|Clipping from Indonesian Mandarin-language newspaper, Guoji Ribao,1 August 2012|
On 27-28 July 2012, I was invited to participate in the China-ASEAN Symposium held at Guizhou University, Guiyang, PRC.
It was my first trip to Guiyang, a city in the southwest of China which has been left behind by the progress of today's China. A city colored by the diverse traditions, languages, and customs of the Miao, Buoyi, and other ethnic minorities. A city which often calls itself as the "reddest" (i.e. most Communist) in the country. A city which is only now catching up to the economic miracle already savored by China's coastal cities.
The symposium itself was quite a productive occasion. At the heart of the discussions was the progress of cooperation between ASEAN and China as well as the state of studies in China, ASEAN, and ASEAN-China relations. In addition to Southeast Asia and ASEAN experts from all over China, the symposium organizers also invited experts from all ASEAN member countries, except Vietnam (apparently the Vietnamese had been invited, but couldn't respond in time).
I found the discussions, including during coffee breaks and meals, very honest. The Chinese academics spoke their minds, which often is a more flowery regurgitation of the government's position. However, many times these academics also talked about the worries China live with, thus showing a more human face to the rising power that China is.
At a time when China-ASEAN relations seem to face a slight hiccup, following incidents in the South China Sea and the recent AMM debacle (in which the Cambodians have been accused of succumbing to Chinese pressure in its handling of the ASEAN Chairmanship), the symposium provided a means to once again recognize the benefits and value (as well as challenges) of the ASEAN-China partnership.
I had a good time there. Both because of the conference, but also because of the chance to visit yet another part of China which I had never been too. I've studied this country and lived in it for some time. I'm no expert, but I'd like to think of myself as an avid observer. And yet, there are always surprises around the corner; places, people, and things that make me marvel, raise my eyebrows, smile, and what-have-you.
I love this job...