult to self-identify in terms of nationality as we live in an increasingly globalised world.
When the delegates questioned the efficiency and effectiveness of Asean, Mohamad Maliki bin Osman, Singapore's senior minister of state for defence and foreign affairs, said the body deserved praise for organising such a rich and productive calendar of meetings every year.
"The amount of time that we prepare to sit down and talk and discuss, that's not just about meetings, that's about building trust, that's about building relationships ... and that's what we value," he said.
Australian ambassador to Asean Jane Duke said fostering strong relationships was crucial. She said she takes heart from Asean's principle of seeking consensus from this diverse bloc of nations.
Looking at the kind of issues raised by the delegates, Curie Maharani Savitri, a lecturer on international relations at Bina Nusantara (BINUS) University in Indonesia, expressed her concern about how technology was creating new social, economic and security issues.
She proposed that countries should find better ways to regulate the use of technology while bearing in mind the gap between different countries and various societies.
Col Gaurav Keerthi a helicopter pilot for the Singapore Air Force, pointed out how terrorists are using technology to spread conflicts and undermine democratic institutions.
The threat of fake news and its impact was heavily discussed among the young delegates during their free time. All pointed to education as the solution.
Stephanie Martel, a post doctoral fellow from the University of British Columbia, drew attention to the role of dialogue partners in supporting Asean in the region, especially with regard to the role of the "middle powers".
Poowin Bunyavejchewin, a researcher at Thammasat University's Institute of East Asian Studies, and Vannarith Chheang, a consultant for the Nippon Foundation and adjunct senior fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, talked about issues relating to the Mekong River. They said these are not domestic issues but ones of regional and international significance, and that they merit more attention.
Mr Chheang proposed taking these into consideration when Asean members look for solutions to territorial disputes and other conflicts in the South China Sea.
Lynn Kuok, a senior visiting research fellow from the Centre for International Law and also a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, called for continued collaboration among the Southeast Asian Young Leaders. She said the best way to win wars is by avoiding them altogether by forging better relations across borders.
Assistant News Editor
Kornchanok Raksaseri is Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor
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