Nov 23, 2012

Indonesia - ASEAN, Jason Mraz and (maybe) a Nobel prize

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Most people who read this headline might raise their eyebrows and wonder if they are really reading what they are reading. Since when does the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) associate with people like Jason Mraz? They apparently do now.

Such a move, I think, is transformational and if we carry on the momentum, the idea of building an ASEAN Community in 2015 is not so unlikely.

Why I think it is transformational? How will the shift benefit the region? And where is the Nobel Peace Prize idea coming from?

Jason Mraz is performing at an MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) concert in Yangon on Dec. 16. MTV EXIT claims the concert will be aired in more than half a billion homes across the world. There will be performances, interviews and key information about human trafficking.

MTV EXIT campaign is a multimedia initiative against human trafficking and exploitation. MTV EXIT was launched in Europe in 2004, and has expanded across Asia since 2007.

In Asia, the focus is on the Southeast. ASEAN became an MTV EXIT partner in 2011.

This partnership perhaps shows a shift in the way ASEAN operates. ASEAN is routinely criticized as anti-civil society organizations. MTV EXIT is a non-profit, non-governmental entity.

It connects to millions people through its music television network. This partnership to combat people trafficking is, arguably, a strategic decision. From the MTV side, it was a slick move to get a partner like ASEAN. It needed a regional savvy operator to get support from elites and corporations.

For ASEAN, it was a smart move because they know they can’t resolve this huge issue alone: This change will take a whole society. And of course, ASEAN craves a populist platform.

One can now only hope that this wind of change is irreversible, and it continues to sweep through other key areas, including issues human rights.

Most information written by ASEAN is mundane, dreary, sycophantic, courteous and official. Yet, ASEAN leaders dream of building an ASEAN Community by 2015. How could you develop a community if you do not know how to
engage them?

On this very aspect, Surin Pitsuwan, the outgoing secretary-general, has done a remarkable job. Since the very first day he took the job he has had a bold vision: To make ASEAN a household name by 2015. And he has been walking
the talk.

He has been traveling from one ASEAN city to another, telling young people how being part of ASEAN brings benefit to them and the country they live in.

His deeds motivated government officials across the 10 ASEAN countries to do the same thing in their own capacity.

Under his leadership ASEAN’s public relations have undergone significant change.

Today the ASEAN Secretariat actively issues press releases on their undertakings, relaying information to the people on what the organization is doing.

Moreover, earlier this week, the ASEAN website featured Jason Mraz, a world renowned musician on their front page, side by side with pictures of ASEAN leaders! Five years ago, you would never have imagined that ASEAN could be communicative let alone interesting! This is transformational.

This momentum should encourage each and every one of us who believe that a better ASEAN means a better Indonesia (or Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore or any other ASEAN country), region and the world.

And further, it should galvanize us to persevere and believe in our own vision of how to make this regional endeavor work, and to benefit from it.

Things are moving at a pace faster than ever envisaged. Indonesia gained huge popularity in world affairs through astute leadership of ASEAN for these past two years.

 The recent breath of democratic fresh air in Myanmar has led to the first American presidential visit to the country.

The recent edition of The Economist named Asian countries as some of the world’s most stable economies, including landlocked Laos, consisting of 6 million people.

Relatively poor, Laos recently joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). To a slight extent ASEAN, as an entity, contributed to this. In many official meetings I attended, I witnessed how ASEAN countries continuously advocated, in their ASEAN way, Laos’ admission to the WTO.

Lastly, let’s echo Khun Kavi Chongkittavorn’s argument in his recent article “EU’s Nobel Prize:Lessons for ASEAN” that a Nobel Peace Prize for ASEAN is just a matter of time.

We’ve seen how ASEAN has been successful in averting wars, creating intra-regional trade, building the confidence to cooperate, making sure each country benefits from globalization and helping hundreds of thousands people in the Irrawaddy delta during the deadly cyclone Nargis in 2008.

The list goes on. But sustaining the momentum depends on all of us, on our commitment, from top to bottom. I believe regional integration has been beneficial for most of us, if not all, and that transformational change is inevitable and irreversible.

Let’s continue this work together. Let’s make a better ASEAN and a better world.

And please do visit to stand a chance of winning a free ticket to see Jason Mraz perform in Yangon.

And you could be the next agent of change.

Fithya Findie

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