Conference Notes: Generation 21: Asia Pacific New Leaders Dialogue


The inaugural gathering of Generation 21: Asia Pacific New Leaders Dialogue from October 30 to November 1 in Jakarta,under the auspices of Modernisator (an Indonesian nonprofit organization) and Asialink (of the University of Melbourne), with McKinsey & Company. Chairmen were Sid Meyer of Asialink and Dino Ptti Djalal of Modernisator, who also works closely with the President of Indonesia as his spokesman (participants received an autographed copy of his book, The Can Do Leadership: Inspiring Stories from SBY Presidency).

There were three of us Filipinos there: myself, Zainudin Malang, who blogs as Moro Views on Bangsamoro Affairs, and Enrique Gonzalez, and representatives from most of the members of Asean: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam; plus the People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

The whole-day, mainly recorded for television session, operated according to several themes with guide questions we were expected to answer.

Session 1: (originally, 21st Century Context) Generation 21: Change and Challenge

Topic 1: Change

Veronica Pedrosa, on Al-Jazeera: the ability of a news organization like Al-Jazeera, to reverse the flow of information, from East to West instead of West to East as previously monopolized by BBC and CNN, could only have happened in the 21st Century. Always and everywhere the compelling urge is, “we have to be better than them.”

Q. (instant survey of group) Are you optimistic or pessimistic concerning 21st Century prospects?

89% Optimistic

11% Pessimistic

Pessimists: e.g. Too few resources poured into change.

Optimists: e.g. potential Tipping Point for Copenhagen.

Discussion on China: faces changes in three fundamental respects

-resources, requiring sourcing from region and elsewhere

-tensions on fringes and impact on peace and stability

-defense modernization and impact on region

Q. How will 21st Century Asia-Pacific fundamentally differ from 20th Century?

My thoughts: If the 20th Century was about establishing nation-states, preoccupation in 21st Century will be the viability of failing or failed states. Then ,the question of increasingly blurred national boundaries; and of vassalage to regional Great Powers.

Q. What do you think will be the most important trends?




-Not politics: more action.

My thoughts: A commonly discussed dilemma is technological skill versus fostering creativity. Can be expanded to representing the Asian dilemma: creativity versus stability, or the problem of creative destruction that fostering creativity leads to, versus desire for social harmony in Asian societies.

Chairman’s remarks: Dino Patti Djalal

Question facing Asians today is to find the capability to turn imagination into reality.

1. Tools and Opportunity: Do we know it, can we capitalize on it, seize it?

2. We are in an amazing century: Where do you locate yourself? Consider China 50 years ago, where it is at present, where it will be in 50 years. Where do you locate yourself? As individuals, societies, where are you going?

Asean perspective: Surin Pitsuwan

Surin Pitsuwan is the Secretary-General of Asean.

Says we must talk about creating a Middle Class rather than democracy or human rights: both come in the wake of the emergence of broad and enduring Middle Class.

Points out the West adopts and adapts Eastern culture: e.g. using meditation to clear the mind in order to be able to control more (resources) while the Eastern attitude is different in wanting to live with nature.

My thoughts: questions confronting Asean are questions that indicate regional and national identity crisis. Regional crisis in terms of the continuing relevance of Asean as Western hegemony gives way to more traditional hegemonies of Confucian/Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic hegemonies. National identity crisis in terms of nation-states challenged by cultural communities that transcend political borders. Increasingly mobile communities will lack sense of community/belonging; an absence of concentration leads to failure to achieve and maintain social consensus.

Topic 2: Threats

Q. What is the top threat facing Asia-Pacific in the 21st Century?

-“Existential threats”: rising sea levels, demographics.

-Multipolarity: adopting 20-40 year view, greater threats, less stability. Strategic differences over: energy; security; water.

-Economic growth: Even as economy will grow from 67-70 trillion to 00-400 trillion in 40 years, population can only grow 1-2 billion more (demographic pressures).

Burma comment:

1. Rise of Terrorism

2. Transboundary pollution

3. Infectious diseases.

Japanese comment: threat of chronic diseases, especially lifestyle diseases. e.g. Asians are genetically predisposed to develop diabetes: India-China looking at 400 million diabetics. Requires investing in managing/solving diseases.

