There would be little contestations to the fact that India and ASEAN nations have been among the nations that have most successfully dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through astute and timely executive orders, pro-active administrative measures, and transparent policy measures, the region has been largely successful in keeping the mortality numbers low and have prevented large scale community transmissions. While the leaders of India and ASEAN continue to cooperate and exchange ideas of best practices and assistance, engagement at the level of youth who will be soon at the helm of affairs became highly pertinent.
In the past India Foundation in collaboration with ASEAN Secretariat and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India had organised two successive Youth Summits for young leaders of India and ASEAN in 2017 and 2019 where they deliberated on their shared values, cultures, and discussed ideas for improving connectivity prosperity in the region.
Continuing this tradition of dialogue and engagement, India Foundation organised the first ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue (Virtual) from 8-10th of June 2020. The dialogue witnessed daily participation of more than 100 young leaders from different walks of life from all ASEAN nations and India. At a time when most countries in the world are fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the dialogue allowed the youth to renew their conversation through the platform of ASEAN-India Youth Summit.
The first day of the dialogue was inaugurated with the address by Shri Ram Madhav, National General Secretary, Bharatiya Janata Party and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation. Shri Ram Madhav highlighted the importance of regional cooperation in this fight against the pandemic and exhorted young leaders to learn from each other’s experiences. In a digital age when many countries are under lockdown and face to face communication has become difficult because of social distancing norms, he urged youngsters to utilise digital communication networks as an important tool to remain connected and exchange views and perspectives through virtual means.
The inaugural address was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr Sonu Trivedi, Director, Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre, Embassy of India, South Korea. The exciting panel discussion between young leaders led to the exchange of many interesting ideas, experiences, policy responses from their respective countries.
The topics for the discussions were as follows:
- Role of Youth in Nations’ fight against Corona Virus Pandemic
- Experiences from COVID Times and Country Response
- Role of Technology, Start-Ups, Entrepreneurship in COVID times
- Geopolitical Impact of COVID-19 on the Global and Regional Order
Mr Yong Chang Jun from Singapore, a young social entrepreneur and a student at Yale-NUS, spoke on Singapore’s proactive digital measures for contact tracing of COVID patients, widespread usage of digital apps to provide healthcare facilities, and the collaborative efforts of the government and youth of the nation to make digital facilities more inclusive for the elderly and the deprived.
Ms Ratih Kumala, author from Indonesia, spoke at length about the struggle of young people employed in creative agencies during the economic downturn. She threw light on the many innovative ways through which the youth of Indonesia have channelised their creative prowess.
Young diplomat and consultant Mr Chong Tong Sheng from Malaysia shared the Malaysian government’s hands-on approach towards enforcing lockdown measures, providing healthcare facilities, and the economic stimulus packages announced for providing employment, and the upskilling programs for the youth of the nation.
Ms Lim Sakura from Cambodia, an entrepreneur in the field of human resource, spoke of how her country adopted the WHO guidelines, the novel provisions for microfinance for enterprises in the lockdown times, the impact on tourism and economy of her country, and the many ways the young people are finding innovative solutions for simple and safe procurement and delivery of everyday products to households.
Ms Soumya Agarwal, from India, an education entrepreneur, spoke on the efforts of education startups, online platforms and social media initiatives undertaken in India during the lockdown times to continue the education of the young demography of the nation. She shared Indian government’s efforts to digitalise services through the Aarogyasetu health and contact tracing app, e-passes for physical movement across and in cities, and governments efforts to increase awareness among the masses through other digital means.
On Day 2 of the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue, Amb. Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, Ambassador of Indonesia to India, delivered the first keynote address of the Virtual Youth Dialogue. Amb. Sidharto began his address mentioning how we are all impacted by COVID19 and how youth can play a better role in such times. Both India and South East Asia are no stranger to infectious diseases. He said that each one of the youth will bring in a unique model of their respective country in dealing with the pandemic. Amb. Sidharto shared the measures taken up by Indonesia in dealing with the outbreak of the pandemic. He also emphasized on how to take advantage of this situation to improve healthcare for all. Amb, said that “Youth will be at the forefront in dealing with the pandemic as well as other crisis of tomorrow. Youths of today shall be the bridge for tomorrow.”
