What is the so-called “Asian Century” and what does it mean for the rest of the world? More specifically, what does it mean for the West, which has dominated the last century? These were the big questions under debate at Asia Pacific Week, held at the Australian National University (ANU), in Canberra, Australia from June 23-27, 2014. The theme of this year’s conference was “GlobaliseAsian”, and the panel sessions focused on exploring the increasingly important role East and South East Asian countries are playing on the world stage.
The quality of the content, speakers, and delegates at Asia Pacific Week surpassed that of any other conference I have been to in the past year. Panel sessions encouraged delegates and academics to engage on topics such as East Asian territorial disputes, the meaning behind the label “Asian”, gender roles in evolving Asian societies, the perils of climate change and who should take responsibility, the influence of religion, pop culture, soft power and hard power, and the rising power of China. Speakers ranged from Australian policy heavyweights such as Hugh White, to ambassadors to Australia from Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and South Korea for a no-holds-barred discussion on the interactions between countries in the Asia Pacific region.
My favorite session at the conference was the “The Pitch”, which was based on a famous Australian TV show of the same name, in which ad agencies compete with each other to try and sell unsellable products. We were tasked with the challenge of selling foreign direct investment to local residents, a controversial policy issue for several developing countries; while outside investment creates jobs, it is also often behind labor exploitation and puts local companies out of business.
Along with two other students from Australia and Poland, I also had the opportunity to represent the delegates in a session called The Great Debate, a pub-style stand-off between delegates and academics on whether the Asia Pacific region should form a union similar to the European Union. The delegate team argued that such a union was a great idea, but despite highlighting incentives such as world domination, space exploration, and multiculturalism to the audience, we lost out to the rationalism of the opposing arguments from the academics.
I recommend Asia Pacific Week to anyone interested in Asian & Australian foreign policy, even if they don’t have an Asian Studies or International Relations background. The conference is a great learning experience that brings together several high quality speakers, is well attended by students from countries around the world, and provides travel funding to selected attendees. Based in Australia’s capital city and with a historical focus on Asian Studies, ANU’s lush campus provides the perfect backdrop for foreign policy discussions on East and South East Asia.
Charu, originally from Toronto, Canada, is a member of the M&T Class of 2014. She studies Computer Science within Penn Engineering and Marketing and Operations Management in the Wharton School. In addition to her undergraduate degrees, Charu is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Computer & Information Science from Penn Engineering and will graduate in December 2014.