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Food – Our Common Ground

Food is more important than we think. It fulfils a basic human need for sustenance – rich or poor, young or old – we all need food to survive. Food connects people. Enjoying a meal together with others helps to build and maintain relationships necessary for us to thrive. A universal language, food is a common thread that binds humanity in an increasingly fractured and divided world.  

Home to over 600 million people living across ten countries, ASEAN is rich in diverse and delectable food offerings – sweet, spicy, sour and savoury – you name it, they’ve got it. Want to discover food in this region but don’t know where to start? Fret not. Here’s a guide to help you on your journey in exploring the gastronomic wonders of ASEAN.

Have a Rice Day

Food is an expression of our identity and culture. In some Asian societies, “Have you eaten yet?” is a ubiquitous greeting and conversation starter. Rather than expecting to elicit a detailed response on one’s caloric intake or serve as an invitation to dine, the phrase is a form of phatic communication. In other words, it is communication performing a social function rather than conveying or exchanging useful information or ideas. “Have you eaten yet?” is the equivalent of “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”, greetings commonly used in western societies. These perfunctory greetings play a role in establishing social interactions, based on shared cultural norms and understanding of the social context.

Especially in East Asian societies, it is not uncommon to greet someone with “Have you eaten rice?” For example, the literal meaning of “faahn” and “bap” in “sihk jó faahn meih a?” in Cantonese and “bap meogeosseoyo?” in Korean is “rice”. In these societies, rice is associated with life, health and well-being, and is often used synonymously with food and eating.

“Have you eaten (rice)?” in various Southeast Asian languages. Source: UNESCO

The importance of rice in Asia is not surprising, given that rice is a staple food and main crop in the region. In some ASEAN countries, the rice sector constitutes a big part of the agriculture industry. Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia are among the top exporters of rice in the world. Rice farming is thus a primary source of income in rural areas.

In addition to its vital role in the economy, rice assumes cultural and spiritual importance in a few Southeast Asian communities. In Thailand, ceremonies are conducted to pray to Mae Phosop, the rice goodness, for a bountiful harvest. Respecting the sacredness of rice, farmers in parts of the region go through purification rites before farming. In Bali and Sarawak, farmers are known to purify the paddy fields with holy water before sowing the rice seeds. It is also common in Buddhist and Taoist societies to make rice offerings to ancestral spirits, especially during the Ghost Festival, to remember the dead and offer prayers for blessings and protection.

Rice farmers at work. Source: United Nations University

Winning Hearts and Minds through the Stomach

You may have heard of ping-pong diplomacy and panda diplomacy but have you heard of gastrodiplomacy?

Gastrodiplomacy is the use of food as a diplomatic tool to achieve various objectives. Such campaigns are typically led by the government and aim to enhance relations with other countries and build a positive brand image by promoting and exporting its national dishes to the world.

One of the earliest pioneers of contemporary gastrodiplomacy is Thailand. Today, tom yum is synonymous with Thai cuisine just like sushi is synonymous with Japanese cuisine, thanks to concerted efforts to promote Thai fare. In 2002, the Thai government launched the “Global Thai” campaign to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide, with the broader aim of boosting food exports and tourism revenues. It did so by providing loans to entrepreneurs to open Thai restaurants in foreign markets, training chefs, certifying overseas Thai restaurants to ensure quality standards and authenticity, and exporting Thai agricultural products.

 

Thailand is one of the largest food exporting countries globally. Source: Bangkok Post

The result? A resounding success. The number of Thai restaurants outside Thailand jumped from about 5,500 in 2002 to over 20,000 today. But it is not just about numbers – the successful gastrodiplomacy campaign has led to global understanding and appreciation for Thai cuisine, enhancing Thai cultural presence and influence internationally.

When it comes to food and diplomacy, it would be remiss not to mention the “King of Fruits” – durian, a tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia. Love it or hate it, the thorny fruit is an instrument to advance diplomatic and economic interests.