The first keynote address was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ms Shristi Pukhrem, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation. The stimulating discussion between young leaders representing five countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and India in this panel led to very resourceful exchanges. In his presentation, Dr. Piyanat Soikham, Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University spoke about the India-ASEAN Relations broadly with more focus on India-Thailand Relations and its evolving nature. The second panellist Ms. Minh Anh Nguyen, Student, Foreign Languages Specialized School presented how Vietnam is dealing with COVID19 and the measures undertaken. She also emphasized on how India and Vietnam should explore the potential and increase more engagements between the two countries. Mr. Sebastian Partogi, The Jakarta Post who was the third panellist in this session discussed widely the issues of mental health during the time of pandemic and the role of youth in dealing with it citing Indonesian experiences. The fourth panellist Ms. Myat Myat Mon, Student, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore shared her views on Myanmar Government’s response to COVID19, economic and political aspects of it. She also said that the Myanmar response to the pandemic was more locally driven. The last speaker of the second panel discussion of the Youth Dialogue was Mr. Praket Arya, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation. He shared his views and widely discussed the efforts undertaken by India in dealing with the COVID19 crisis highlighting the concept of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ meaning ‘Self Reliant India’.
The second day of the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue ended with the second keynote address delivered by Amb. Jawed Ashraf, High Commissioner of India to Singapore. In his address Amb. Ashraf highlighted the many factors which connect India and South East Asia and what defines it most is the level of confidence and optimism in both the regions. He said that India and South East Asia are blessed with the power of youth and there are enormous examples of youth power and innovations that are transforming lives across our countries. Amb. Ashraf also emphasized on the power of people and nations working together with human solidarity as the greatest strength that has acted as a shield against this invisible foe.
On Day 3 of the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue, Amb. Pham Sanh Chau, Ambassador of Vietnam to India, delivered the third keynote address of the Virtual Youth Dialogue. In his address, Amb Chau shared the success story of Vietnam’s handling of COVID-19 situation and how Vietnam has successfully fought the pandemic crisis as there has been no death in the country. Amb Chau said that “Youth with energy, creativity and a strong sense of social responsibility is the richest asset of any nation. Youth continues to be the major link between social, cultural and business linkages between India and ASEAN Countries.” He also highlighted the importance of educational cooperation between India and ASEAN.
The panel discussion on day 3 was moderated by Ms B. Shruti Rao, Research Fellow, India Foundation and Assistant Editor, India Foundation Journal. Delegates from Singapore, Philippines, Brunei and India shared their perspective in the Panel Discussion. In his presentation, Mr. Cho Ming Xiu, Founder and Executive Director of Campus PSY Limited from Singapore, talked about the COVID-19 situation in Singapore, reopening of economy, Singapore government initiatives and role of youth in the fight against pandemic in Singapore. Mr. Robin Carlo Reyes, Faculty Member at Air Link International Aviation College from the Philippines, shared the situation of COVID-19 in his country and Philippines government’s initiatives to tackle the pandemic crisis. Ms. Nurul Hadina, Curator of Global Shapers Bandar Seri Begawan Hub from Brunei shared her country perspective in COVID times, Brunei government’s initiatives and how Brunei largely remained unaffected by the pandemic. The last panellist in the panel discussion, Mr Siddharth Singh from India shared his views on the Geopolitical impact of COVID-19 on the Global and Regional Order in the region.
Shri V. Muraleedharan, Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt of India, delivered the Valedictory Address in the ASEAN-India Youth Dialogue. In his address, Shri Muraleedharan applauded the efforts of India Foundation and congratulated the Foundation for providing a platform for the Youth from ASEAN and India to come together and hold constructive and meaningful discussions. He said that “India's engagement with ASEAN is built upon a solid base of shared civilisational heritage and ASEAN is central to India's Act East Policy”. He also pointed out that in today’s world we meet at a time of multiple global challenges: pandemic, economic uncertainties, security threats. In this difficult moment, India and ASEAN are two bright spots of optimism. India and ASEAN share the pluralistic nature of our societies, encompassing major religions of the world, and a wealth of diverse cultures. This affinity constitutes a special asset for the further development of our relations. He said that “COVID-19 has emerged as the biggest challenge to humanity in the 21st century. No country can fight the pandemic single-handedly, and a coordinated and cooperative response is the way to go and thus such Youth Dialogues are part of an exercise to come up with a coordinated response with the active participation of the young minds from ASEAN Countries and India.”
The 3-day long Virtual Dialogue successfully concluded with the active participation and meaningful engagements among the Young minds from India and all 10 ASEAN Countries with expectations for more such dialogues in future to keep the digital connectivity network alive.