Communication: Key to Asean integration

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GIL H. A. SANTOS

This column is not for government leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), nor their policy makers and development planners, because I am sure most of them have thought of this or are actually doing it.

This is a primer for the young adults of the region who will inherit the political and economic leaderships of the 10 member states of the organization within the next 25 to 30 years. They are high school seniors or college students—between 18 and 28, aspiring for a better life for themselves and their families.

They comprise 45 percent of the estimated Asean population of 650 million, most of them moving to the urban areas to find jobs and to help—with monthly cash or medical supplies– their rural families. Some of them have been in their jobs for at least five years.

I met a good number of them last week when the eight Philippine college organizations led by the Rotaract Club of Pilipinas Youth launched their three-day Asean Youth Engagement Summit (AYES) 2017 in the Lyceum of the Philippine University’s Manila campus. Students from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand attended, too.


The following areas of concern on which the conference focused are encouraging, showing that the Asean youth are working for a better future: 1) environment and sustainability, 2) humanitarian affairs, 3) governance and diplomacy, 4) business affairs and trade, and, 5) social and health policy.

These indicate that they are mainly concerned now about climate change, pollution, waste management, food and water security, preparation of the future political leaders and diplomats for the complexities of international relations, peace and security, social entrepreneurship and small and medium scale industrial and agri-fisheries progress, and the population’s sexual and reproductive health.

The invited resource speakers delivered their messages effectively, but some questions were unanswered due to time constraints, leaving some participants wanting for complete understanding of the details. One such case was how an enterprising farmer could get financial capital to expand his vegetable-lot farming. Or how does a Filipino fish farmer go into partnership with his Indonesian counterpart in Menado?

My point here is while the AYES 2017 was, in effect, an orientation session for the Asean college students, or a training for future teachers, the art and skill of simplifying scientific and technical terms is vital to teaching the young Asean the need for integration.

Storm “surge,” for example, has to be simplified in the dialect or language of the specific Asean coastal residents for them to understand that tidal waves may appear when typhoons or storms with 120-hour wind velocity strikes the coast. This was the case with typhoon Yolanda when it devastated Leyte and Samar a few years back. No weatherman explained what “surge” meant and no news person asked either.

At the risk of oversimplification, but to be realistic and effective, teachers and communicators must completely understand the culture of their target audiences and students, then explain in simple English whatever message they are conveying. We have to do it in the dialect or language of the audience, if needed.

Otherwise, the whole teaching or orientation time is wasted.

And this is a vital factor in promoting the Asean integration. Thus for the young generation of Asean, specific case studies and indigenous solutions must be formulated when they speak of the region’s effective and working cultural-social, economic and political and security integration.

It’s been half a century since Asean was established, with the vision-mission of the area being a region of “peace, amity and friendship.” Yet the goal seems still less than half-way achieved. Some foreign geopolitical observers even say it will require another 50 years before final integration is “possible.”

While effective communication is the key, it is a tougher job to spot the capable persons to do the actual job.

The incidence of poverty or economic development stages of the 10 Asean members are on various levels. The levels of education, therefore, are different, too, but English is common to all, though actually used according to their individual cultural contexts.

My own experience as a former editor-publisher and international wire news correspondent and representative in the region for more than 50 years tells me now any effort to sell Asean integration must be done in the language of each member state. That’s the only way to speed it up—say in 25 years or less.

The search and need to train the teachers or preachers of integration must start now. This must be done simultaneously with the current infrastructure trends in the region, which will be one of the main driving factors of consumer spending and manufacturing.

Hand in hand with the promotion of integration, other efforts must be pushed: the Asean rural and coastal populations to accept modern production methods and technologies, market information systems, and enterpreneurship to boost inclusive economic growth, particularly in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

This phase of the 21st century is the start of the dynamic and rapid movement of Asean 10. This is the time when the trends favor the region as the super powers are competing with one another for friendship and cooperation—all in their own national interests. This is one time when the Aseans must grab the chance to be friends with every one and not an ideological or geopolitical enemy of anyone.

Asean’s potential as one of the main sources of manufactured food for the world’s rising population is great. This can be realized in the next 25 years or less if our future leaders internalize and realize the importance of a VIRTUAL ASEAN CITIZEN, starting with a special Asean news service.

Twenty years ago, I mentioned this idea to a regional conference on trends and issues organized in Kuala Lumpur by the Malaysian strategic studies group. Eyebrows were raised but I insisted it would come even it took half a century.

Considering the advances of information and communications technologies, this is now probable. Now we have the Asean youth to lean on. And the AYES just indicated they will.

Comments and reactions to gilsmanilatimes@yahoo.com

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