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Recap: STEAR Conference Day 1

This weekend marked the first STEAR Annual Virtual Conference, its theme being “The Future of Asia-Europe Relations in the Post COVID-19 World”. The conference consisted of three Keynote Speeches and three Panels, with the aim to engage world-class politicians, diplomats, and business leaders. This recap will cover the proceedings of the first day, on November 6th - keep an eye out for our other article focusing on Day 2!

Opening Ceremony

STEAR Vice President for External Affairs Daniel welcomed all delegates and the speakers to the conference before giving the floor to Luke, Co-President of STEAR, to make opening remarks. Luke welcomed Ambassador Morikawa, who is the Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation and has supported STEAR since its launch event in April 2021. He, then, summarised STEAR’s milestones and projects, such as the cultural exchange programme, STEAR book club, and the inaugural policy journal. Luke also mentioned the famous 100 Whites book written by Kenya Hara, describing the importance of hundred shades of white in design. So does culture, Luke highlighted that our world also has 100 shades, not just one. “Don’t be afraid to share with each other your own shades of white, explore your culture differences and find your commonalities,” he said. This is why STEAR has been striving to bridge the ties between Asian and European populations.

Ambassador Morikawa commended all Asian and European young leaders for their leadership in participating and sharing views in this conference. His Excellency also said that it is very timely and pertinent to organise the conference because the 13th ASEM Summit will also be held later this month. Ambassador Morikawa addressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in a variety of ways, as many global issues like climate change, may be unchanged or even worsened. Hence, it is crucial how we shape and operate in the post-COVID-19 world, where Ambassador Morikawa highlighted communication as key. His Excellency also presented the outlook of future Asia and Europe relations in 3 aspects in light of climate change. Firstly, Asia and Europe can work together in an equal partnership: Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions, while Europe has the most consistent efforts and innovative solutions on climate change. Secondly, a platform for communication and coordination with each other is important to learn different ideas. We need to accelerate our efforts to bridge different ideas and simultaneously cooperate and evaluate the uncertainty in the post-Covid-19 world. Thirdly, young leaders of future generations of both Asia and Europe are the keys to finding solutions - which is why the STEAR conference is an important stepping stone for the future.

Last but not least, STEAR Conference Director Aamna expressed her warm welcome to the STEAR Annual Virtual Conference and gave thanks to the STEAR team members for their hard work in making this conference together in the past nine months. Aamna also addressed the gap and misconceptions between Asia and Europe and hoped that this conference will be the stepping stone in bridging the gap between the two regions.

First Keynote Speech: Global Economic Outlook

Recently, the pandemic has resulted in a severe economic contraction, leading to different challenges for countries all over the world. STEAR was honoured to welcome Chikahisa Sumi, Director of the IMF Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and Bert Hofman, Director of the East Asian Institute and Professor of Practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School, National University of Singapore, to share their global economic outlook in this session.

Mr Sumi stated that the pandemic has led the world to face the largest economic contraction since the Great Depression. He also addressed that the pandemic seems to be the ultimate contrast because it hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Moreover, the pandemic pushed another 80 million people in emerging Asian economies into extreme poverty last year. Without massive expenditures and money injection, the impact will stay for a long time. Mr Sumi expressed that the risk in global economies remains high, due to their vulnerability to virus variants and lack of vaccine progress. As the pandemic has exacerbated poverty and inequality, it is very crucial to make sure that we can get the poverty reduction back on track. Mr Sumi stated that it is important that we provide the vaccine supply everywhere, as the WHO set to equitably vaccinate 40% of the global population by this year. Advanced economies also need to share more of their vaccine supply with developing economies - nobody is safe unless everybody is safe. Mr Sumi also suggested that it is vital to harness new growth opportunities, such as digital transformation and a green economy; however, existing policies that support human capital, such as the social safety net, should not be neglected either. “Challenges are heading to your generations but we can defeat it together, and the IMF is ready to support 190 countries in economic development and facilitate international cooperation,” he said.

Mr Hofman highlighted the transition in the world economy by showing the changing share of the global economy for each country from 1 AD until now. In the beginning years, Asia shared 60%, but fell down to only 20% in the 19th century and rose back to 30% of the world economy in the present. The economic growth displayed a dramatic success in extreme poverty reduction from the 1990s, leading to emerging economies. The rise of China has been one of the most important changes in the global economy, but also in political and military spheres. As China has become the world's second-largest economy, Mr Hofman also mentioned Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. Managing this transition is the biggest issue in terms of diplomacy and deepening the understanding among the United States and the European and Asian countries. Moreover, Mr Hofman stated that the economic gravity is shifting to Asia since it is one of the fastest-growing regions. Poverty was once the biggest problem but this may not be the case anymore. The future challenge is climate change, in which everyone must cooperate together. “We will not solve climate change, nuclear proliferation without cooperation,” he said.

After the keynote speeches, the floor was opened to the Q&A session, where delegates asked questions to our keynote speakers concerning topics like the future direction of the IMF and the World Bank, the future collaboration with China in terms of innovation and technology, and climate finance.