Under former prime minister Najib Razak’s leadership, Malaysia engaged in durian diplomacy to deepen relations with China where demand for durians is skyrocketing. Since 2004, Thailand was the only country to export fresh durians to China under a special trading arrangement. Limited to exporting frozen durian pulp previously, Malaysia successfully inked an agreement with China in 2018, following several diplomatic discussions, allowing the Southeast Asian country to export frozen whole durians, which fetch a higher price, to China for the first time. The hunger for durians is good news for the tourism industry as Chinese tourists eager to taste the premium Musang King variety flock to various durian festivals across Malaysia. 

The first batch of frozen whole durians from Malaysia to China arrived in Shanghai on 19 June 2019. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

Durian is no stranger to diplomatic events. At the 7th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat at Putrajaya, Malaysia, in December 2016, both countries signed the bilateral agreement on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, after years of bilateral discussions. Dubbed durian diplomacy by Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a Facebook post, the Singapore delegation was served durians to cap a historic day in Malaysia-Singapore relations.

Food for Thought

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” said Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) whose work on gastronomy “The Physiology of Taste” is still widely celebrated till this day. We are what we eat. Food is intricately connected with identity and culture. Food reflects, influences and reinforces identity and culture, and vice-versa.

What does food mean to you? Does it play a considerable role in the construction of culture and identity in your country? How does food connect people in your community?

Food is more than what we put on our plates. Food is the common ground on which we tread.

Source: UNWTO

Towards Sustainable Tourism in ASEAN

Sustainable tourism is defined by the World Tourism Organization as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” In other words, tourism-driven growth should not be achieved at the expense of the well-being of people and the planet.

Philippine Economic Problems : various contributing factors and it’s correlation between Poverty and Health

Philippine Economic Problems : various contributing factors and it’s correlation between Poverty and Health. Good economical conditions are probably one of the most important factors needed to ensure stability, peace amongst nations and thriving human culture. But we can’t deny the fact that most countries in Southeast Asia are suffering from different economical issues and disparity. Inspite of the technological advancements of this modern day ,why is it there are still countries suffering from economic crisis?  Why is it people in some countries having faster economic growth still suffers from poverty? Economic disparity amongst ASEAN country is probably one of the main agendas that should be tackle this year .Even without any information to back it up we can’t deny the fact that poverty is one of the main problem we are facing today. These economic issues can furthermore  lead to other problems in socio-cultural pillar of ASEAN.

These economic issues that most countries has face can be link to the economic problems of the Philippines.Philippines  is an archipelagic country which are made up mostly of more than 7,000 islands located in relation to many of Southeast Asia’s main water bodies: the South China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, and Luzon Strait ,it is also rich and abundant in natural resources and has a high level of biodiversity .It is also a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation since the ASEAN was founded on August 1967.The Philippine economy is an example of mixed economy which includes a variety of private freedom, combined with centralized economic planning and government regulation. According to the 2017 estimate of the International Monetary Fund’s statistics ,Philippines ranks as the world’s 34th largest economy by nominal GDP ,it is also the 13th largest economy in Asia and the 3rd largest economy in ASEAN after Indonesia and Thailand.Its culture like other Southeast Asian countries was influenced by the European and American power, making it a new home of diverse culture and ethnicity. But despite of all of these claims why is it most of its people are still suffering from poverty?

Despite of the economic growth, we can’t deny the fact that poverty rates are still on its highest, even though Philippines has a fast growing economy the declination of poverty rates is very sluggish. Thus ,poverty is also linked to certain economic problems that we cannot ignore, these problems also are the main reason why Filipinos suffered from poverty. These economic problems are the higher rate of unemployment, lack of education, insufficient facilities and poor infrastructure, dependence of overseas remittances and corruption.

