So the 26th Asia Pacific Roundtable has come to an end, and so has my first foray into truly international relations at the higher levels. I have learned a great deal over the last two days; a lot that I didn't know about the region, many perspectives that I hadn't thought to consider and even more so about the efficacy, purpose and outcomes of such an event.
Having spent most of the plenary sessions listening intently, attempting to understand not only all that was said but was was being said between the lines certainly was a new (and surprisingly exhausting) experience. I found myself asking not one or two but quite a number of questions of the various panelists; so much so that when I met new participants I no longer had to introduce myself -- I was "Yassmin, from Australia", who asked all the questions.
I was a little unsure as to whether it would be polite or appropriate to ask so many questions, however at the end of the day it was a way for me -- and I hope the rest of the participants -- to learn about a speaker's perspective on a particular nuance of an issue. Most of my questions were quite to the point and as such weren't always answered (i.e. asking a highly ranked US Marines official if he thought the rotational deployment in Darwin was worth the ire Australia was receiving from its ASEAN neighbours for one) but asking them allowed me to:
- Learn to frame my questions in a way that I could clearly articulate to the speakers;
- Listen closely to sessions to see where I had questions or queries;
- Open up avenues of discussion that might not have previously been being explored; and
- Introduce me as an Australian participant to the attendees -- and demonstrating that the "emerging leaders" were taking notice and asking questions.
- The topic of the day is clearly the issue of the South China Sea and how it is to be resolved;
- Australia doesn't seem to factor in any decision making or thought process about the region;
- India seems happy to remain as a "developing country" and doesn't seem ready to step up to the plate as yet;
- ASEAN wishes as a bloc to be in the "driver's seat" and "be providers of security instead of consumers of it..." however there is a long way to go before this is even feasible perhaps?
- North Korea...well, see below;
- Myanmar has been doing fantastically but rebuilding a nation takes time and the region shouldn't expect all the changes to happen at breakneck speed;
- Back door diplomacy is really how things happen;
- The United States, regardless of rhetoric, is interested in the region and sees itself as an important player; and
- The ASEAN way is probably the method of the day.