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Asia's Leading Young Academics Share Ideas on Region’s Future
Source: radioaustralia.net.au
Source Date: Friday, July 16, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Created: Jul 19, 2010

If the coming century is to be one of Asian dominance, the region's young students will have even bigger questions to ponder. And at least one of the old hands in the business of thinking about Asia has gone to new lengths to encourage their contribution. The eminent Australian economist, Emeritus Professor Peter Drysdale has run a unique international essay competition aimed at encouraging new academic talent. The initiative builds on the East Asia Forum academic blog he also heads. The powerhouse of talent uncovered by the competition has been on show at the Australian National University in Canberra this week, where the winners came together to present their ideas.

Presenter: Linda Mottram
Speakers: Peter Drysdale, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University; David Envall, Post-Doctoral Fellow in International Relations, Australian National University; Aaron Connelly, Fulbright scholar, visiting fellow, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta; Roger Huang, Research Development Officer, Centre for Asian Pacific Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

MOTTRAM: As surely as scholars, diplomats and politicians in the region see Asia entering a new era of global dominance, the Australian National University's Peter Drysdale and his colleagues see a need to encourage a new generation of scholars focussed on the resulting questions. They've taken a most modern approach, by going on the internet with their scholarly blog, the East Asia Forum.

DRYSDALE: This medium not only provides an opportunity to distill complex ideas into a digestible form, communicate those ideas to influential policy makers around the region, not only around the region, around the world - it reaches into the centres of policy makers everywhere.

MOTTRAM: Taking it a step further, they announced an international competition for young Asia scholars to write just 800 words on Asia's economic and political challenges.

The best of the essays were chosen and have now also been published in the East Asia Forum quarterly magazine, while Professor Drysdale personally arranged for the top scholars to attend a forum at the ANU in Canberra where they'd speak to their papers and have their work critiqued by established academics in the field. A dozen attended that event this week. And they ranged very widely. Unsurprisingly, China figured large, but so did Japan.

David Envall, was one of the participants - a post-doctoral fellow in International Relations at the ANU. He pondered the implications if Japan's stagnation and relative decline persists, particularly the possible impact on the lynchpin Japan-US alliance amid the possibility of rising populist Japanese politics and greater Japanese insularity.

ENVALL: If Japan's stagnation does persist our policy makers need to consider and prepare for such unpleasant dilemmas. If Japan were to lose another decade say, the Asian security order would be severely tested.

MOTTRAM: Fulbright Scholar and visiting fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Aaron Connelly, backed those who call for a deeper United States role in the region. He also argued for an expanded East Asia Summit to embed the US in the region at leadership level. The trade-off would involve winding back APEC's (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) seniority and giving it a more functional focus, a task for Australia, he suggested.

CONNELLY: Australia's ownership of APEC is what makes this possible. Australia was the right nation to propose APEC and it is also the right nation to propose the transformation of APEC.

MOTTRAM: Other issues examined by the scholars included whether China's much-criticised dam building program might present an opportunity for China to lead on better environmental practice. Another presentation on North Korea called for the establishment of an East Asian Development fund for the reclusive, reactive state and greater incentives targeted at younger, business-oriented members of the North Korean community to encourage change there.

There were also new thoughts on dealing with Burma from Roger Huang, who's Research Development Officer at the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. He rejected any blanket dismissal for example of elections promised by the junta for this year, saying anything is better than the status quo of political impasse.

HUANG: I think it's very encouraging to see that Myanmar's allowing a multi-party election. If you think about it China, Vietnam, Laos are all single party states and it's illegal to have any sort of opposition on the political front in these three nations, for example.

MOTTRAM: Roger Huang also strongly criticised sanctions against Burma as counter-productive and displaying little more than double standards by countries that are often more than happy to trade with single party states with questionable human rights records.

These young scholars delved into some difficult questions. But has quality and rigour been compromised in the requirement for brevity? Professor Peter Drysdale thinks not.

DRYSDALE: The quality of the argument has to stand within that format. And it can be linked back and it is linked back to detailed and careful scholarship and in electronic form in particular that can be readily available for all to assess.

MOTTRAM: And from his perspective as a very long-standing scholar of the region, Peter Drysdale describes the youngsters as high powered and very fresh in their thinking.
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