Armed Conflict

Q. Group survey: Will you be impacted by armed conflict?

Will be impacted: 52%

Will not be impacted: 48%

Anadin comment: The task is improving relations within nations. How the Philippines as a Catholic country deal with larger Muslim nations like Indonesia if it cannot deal with Muslim minority?

Indian comment: Conflict arising from forgetting an increasingly permament underclass. Notes use of stones, bones, arrows to express resentment and seize resources. Noticeable trend away from begging for alms to seizing goods from the affluent. A problem arising from removing hope.

Topic 3: Globalization

Q. Group poll: Can we achieve zero poverty this century?

Achievable: 43%

Not achievable: 57%

Theme of Social Business: business to change the world. Focus on the social objectives of business to eliminate poverty.

Indonesian comment: Example of Indofoods consigning noodles, keeping track of consignees by means of fingerprint and Identity Card. Consignees gained income opportunity.

My thoughts: Raises lack of a viable identity card system and suggests porous nature of the concept of legal identity in the Philippine context.

Indonesian comment: Development is about more than MDG’s and GDP. Increasing dependence on technology actually leads to more poverty. Even doling out money won’t eliminate poverty because losing forests, culture, is a kind of poverty.

Keynote: Kishore Mahbubani

Singaporean diplomat, author of Can Asians Think? “We have millions of brains but never use them.”

1. Challenges we face unprecedented in 3,000 years.

Vertical versus Horizontal Axis:

While there is an ongoing unprecedented shift in power from West to East, the West remains the strongest. But the shift is taking place, the Western era of dominance being 1820-2050, when China and India will resume their pre-1820 status of being the world’s largest economies. Yet resurgence of these nations represents new tensions, conflicts, and rivalries.

The world before globalization can be described as humanity on 192 different lifeboats.

The world after globalization can be described as humanity in 192 different cabins on the same ship, but without the vessel having a captain or a real crew to care for the passengers.

Proofs of this lack of global leadership:

a. Financial Crisis (panic in Davos)

2. H1N1 (near-instant spread)

3. Terrorism

4. COP10 (individual countries cannot solve climate change crisis)

These are challenges on a magnitude never seen before by humanity.

2. Why Western leaders cannot provide the leadership needed

Give the West credit for creating (post World War 2)  the most benign world order the world has ever seen. The lowest point in suffering in human terms. However, the global institutions established by victorious Allied powers post 1945 -IMF, WB, Security Council, Media- remain dominated by the West when what is needed is structural reforms.

3. Why Asia has to do it.

The concept of one person, one vote, in a world in which the largest populations are in China and India, represents a nightmare scenario to the West.

In terms of democracy and human rights being coupled as a qualification for global leadership, the obvious solution is in terms of global democracy which would question this Western-centric coupling.

If no one provides global leadership, the chance of providing that leadership in the future will diminish.

Session 2: (originally: Challenges and Opportunities) Change and Challenge

Topic 4: Climate Change

Boiled down their problems to this: How to simplify a complex problem for easy communication to stakeholders to galvanize action.

-Explain the gain.

-Who will be the first to jump?

-Simplify the solution: explain how it helps the common goal.

Topic 5: Education

Pondered whether the key problem was Access or the Quality of Education. Decision: Quality is the problem facing Education.

Solution is to focus on the quality of teachers:

1. Improve recruitment: government must focus on recruiting the best products of higher education to continue in a career in education (Indian government adopting this policy).

2. Upfront and continuing training (student-centric).

3. Assessment process and performance criteria.

4. Salaries: industry-competitive, performance-based.

5. Reputation for teaching: high-profile campaign to enhance the reputation of teaching.

6. Develop school leadership.

Topic 6: Business and Entrepreneurship

They boiled down their problems to this Challenge: What are the constraints on entrepreneurship?

a. Cultural: (bias towards professions) Lack of emphasis on science/technology

b. Educational: (not enough promotion of risk-taking) Stigma of failure too strong

c. Capital (hard to source) Risk-averse

And formulated this ResponseEntrepreneurship must be valued.

-Role models must be provided at all levels of society.

