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JULY 30, 2002

Regional youth leaders pose questions on tough issues

REGIONAL youth leaders yesterday quizzed politicians and business chiefs on some tough issues ranging from whether Asean is a talk shop to globalisation's effect on local values and nurturing entrepreneurship.

National University of Singapore undergraduate Mustafa Izzuddin asked if Asean had outlived its usefulness, while Manila University student William Panlilio wondered how the regional body can progress beyond being a 'chit-chat club'.

Speaking at a forum of the Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts David Lim said Asean has made progress with deals such as the Asean Free Trade Area.

Critics of Asean cannot be silenced by making more resolutions, he said. 'It depends on how resolute we are to follow up on the resolutions,' he told the audience of about 200 people. Give and take is needed, and countries must focus on how everyone can benefit.

Competition is unavoidable among member countries, but the goal is to make the pie bigger, he said when answering questions after his keynote address.

The Hitachi initiative aims to identify and encourage young leaders in Asia, with 24 undergraduates picked from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Yesterday's forum, which was held at the Shangri-La, focused on Asia's road map for the future.

Mr Lim also answered a student who was worried about how to balance globalisation and preserving local culture. He said that what is important is the kind of values that a society has, in particular, whether it offers equality of opportunity rather than outcome.

Singapore has chosen meritocracy, he said, adding: 'There's an Asian-ness we can lay on top of it but you've got to go back to fundamentals and ask, 'What values?' Asian-ness is just a certain label.'

At a later panel discussion on entrepreneurship and media, Dr Marwah Daud Ibrahim, a member of Indonesia's Parliament, said retaining identity 'rather than bowing to the global version on offer' requires redefining the role of the mass media.

Changes she advocated included shifting the focus from entertainment to edutainment; from consumerism to a productive life; from a bias on Western, urban and elite values to Eastern, rural values; and from government propaganda to empowerment of the people.

Dr Dumrong Kasemset, chairman of the executive committee of Thailand's telecoms giant Shin Satellite Public Company, said globalisation required new ways of doing business. Values such as respect for authority may become a handicap to innovation.

How Asian societies deal with the need for participative organisation and out-of-the-box thinking are key issues, he said.

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