 The unemployment rate, according to the report published by the Trading Economics “the unemployment rate of the Philippines dropped to 5.4 percent in the September quarter of 2018 from 5.6 percent a year ago. The number of unemployed persons went down by 50 thousand to 2.32 million while the number of employed increased by 488 thousand to 40.66 million. Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate declined to 60.1 percent from 60.6 percent.  Unemployment Rate in Philippines averaged 8.41 percent from 1994 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 13.90 percent in the first quarter of 2000 and a record low of 4.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016”.Even if the unemployment rate of the Philippines this year dropped it is still higher in comparison with our Asia-Pacific neighbours, Malaysia has 3.4 percent, 2.3 percent in Thailand, and 3.4 percent in Singapore. In South Korea, it was 3.5 percent, Taiwan, 4.3 percent, China, 3.9 percent and Vietnam, 5.6 percent and it cannot still erase the fact that it still don’t have enough job opportunities that can support all the Filipinos, that’s why only few Filipinos seeks job within the country and enter the labor force while the rest find jobs overseas while others ending up leaving the labor force and become unemployed or underemployed. One of the best example for this are the college graduates especially those who were a nursing graduate. Thousands of nursing graduates still don’t have a job because of oversupply of labor force in the field ,and also the country’s education system continues to produce college graduates whose skills don’t necessarily fit with what is in demand in the job market. Along with this is the growing population of the Philippines in which  the pace at which jobs are created simply cannot cope up with steady supply of graduates whom many will find themselves unemployed, as a result many nursing graduates fail to land their dream jobs. Many Filipinos also whom are unemployed wait for job opportunities abroad, and many families depend on remittances from family members who are staying abroad.

Because of the growing number of Filipinos who worked overseas ,the Philippines now ranked as the third largest generator of international worker’s remittances, behind only India and China. Recently, it surpassed Mexico by a margin to become the third largest remittance receiver country.According to the information from the World Bank’s data on immigrant remittances that it analyzes. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data on Filipino international remittances received for the whole year of 2017 amounted to $28.06 billion. According to a report, “this inflow is a substantial contribution to the country’s dollar earnings, providing a substantial prop to the national economy”. The economic growth of the Philippines can primarily be associated to the remittances from the overseas Filipino workers, as well as the growth in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. One of the problems that the Philippine Government should be taken care of is the corruption because even if a country has faster economic growth but it’s money is not distributed properly to its sector it will still not become progressive and also I think the country should not be overly dependent of overseas remittances from Filipinos living abroad because  it just making the nation vulnerable to external shocks .Thats why the current administration should encourage value addition production and manufacturing and build industries for the Filipinos in order to increase employment opportunities .

One of the factors also why Filipinos suffered from poverty is the lack of education .If you can’t read or do basic math, if you can’t show up for work and apply yourself, you will not have a job. You will be poor.Based on the 2017 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS), about nine percent of the estimated 39.2 million Filipinos aged 6 to 24 years old were out-of-school children and youth (OSCY). OSCY refers to family members 6 to 14 years old who are not attending formal school; and family members 15 to 24 years old who are currently out of school, not gainfully employed, and have not finished college or post-secondary course.One of the main cause that affects children’s education is that the insufficient and poor facilities this signifies that students are not receiving their rights of having a sufficiently available and well-maintained school facilities. Indications of having these poor facilities are non-working or poorly maintained public comfort rooms, lack of classrooms, overcrowding in classrooms, poor ventilation, unsanitary and crowded canteens and more. Also some children from mountainous area especially the ethnic groups don’t have access to education.

These economic problems may also be seen in some ASEAN countries.In fact ,according to a report, almost 90 percent of people living in extreme poverty in Southeast Asia are in Indonesia and the Philippines. This issue may also lead to other problems such malnutrition. Merriam Webster defines malnutrition as the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food or not eating enough healthy food .Malnutrition is the very clear result of a countries overwhelming poverty. It is also the hottest issue for many years now. Because of poverty people are being deprived from accessing good and healthy foods which will eventually results to the increasing rate of mortality amongst children. Poverty limits the people from buying a decent meal for their family or even themselves or even if they do have money they will budget it and eat only once a day to save it for the another day .

               These issues are just some of the  issues the country’s are facing today and it is not only be seen in the Philippines but also in the other countries in ASEAN especially those who are still developing countries. These issues also motivates me to participates in the ASEAN Youth Conference in order to use my voice to came up for a possible solution on how to eradicate these issues although it is not that easy to eradicate these issues because it needs a lot of time but the important thing is to lessen the percentage of people suffering from this. I am very passionate on helping and finding a possible solution to this problem because I myself also belongs to the percent of people suffering from poverty and I want to show them and prove to other people like me that poverty is not a hindrance at all ,all we need is a helping hand so that we can finally achieved and make this world a better place to live in. Eventhough we came from different nations ,even if we came from diverse origin but then we are unified amidst diversity because we have the same objective and that is to build a future, a future that is full of hope  and fulfilment. Rise ASEAN , One Vision, One Identity, One Community.