-Risk-taking must be taught in the educational system.

-Microfinance must be encouraged.

-role of the Rule of Law: can either stifle or enhance entrepreneurship.

Korean proposal: the role of government is to create social safety nets for the stigma/risks of failure for entrepreneurs not to come at the price of their families. If there is Witness Protection (Law) there should be Failure Protection (for entrepreneurs).

Australian comment: Countries need to identify their hub of innovation rather than betting on everything.

Australian comment: Economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Environment.

Indonesian Investment Ministers comment: Gvernment spending on R&D needed in Asia.

Filipino entrepreneur’s comment: The banking system in SEA geared to funding big corporations. Government has to provide access to capital to entrepreneurs. Requires government intervention.

Australian comment: Do you trust your governments to pick winners?

Filipino entrepreneur’s response: GFI’s have the capacity to pick winners on the microventure level and SME level (SPFG and PHILEXEM doing well).

Indonesian Investment Minister’s response: Caution required as there’s the ability of government to crowd out competition; the wanton creation of subsidiaries leads to unfocused and wasteful proliferation of government enterprises; another problem in the private sector is the tendency of families in family-controlled corporations to exclude non-family.

Topic 7: Economic Growth

Boiled down their problems to this: What kind of growth? Equality now versus assuming inequalities were price to pay for growth before.

-invest in logistics and infrastructure to give accessibility to the poor. Infrastructure also includes social infrastructure: tax reform; improving labor standards.

-private sector involvement through reforms: good bankruptcy law; good corporate restructuring laws (actually forms of social safety nets).

-how to turn Asians (who are savers) into consumers.

-fostering Social Enterprises.

-China, Japan, Korea will not engage in Free Trade with each other but insist on it, individually, with Asean.

My observation: Western (NZ, Oz) hostility to state intervention in business while most Asians know limits of intervention but are more comfortable with state intervention (Western opposition is in terms of general principls; Asians merely suspicious because of past practice).

Malaysian comment: focus on economic growth has to be rephrased into economic well-being.

Topic 8: Arts, Media, and Culture

I was in The Arts, Media, and Culture Cluster.

We boiled down the problems at hand to the following: Balancing universal access and diversifying content.

-Arts must be integrated into basic education as they are helpful in fostering creativity and independence.

-Community media needs to be encouraged

-Experimental spaces must be encouraged to keep culture vibrant and evolving

Problems raised:

-homogeneous international entertainment media vs. local culture, arts.

-state promotion of consensus vs. conflicting urge for minority expresion

-lowest common denominator entertainment vs. tendency to tune out of civic participation. “Bollywood is the buttered chicken of India: the lowest common denominator.”

-the need for universal access to technology

-media: as conveyor of what to whom?

Country-specific questions:

Malaysia: advertising promotes tabloidism online.

Indonesia: bill to control the movie industry dangerous attempt at control.

South Korea: convergence in media misunderstood by media players, it is actually simply producing data in different types available to the consumer. Online media leads to problems of networking promoting rumors and speculation. Government has focused on providing access to Internet.

India, China: in terms of film, culture, arts, propaganda vs. “pure” entertainment.

India: question of preserving heritage in a changing world: as middle class expands, it rejects traditional culture and adopts consumerism. The Indian diaspora has become the repository of traditional culture. The danger of preserving culture in amber to preserve it but inadvertently turning it into dead or fossilized culture.

Timor-Leste: danger of media is that instead of conveying positivity, creates differences, conflict with the mainstream.

Cambodia: media is still at basic level of development (radio is real mass media), has to be more responsible; growing divide between basic mass media in provinces and more technologically advanced (Internet) in urban areas.

Philippines: media, in terms of creating content, has to be aware of the crucial role it plays in building communities, both national and regional.

Indonesia: cultural diffusion is an opportunity for elites; there is an Indonesian bias against speaking English, it is tantamount to being Westernized; is this tenable?

Thailand: younger generation has lost interest in history (because state promoted); media lacks nuance.

Topic 9: Achieving Success: Tony Fernandes of

He left the music industry because of piracy.

1. Make sure you have the right product. (e.g. no one had a budget airline in this part of the world)

2. People: your biggest asset.

-discover the potential in your employees.

