The next generation of ASEAN Leaders; how AFMAM is securing the future of ASEAN

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The 4th ASEAN Foundation Model ASEAN Meeting (AFMAM) 2018 held from 3-8 July at the National University of Singapore brought together 159 undergraduate students from all over South East Asia to instil greater understanding of the ASEAN system and foster friendships amongst future leaders.

The opening ceremony on 5 July saw prominent diplomats; Elaine Tan-Executive Director of ASEAN Foundation, H. E. Joseph Del Mar Yap-Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Philippines to Singapore and H. E. Ambassador Ong Keng Yong- Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies impart their wisdom and hopes for the future through their speeches. As a testament to the changing dynamic of ASEAN, common themes included the Smartphone Revolution, Climate Change, Technological Disruption, Automation and Digital Terrorism.

In his keynote speech, Mr Ong also highlighted that as ASEAN grows in strength, the challenge of staying in the middle will become increasingly difficult but crucial. Giving an analogy, Mr Ong said that ASEAN needs to continue being “the girl that everyone wants to marry”.

Truly ASEAN has risen in prominence on the global stage. With strong economic growth forecasted for the next 10 years, the region is set to overtake Germany and Japan in nominal GDP by 2026 according to BMI Research. With economic and political clout, ASEAN has been able to bring to the table world powers such as the US, China, the EU and Russia. However given today’s frequency of massive geo-political shakeups such as the Belt & Road Initiative and trade wars, ASEAN leaders will require much wisdom and ingenuity to navigate diplomatic waters.

With this in mind, this year’s AFMAM theme of “Resilient and Innovative ASEAN” is extremely pertinent since our future leaders will require the traits stated in the theme.

Following this theme, students took on the role of delegates and engaged in meeting simulations to discuss sustainable solutions to the region’s emerging issues.

Most interestingly, students role-played as delegates from another ASEAN country instead of their home country. Thus, students had to put themselves in the shoes of a different country since they had to represent the interest of the country that they were the delegates of. In my conversations with the students, many said that they had grown a new found empathy for their ASEAN neighbours. In researching a different country, they saw that there is more that unites us than what divides us and by working collectively, we can fill each other’s gaps and usher in an era of unparalleled prosperity for all in ASEAN.

The meetings were carefully crafted to immerse delegates into the role of senior officials at high-level ASEAN meetings, thus giving them an early introduction to the ASEAN mechanisms. As with our current ASEAN leaders, the students were pushed to understand the conditions of the country that they were representing and come up with sustainable solutions to the region’s challenges. Students said that they were confident that the solutions discussed during the meeting simulations would actually be implemented by our leaders in the near-future; showing the optimism that our young generation has in the ASEAN body.

South East Asia has come a long way from the times when we saw frequent military action; reaching a crescendo during the cold war. Today our region is peaceful and prosperous with ASEAN as the champion of economic growth, social progress, cultural development, regional peace and stability. Not to be taken for granted, the AFMAM ensures that ASEAN will be helmed by leaders who from young have been involved with the good work that ASEAN is doing and have forged friendships with other like-minded future leaders across the region.

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