By Gelbert Crescencio, Membership Loyalty Program Officer

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ASEAN Integration is Reality or Just A Dream

For the past years, it cannot be denied that the world is experiencing a drastic shift from the industrial era to the information or digital age. This has brought about a change in almost every sector in society, as well as in the way people in society do things. It has influenced many aspects of the lives in many ways people from earlier times have probably not imagined. One of the most prominent changes that this technological era has shown people, is its impact on communication. Nowadays, it does not even take a minute for a message to reach another person. Establishing and maintaining connection, I believe, is the most significant contribution of communication to the world. Not only individuals but nations around the world as well, has become more connected and engaged with each other. The media and communication have enabled a community of different races to learn and develop a sense of sympathy and care towards other races.

One of the clear manifestations of this is the creation of ASEAN integration. The core aim of this initiative is to boost the economic progress of ASEAN Economic Communities (AEC) through a better flow of products, services, and manpower. This initiative also aims to produce globally competitive workers and professionals, by encouraging students to study in neighboring Asian countries. The Youth integration in this initiative aims not only to increase the student’s knowledge on a specific field of study, but to increase their appreciation towards other cultures, and increase their awareness and participation in issues that concern their country and other countries as well. Through this initiative, the youth can begin to develop the ability to think critically and participate in making decisions that could affect their future. Moreover, this will give them a sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of their respective countries.

With the constant and rapid development of technology, you may think that today’s generation or the so-called ‘Millennials’, is just a generation of entitled children who are just mere receptacles of information handed over by the older generation. However, I would beg to disagree. This generation, through the advancements in technology, has become a generation of youth who have extremely great potentials and bright futures. Many of these ‘millennials’ are young people who are capable of critically analyzing the underlying issues that their nation’s experience. Millennials are capable of recognizing the challenges that hinder the development of their country and able to think through different perspectives, whether it be politically, economically, or socially.

Communication is a vial aspect of cultural appreciation. Through the youth of today may come about language barriers and cultural differences, their ability to easily gather information about other cultures gives them an opportunity to explore and appreciate other cultures, through their own means. Today’s youth have developed a strong sense of volunteerism, charity, and nationality that is enough to promote intercultural participation and partnership in each nation. With all this being said, I, therefore, conclude that the ASEAN Integration is a reality constructed by all nations that aspire betterment of their whole wellbeing. Though there may be failures along the way, the spirit of cooperation and understanding has definitely paved a good path for ASEAN nations.

Written by Nana Waehama, Academic Relations Manager

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Volunteerism

As we all know, volunteering is an activity which takes place through not-for-profit and community organizations and projects or local community and is undertaken to be of benefit to the community and the volunteer. One of organization that open for volunteering  is ASEAN Youth Organization, a one stop sharing organization in ASEAN.

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2017, a Special Year for ASEAN

2017 is a very special year for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This regional organization is commemorating its 50th anniversary on August 8th. This year, ASEAN is also commemorating its 40th anniversary of partnership with couples of its strategic partners, the United States of America and the European Union. Since its foundation, ASEAN has been progressing on its role in the global dynamics such as security, economy, and social aspects through the high commitment of its member and intensive cooperation with its strategic partners.

Founded on August 8th,1967, ASEAN has become a huge market as it possesses more than 626 million people within its members. Founded by five countries, ASEAN has successfully maintained its regional stability and even could engage five more countries as members. With 10 countries, ASEAN has done many things for the development of the region and the country-members and became a strategic market for the global economy through its $2.4 Trillion economies of the members.

50 years of ASEAN signifies a well-established regional organization. Although there are several obstacles and challenges like South China Sea dispute, ASEAN can prove that Southeast Asia is a peaceful region in the midst of the diversity of the members’ political systems, culture, languages, and races. ASEAN also can prove that its authentic “The ASEAN Way” through its non-intervention from each member and consensus policymaking. Even though some people think that ASEAN could do more, a peaceful, worth, and promising Southeast Asia is answering all doubts.