3. Create an environment for innovation.

-“You can’t be a CEO unless you’re prepared to go down to the ground.” Didn’t want belt loaders for cargo previously hand-hauled into cargo compartments even after new fleet of airbuses were two inches higher than previous planes; but as he engaged in doing a shift as a bag-carrier once a month, he personally discovered the change really did require belt loaders.

-“Departments are the big killers of organizations.”

4. Spend money on branding and marketing.

-Companies don’t spend enough in Asia; businessmen want responses/results too quickly for marketing.

5. Think local first, regional second.

-“We have to create our own heroes, our own content.”

-don’t think just Asia or India.

6. Create a succession plan, don’t overstay.

-“When I go I won’t be Mentor or Senior Anything.”

Mantra: Believe the unbelievable; dream the impossible; never take ‘no’ for an answer.

Points raised in Q&A:

-Leadership dislikes: fear of failing the people (employees)

-Leadership counts when you have bad news and you can still keep morale up.

-In Asia, homogeneity is an obstacle to innovation.

-In terms of Asia societies being risk-averse, conservative, and how to spark creativity: the answer is in the educational system and how it responds to creativity and innovation. Sport, Art and Culture are crucial, they foster expression and creativity.

Session 3: (originally: Leadership) Adaptation and Transformation

Australian PM Rudd: Region has five of the largest militaries; future of the region will be fluid.

How will regional economies relate/benefit from emerging China-India megaeconomies?

What are the models for Asian business? Examine the increasing role of Islamic Banking since 2007 Crisis.

Singaporean economist’s comments: We are headed for a perfect storm:

1. conflict

2. increase in natural disasters

3. end of US hegemony creating vacuum in leadership

Topic 10: Lessons Learned and Advice

Session 4: Dialogue with the Vice-President of Indonesia

Quoting Friedman: The 19th Century was the era of competition among nations; the 20th Century was the era of competition among multinationals; the 21st Century is the era of competition among individuals.

G20 now includes representatives of all the major civilizations.

Innovation and creativity are the keys to global survival.

1997 political crisis in Indonesia revealed weaknesses in society: even if you satisfy the basic needs of citizens, they will aspire to higher-participation in democracy.

What is needed is to put in place the pillars of a working, democracy: quality in terms of officials working better, in terms of law and order, and in terms of education for the public.

An integral part of the legal system includes anti-corruption mechanisms and institutions.

Better social welfare for basic education and health.

Session 5: Vision for 21st Century Asian Leadership

Distinction needs to be made between managers (technical) and leaders (who articulate a vision and inspire commitment to that vision).

Indian comment: Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, “By being selfless you assume leadership.”

South Korean comment: Contrasting Confucian tradition (“we are not allowed to tread on the shadows of teachers”) with Western pursuit of questions together instead of hierarchically.

My thoughts:

1. The need to find ways in hierarchical societies to involve others in a problem-solving thought process.

2. The Confucian need to adequately define terms is revalidated as increasingly technocratic management may be using same terms as rank-and-file but neither has the same definition of those terms.

3. Increasing focus on leadership ignores “followership,” the need for leaders to articulate shared goals to unite leaders with followers.

Q. What action will you take after this Conference?

Consensus was: to share stories from this conference as a means of imparting broader perspective.

Indonesian closing comment: “We must begin a pandemic of positivity.”


I identified these themes as the ones that kept surfacing throughout the public and private discussions among the participants:

Creative Destruction vs. Social Harmony:

Technological Skills vs. Creativity:

Technological Proficiency vs. Imaginative Insurgency:

Timeless Societies vs. Global (Cosmopolitan) Elites from Asia:

Vassals vs. Partners:

Wealthy vs. Dispossessed and Confused:

Establishing Nations vs. Failed States:

Other views and sideline discussions

One of the Singaporean representatives also blogged about her experiences over at Sylvia Lim’s Blog.