Second Keynote Speech: ASEAN-EU Relations

In December 2020, the ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership was announced, marking a turning point in the relationship between the two regional organisations. The strategic partnership contains cooperative arrangements on a wide range of issues including the economy, COVID-19 responses, sustainable development, maritime cooperation, and cyber security. It was STEAR’s honour to have Ambassador Igor Driesmans, EU Ambassador to ASEAN, as our keynote speaker moderated by our Vice President for Internal Affairs, Ziarla.

Ambassador Driesmans highlighted 2 key topics, including ASEAN-EU relations and youth partnership. His Excellency stated that the EU is one of the most prominent partners with ASEAN in the aspects of education, trade facilitation, environment, security, increasing on the military side. Ambassador Driesmans also mentioned 3 interesting points of ASEAN, consisting of economic, security interests, and environmental issues. Firstly, ASEAN has had solid economic growth in the past decades and is projected to become the 4th largest economy in the world by 2030. While the EU is the third-largest investor and trade partner in the region, there are more potential collaborations to explore in the digital area. Secondly, the tension has risen in the security stability in the Southeast Asia region, as the global military spending on the Asia-Pacific rose from 20% to 28%. His Excellency stated that 40% of the EU foreign trade is across the South China Sea: “We see ASEAN as the big balancer in the region, and a strong ASEAN will help balance the dynamics of the region and maintain stability. Hence, it is a critical issue for the EU to facilitate trade and partnership”. Thirdly, there is rapid economic growth in Southeast Asia, and so does the CO2 emission. Therefore, immediate action will lead to a larger economic gain in the long run and sustainability has become the EU’s strong interest in Southeast Asia. For the youth engagement topic, Ambassador Driesmans emphasised the importance of youth engagement platforms and think thanks from both regions to share and exchange thoughts. The EU has supported the ASEAN through the SHARE programme to strengthen regional cooperation and enhance the quality, regional competitiveness and internationalisation of ASEAN higher education institutions and students, as well as supporting the establishment of the ASEAN Scholarship.

After the keynote speech, the floor was opened to the Q&A session, where delegates asked questions to our keynote speaker on issues like the EU’s role and challenges in Myanmar and maritime security, ASEAN’s centrality, the Free Trade Agreement, and the EU’s “lifeboat schemes.”

Panel 1: The Future of Youth Engagement and Exchange

STEAR’s vision is to serve as the first leading policy institute for students and young professionals in Asia and Europe, to provide a bridge between the two continents, and to strengthen multilateral cooperation and international prosperity. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic and unprecedented changes to young people’s lives, such as the absence of in-person activities, physical and mental health issues. STEAR was extremely honoured to organise a panel discussion with several distinguished guests: Dr Katharina Heil, President of Erasmus Mundus Association, Edward Lim, Policy Analyst, Singapore Ministry of Finance, Hayley Winchcombe, the Chair of the Board of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership (ASSEYP), moderated by Michael Yip, Research Associate of the University of Oxford.

Hayley stated that the pandemic creates both a burden and opportunity for us. Many people could not take part in exchange programmes during the pandemic or had to shift to virtual or online programmes. It is a loss of our generation in developing cultural competency and networking skills. Nonetheless, the youth organisations offer a beacon of hope amidst the pandemic. Since young people still interact and create initiatives virtually on the online platform, Hayley added it was very exciting to see a lot of programmes happening online. If it were in the past, these programmes would not have been possible at all!

Dr Heil also seconded that many courses have been pushed to online programmes, but the physical exchange can never truly be replaced. However, a hybrid programme between offline and online exchange seems to be a very interesting landscape to explore; and going online provides more inclusivity. She added that the current situation shows good and bad, but undoubtedly opens new opportunities and interesting aspects to leverage for the future and work on together. She urged for more consultation of youth and open spaces in planning and designing the programmes.

Similarly, Edward stated that the COVID-19 has shaped how we engage with each other. Looking ahead, he urged for the idea of co-creation to solve future challenges. In March, he co-created the “It’ll Be Alright” Project with the Youth Mental Well-being Network to raise awareness and empower young Singaporeans to manage their mental struggles and garner support from their peers during the pandemic. The Youth Mental Well-being Network comprises youth, parents, mental health professionals and government representatives, who have worked on about 20 projects to date. Edward further suggested that he found it useful to have a mentor for guiding the initiative’s direction and serve as an amplifier to share the message and publicise the campaign.

After the panel discussion, the floor was opened to the Q&A session, where delegates asked questions to our keynote speaker on topics like the challenges in returning to in-person communication, cross-cultural understanding and project collaboration in the different time zones, and techniques when discussing sensitive issues like geopolitics with other people.

We hope that this recap has given you a sense of what was discussed during the Conference - perhaps you were able to catch some of our livestreams as well. If you were unable to attend this year but are interested in these topics, we encourage you to keep up with our social media platforms for future opportunities!

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