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ASEAN-Korea Young Scholars Workshop hosted by Malaysia

ASEAN-Korea Young Scholars Workshop hosted by Malaysia
By: Marikris D. De Guzman
(Young scholars from ASEAN and Korea during the ASEAN-Korea Young Scholars Workshop 2016 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last July 11-20, 2016.)



With the launch of the ASEAN Community in 2015 founded on the ASEAN blueprints, namely, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC), and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASSC), the region is gearing up towards greater and stronger regional integration. Despite its more than 40 years of existence, the regional organization is still facing the challenge of raising the people’s awareness, and subsequently, deepening their understanding of what ASEAN is and how it is relevant to their lives. The task of informing the people regarding ASEAN does not rest on our governments alone but also of other sectors and stakeholders in the region.
The role of the academe in the proliferation of the knowledge of ASEAN cannot be discounted. To provide more platforms to discuss ASEAN issues, the Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (KISEAS), the Centre for ASEAN Regionalism University of Malaya (CARUM), and the Asia-Europe Institute (AEI) with support from the ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund, jointly organized and hosted the ASEAN-Korea Young Scholars Workshop last July 11-20, 2016. Held at the University of Malaya, about a hundred young scholars of different academic background and research interests from the ten ASEAN countries and South Korea participated in this two-week workshop. The main objectives of the workshop are to expose participants to ASEAN issues and strengthen the relationship between ASEAN countries and Korea. With the theme “Multifaceted Malaysia,” the workshop combined lectures, discussions, and a field trip to better acquaint the participants to Malaysia as a country and ASEAN as a regional body.
The workshop provided a general overview of Malaysia as a country and an in-depth discussion of its history and society. This way, the young scholars were oriented on Malaysia’s unique position and context in ASEAN as well as its strategic positioning in global and regional matters. For the most part, the discussion centered on the Malaysian context- its politics, culture, economy, and society. Against this backdrop, the Malaysian position was further analyzed in relation to its global environment and regional identity that is ASEAN. Although Malaysia is a part of ASEAN, it has to operate judiciously in balancing its national interests with ASEAN’s regional interests. This balancing act is further “complicated” by its bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries and organizations.
A two-day International Conference on ASEAN Studies 2016 (ICONAS) with themes on Malaysia’s approach to regionalism, ASEAN and its dialogue partners, ASEAN-Korea relations, and the Future of ASEAN Centrality immediately followed the workshop. Various experts and scholars gave their perspectives and analysis on different issues surrounding ASEAN such as the tension in the South China Sea dispute, its tricky relations to global superpowers and major economies, and its challenge in defining ASEAN Centrality.
As a participant to both events, I had the great privilege and opportunity to deepen my understanding and awareness of ASEAN and the geopolitical issues covering the region. While heavy premium was given to the Malaysian context, the discussion of ASEAN gave us a different perspective of this regional organization. ASEAN, a region known for its hyper diversity, is still a work in progress considering its various challenges and weaknesses as a loosely organized institution thus far. As an ASEAN youth, these events helped develop my ASEAN identity and contribute to my understanding of the complexities in the region through academic discourse, intellectual debates, and cultural immersion. The relationships forged and networks created among the youth participants also enhance regional cooperation.
From my observation, a large vast of ASEAN population remains unaware of ASEAN and how it relates to their everyday life. Admittedly, while attempts have been made so far to make ASEAN people-centered, the fact stands that the people are still left behind considering their lack of knowledge, understanding, and awareness of ASEAN. At the risk of oversimplification, I believe that the people should have a thorough understanding of ASEAN coupled by the strong support needed from the people in order for ASEAN to stand a chance. Remember how the lack of people’s awareness of the European Union resulted in the people supporting Brexit?
By and large, the national governments must have the strong determination to genuinely create an inclusive ASEAN that is not only bent on making economies work but also improving the quality of the people’s lives. As young scholars, we need to translate our learning into action as we are in a strategic position to influence our communities and help spread awareness of ASEAN. Let us transcend beyond the borders of the academe to engage our national governments in the ASEAN processes, inform the communities of the opportunities for them amidst ASEAN integration, and strengthen linkages between and among the peoples of ASEAN.
It is my hope that governments, institutions, and stakeholders continue to create more initiatives and engagements in the regional, national and grassroots level to develop awareness of ASEAN, encourage people participation, and boost people-to-people connections in the region. After all, if we want ASEAN to be truly people-centered, it must ultimately be people-driven.

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