Singaporean banker: (On the current economic crisis) this is a question of morality and requires going back to basics. The solution is Western Management under Asian Values (Asked further on what Asian Values are, ventured they are”soft but meaningful values”; asked for specifics, responded with) A long memory is as an Asian Value, that is why the effects of the present crisis weren’t so devastating, we’d all learned our lessons from the 1997 Financial Crisis, banking, governments, the public had learned and cleaned up their books. (On Lee Kwan Yew) he views Singapore as a corporation; the composition of the state is incidental to the pursuit of the ambitions of that state. (In response to my question of alienation of younger Singaporeans who want to migrate). (In response to what are the ambitions of Singaporean state?) 1. To be a financial center for the region; 2. To be a trade hub for the region; 3. To be the necessary Middleman between the United States and China.

Chinese entrepreneur: (Responding to my recounting Singaporean view) That is an odd ambition to have, because it is an inevitable urge to eliminate the middleman as soon as possible.

Malaysian MP: We in UNMO lost majority for first time since independence because we lost capacity for empathy for minorities.

Cambodian: Garment industry has received heavy investments from China; reason is preferential concessions given to recovering war-torn countries like Cambodia, allows access to European markets; even with current economic crisis market share has been preserved because Cambodia careful to maintain labor standards to retain access to European markets.

Korean MP and media tycoon: Crucial to continued healthy profits has been the use of newspaper brand to establish English-language schools and English-language immersion camps abroad; has proven highly profitable.

Books recommended by delegates during the conference

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn

Men In White: The Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party by Sonny Yap, Richard Lim & Leong Weng Kam

From Good to Great by Jim Collins

Manuel L. Quezon III.

9 thoughts on “Conference Notes: Generation 21: Asia Pacific New Leaders Dialogue

  1. Singaporean economist’s comments: We are headed for a perfect storm:
    1. conflict
    2. increase in natural disasters
    3. end of US hegemony creating vacuum in leadership


    The guy makes good points. What are the solutions?

  2. Oily-gopoly: Yellow legacy


    Herman Tiu Laurel


    | More
    Every week we get a dose of reminders of the Yellow’s bitter legacy for Filipinos. Last week it was the arrogance of the privatized “oily-gopoly:” The collusion of the oil companies, manipulating Philippine petroleum products prices, covering up their transfer pricing schemes, bribing or browbeating politicians to pass oligopolistic laws for their companies. Because Cory Aquino and the Yellows relinquished the ownership and role of the State in the oil industry. We, the people, have lost control of our energy supply and prices, which has left us to the mercy of the inhuman greed of the oil companies.

    The “Ondoy” crisis compelled the Arroyo regime to make a show of instituting an oil price freeze. The privatized oil industry sector arrogantly replied: “Face shortages.” In the debate, a shocking claim was made — the oil companies had only a week’s inventory. The safe minimum stockpile for any country is at least a month’s supply. Either the oil companies are lying to justify their claim of imminent shortage and demand for free rein on prices, or they have stopped stocking the accepted minimum inventory of at least four weeks because of low international oil price levels the past months and await higher priced deliveries expected in the months ahead. This is their transfer pricing practice at work! This space has called for six months inventory to capture the high and low price cycle to average out oil prices for domestic consumers, and the return of Marcos’ Oil Price Stabilization Fund (OPSF).

    The privatized oil industry sector has gotten away with swindle. There has been no massive protest. Thanks to the Yellow elite’s control of mainstream media and the Catholic universities which have brainwashed their audiences, particularly the middle classes who serve as the ruling class’ cogs and wheels, to believe that privatization of strategic industries under the principle of “free trade” is good for the economy. Their theory is that private corporations and competition bring down costs of goods and services, but 21 years under the Yellows’ policies have proven otherwise. Not all are fooled: As far back as 1998 people from class D and E to C, B and A voted against the system, electing Estrada to temper the abuse and greed of the post-Edsa I system. But the profit-seeking ruling class could not even tolerate the moderating influence sought by their pro-poor leader.