The peaceful region shaped a strong very commitment and partnership within 10 members. Intra-ASEAN investment is currently the largest foreign direct investment of ASEAN. The average economic growth of its member is up to 5 percent. Today, ASEAN as an economic bloc represents the fifth largest economy in the world. It is even projected improving, and become the fourth-largest economy in 2050.

Partnership with the United States

ASEAN’s success in maintaining security and improving the economy is also enhanced by its strong cooperation with strategic partners. Furthermore, ASEAN’s success story makes it a trusted organization for other countries. It is already a consequence that other countries are interested in opening cooperation with ASEAN, one of which is the United States (U.S.).

U.S.-ASEAN partnership was started in 1977 when both were becoming dialogue partners. The cooperation became more robust in the 1990s when the U.S. launched economic programs that contain education, transfer of technology, and trade and investment. Afterward, the partnership became much stronger when Barack Obama took the administration and made a strategic rebalance of US efforts towards Asia.

Realizing the importance of its huge market, the U.S. initiated several strategic diplomacies. U.S. became the first non-ASEAN country to name an Ambassador to ASEAN back in 2008. In 2010, U.S. established Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta and appointed the first resident Ambassador in the following year. At the moment, U.S. and ASEAN have several strong cooperation in five general aspects including economic integration, maritime cooperation, ASEAN as emerging leaders, the opportunity for women, and addressing traditional challenges.

40 years of partnership provides huge impacts on the economic area. U.S. provides a huge number of investments in ASEAN. In 2015, the investment value was $12 million, or equivalent to an 11.1 percent share of ASEAN foreign direct investment from 2010 to 2015. The number of U.S. global companies is also doubling, reaching over 1.500 U.S. companies operating in ASEAN. All those huge numbers caused by ASEAN stability as proof of a trusted market.

Partnership with the European Union

One of the strategic partners of ASEAN is the European Union (EU). As a well-integrated regional organization, the EU is much needed by ASEAN as its example of a good regionalization. Otherwise, ASEAN’s large market is needed by the EU, even though the EU itself has a large market with approximately 510 million people.

The EU-ASEAN partnership was initiated in the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on July 5th-8th 1977. At that time, the forum agreed on formal cooperation and relationship with the European Economic Community (EEC). Later on, the cooperation was institutionalized in 1980 with the signing of the ASEAN-EEC Cooperation Agreement. Since then, the dialogue is rapidly growing until both produced the Nuremberg Declaration in 2007, a long-term vision and commitment to reach mutual benefits and common goals. Meanwhile, EU-ASEAN cooperation currently covers 3 areas, including political cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation.

The EU’s trust in ASEAN is shown at the high value of its investments and trades. In 2015, the EU invested around EUR 20 million, the second-largest after the Intra-ASEAN investment. That number is similar to 16.7 percent of ASEAN’s total foreign direct investment. EU is ASEAN’s second-largest trade partner after China, with a total share of 13.1 percent. Otherwise, ASEAN is the EU’s third-largest trade partner outside Europe, after the U.S. and China, with a total of EUR 201.6 billion in 2015.

The Optimism

With its commemoration of its foundation and initiation of a partnership with two strategic partners, ASEAN remains optimistic of its future. The experts consider ASEAN as the most advanced regional organization in the world after the EU. The status quo of its organization and its partnership shows that the future is very bright. 50 years of the organization shows the maturity of its operations, and 40 years of partnership with the U.S. and EU shows that ASEAN is trustable and promising.

But, the challenges will become much harder. The dynamics of international security that is harmed by terrorism, the uncertainty of the global economy, and the unpredictable political phenomenon could come every time. ASEAN should regard all of those commemorations as important preparations for future dynamics, for rapid improvement of the organization in the midst of all tough challenges, and for the maintenance and improvement of all-important relations including with the U.S. and EU.

Author: Fadhil Hazmi M, Program Development Officer of A.Y.O. Indonesia