    Erap’s “appeals” to the oil companies and other utilities like Meralco, Maynilad and Manila Water enraged the corporate tsars. They elicited Cory Aquino and her Yellows’ support to oust Erap, and they got it. The Yellow zombies invoked the mythology and halo of “people power” for Edsa II. Eight years later Cory Aquino would have to make a near-death bed apology for what she did, but interests that drove the Yellow movement just brushed it off as “a joke.” I don’t know how many Filipinos still fall for that “people power” fairy tale, are there still are some infantile minds that cannot grow out of it? Many mouthing the Yellow line, individuals that I know personally, are doing so only for opportunistic interest — to get back lucrative high level government jobs after the next elections. They think they’ve got the elections won because they have the Yellow media behind them.

    Unfortunately for the Yellows, the fairy tale has been demolished by the Ondoy floods and the oil companies’ arrogance. Cory Aquino, FVR and GMA failed to follow up on the great infrastructure programs of the Marcos regime to solve the decadal flooding crises. They “dropped the ball on the flood control program and Parañaque spillway” project started by Marcos in the 1970s. This finally hit home last month as millions of Filipinos suffered the consequences of the stupidity of the Yellow regimes. After that, more came to light: The decay of the armed forces capabilities, the expressway development standstill for 21 years, the total absence of any major infrastructure achievement of the Yellow administrations. Then, last week, the dire consequences of the loss of State-owned Petron and PNOC dawned on the people when the oil companies coldheartedly refused the nation’s plea.

    With the realities flashing in the minds of the people, radio airwaves filling with texts and callers recalling more failures of the Yellow regimes: The high oil prices and the “highest power cost in Asia.” It was inevitable that the glow on the Yellow’s 2010 candidate would fade sooner or later. As it has turned out, it is sooner than later. The surveys are showing fast declining popularity for the Makati Business Club-Lopez-Prieto-Belmonte candidate, and the dirty tactics of the Yellow camp against President Joseph Estrada reflect their desperation.

    But a greater disservice in this is the obfuscation of the issues against the Yellows and its avaricious corporate backers. The Yellow media are trying to gloss over the issues by concentrating on celebrity political coverage, trivializing the political process. The people somehow should get to know the whole truth: That the high oil prices are a legacy from Cory Aquino and the Yellow movement. The Yellow media won’t let this be known. It’s up to us, our readers and all patriotic Filipinos to inform family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work about this truth.

    (Tune to 1098AM, M-W-F, 6 to 7 p.m.; Tuesday 8:15 to 9 p.m., Global News Network, Destiny Cable, Channel 21 “H1N1: Swine of Swine-dler’s Flu?” with former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez)

  3. *his solution to everything is “asian values with western management”*

    Can anyone sell this mantra to the masses? Maybe rephrase it.

    Anyway, I think it’s widely accepted but not honestly stated.

  4. At a time that the PRC is engaged in a mercantilist war versus the rest of the world as a premier foundation of its economic policy framework to insure social stability will the world continue to tolerate it or will some sort of accommodation happen or will open hostilities occur?

  5. from the way all the asians sounded, everyon’es resigned to being a kind of vassal to china. the only ones with confidence to try to pursue their own fairly independent agenda from the sound of it are the japanese, the indians, and the koreans.

  6. Re the Singaporean economists remark “the composition of the state is incidental to the pursuit of the ambitions of that state. “… it ties well to LKY’s response when he was asked what he thought his greatest legacy is i.e. “that there is a Singapore”. It’s also is reflected by the island’s relatively open immigration and guest worker policy.

  7. West world is getting mature in all sector as economics, politics, technologies till 21 of century. But something growing mature, someday should be going down. Thats happend this time. They try to looking back what they have done for the world and what makes them fall down.
    This time in 21 century is time for east world to leading the world and help them to be back like before. we can give them what they dont have. One of it is culture of life. The basic of culture life in asia is “family education”. Education start from begining, from the our kids. How the respect to parents, religions, enviroment, laws. This 4 factors make our childrens loyal and respect to them self, family, friends, people and univers. in future they will protect the world and fell own the world.

  8. I am as an Indoesian and of course an Asian,very happy watched that dialogue.
    I realized that this generation is the momentum for Asians to show its fangs.
    For years Asians (i think) were underestimated by Westerns,and maybe we were that low. But now. Too many smarts in Asia. and we are ready to lead the world,to show how to bring this world well.
    Two things to do for Asians.
    Hard work and be patient. It’s not gonna take long time. We are near to the first finish line.

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