Monday, November 16, 2009

The Leaders I met in Singapore

As Kelly and others have already mentioned, the APEC conference this year provided us with a pretty amazing level of access to world leaders and policy makers. I would like to expand upon the “political and professional contacts” I made during the week.

The first list includes people I met and/or interviewed through the week. The depth of these conversations varied, though most were substantive. They aren’t listed in any particular order. Note: “H.E.” stands for “His Excellency”

• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who also autographed last week’s Time magazine!)
• Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, H.E. Shaukat Aziz (credited with successful macroeconomic stabilization schemes in the country, former finance minister as well)- Picture, above
• Peter Scher (Executive VP for Global Government Relations and Public Policy, JP Chase Morgan): also credited with negotiating China’s successful ascension to the World Trade Organization (WTO)
• John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand (with two other cabinet-level officials)
• Kurt Campbell (Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; also U.S. diplomat in charge of negotiations in Myanmar for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners)
• Lieutenant General Paul Selva (Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)
• H.E. SR Nathan (President of Singapore)
• Teo Ser Luck (Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Chairman, National Youth Council in Singapore)
• Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan (Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports in Singapore)
• Dr. Charles Morrison, President of the East-West Center
• Eduardo Pedrosa (Secretary General of PECC- The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council)
• Jusuf Wanandi (Vice Chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, Indonesia)
• Cynthia Brown (U.S. embassy in Bangkok, Thailand)
• Tristram Perry (U.S. embassy in Indonesia)
• Madhu Konero (Group CEO, MEC Holdings)

I also had the opportunity to meet with and discuss APEC-related issues with other government officials from Singapore as well as various staff from the U.S. embassy in Singapore.

In addition, there was an impressive array of heads-of-state, business leaders, and policy makers that gave addresses in the main conference hall where we had access. These included: prime ministers of Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Singapore, and Japan, as well as the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Sec. of Commerce Gary Locke, and executive officials for major corporations such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Price Water House Coopers, and the editor of Forbes magazine, among many others.

Overall, I was able to meet people during breaks sessions during the APEC CEO summit, and our media credentials with Voices of the Future gave us access to the main hall where these speeches and panels took place. Some major news items that occurred while we were there included the announcement of the U.S.’s decision to “engage” with the Trans Pacific Partnership (basically, a new Free Trade Agreement scheme) , the Australian PM’s announcement (or, rather, articulation) of a regional governing structure (like the EU, but not as much power or ceded sovereignty), as well as various commitments for the upcoming climate negotiations (COP 15) to be held in Copenhagen this December (where a re-negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol is on the top of the agenda).

All of these connections and opportunities for access were made through a combination of strategic planning and sheer luck. A special thanks is in order for my roommate during the week, Hasiba, who works with the Ministry for Youth in Singapore and helped make many of the connections with Singaporean government officials.

Guess What?... A “Rising Tide” doesn’t lift all boats!

Dez: (some thoughts on lectures last Tuesday...)

Neo-liberalism and a strong believe in “hands-off” free market policies are actually in short supply among the speakers we have heard so far. For the most part, the economic crisis has been blamed on a lack of regulation in financial and other industries, along with an “absence of values” among business leaders worldwide.

On Tuesday morning, we heard from a variety of dynamic speakers, and two in particular caught my attention. The first, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, is Singapore’s Minister for Community Development, Youth, and Sports. The second, Mr. Ho Kwon Ping, is the Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings Limited (a worldwide hotel chain) as well as a higher-level administrative official for Singapore Management University.

I didn’t expect someone like Dr. Balakrishnan, who holds a ministerial-level position in government, to speak so candidly on his views of globalization and the world economy. But, then again, you have to recognize that protectionist measures with trade that the U.S. uses to give its exports an advantage (i.e. tariffs on imports, a decrease in foreign investment, etc.) have a very negative impact on a country such as Singapore. Namely, the country is an island that doesn’t provide enough food to feed itself, and most of its exports are technological.

Dr. Vivian pointed out that economic liberalization has benefited the world as a whole, but not all sectors of society are benefitting in an equal fashion. The fall in foreign direct investment will hurt, and certainly not help, the global economy. “Have we really learned the right lessons from the economic crisis?” he said. “History repeats itself… and we must ask ourselves in which scenario is the greater good achieved.” Meetings such as APEC are crucial for the region, but we also need to put our money where our mouths are and crank out real, sustainable change and not just empty promises to make the world a better place for all to live.

The other speaker, “Mr. Ho,” was the second for the Voices of the Future opening plenary. His advice to the audience was for us all to pursue careers in investment banking, make lots of money, and funnel our profits into sustainable development. The world doesn’t need bureaucrats who commit their lives to careers in international development, per se, but we need to invest in entrepreneurship to help people help themselves. This is the solution to global poverty, not major governments just getting together and making promises that never keep.

Indeed, Mr. Ho himself has an interesting background, but his arguments were not without contradictions. Inspired by the likes of Che Guevara as a youth, he backpacked instead throughout Southeast Asia in his pursuit to find how he could best improve conditions in the world. And somehow he became an investment banker and eventual CEO.

His speech was certainly captivating, but the other Furman delegates and I found issue with his call for “moral values” in global business. At the end of the day, you can’t deny the fact that businesses exist to make money, and there is no universal set of “values” (a question that Kelly specifically asked of him). Also, his citation of Samuel Huntington to answer a question was disappointing— credible academics have mostly dismissed his theories as racist and ethnocentric. In a multi-ethnic world like ours today, viable societies will be based on how a diversity of peoples can work together. In my opinion, Huntington's description of a looming "clash of civilizations" played all to nicely into a fear of "the other" that was deepened after 9/11.

Even with my likes and dislikes, I must say these two speakers were very dynamic. Neither of them seemed restrained by their political or business associations, and both of them presented themselves in ways I wouldn't have expected.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hillary Clinton and others

As Hannah mentioned in her previous post, the access we have been given to high ranking officials, business people, etc has been absolutely incredible.

Two days ago (one of our supposed less interesting days), Dez and I ended up being able to stay around the ABAC (business leaders) meeting for the day and it paid off. I got to interview the Assistant US Secretary of State to Asia (2nd in command for Asia after Hillary Clinton), Secretary Clinton's military advisor who is also advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a variety of other state department members like press secretaries and communications officers. I can not explain how incredible this was, particularly since I have a strong interest in the State Department and international relations. Furthermore, because we were able to speak with these people, Dez (with some Canadian delegates) were actually able to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and sit in on her press conference.

Meeting Secretary Clinton and sitting in the second row of a major international press conference was something I never expected to have the opportunity to do. One thing that happened yesterday that actually rivals the experience, however, was the interview Voices of the Future set up for me and my 4 teammates to interview Michael Elliot, editor and top writer for Time Magazine International. This man was the leading reporter on Al Qaeda after 9/11, worked for the Economist, and is without a doubt one of the top print journalists in the world. We were able to ask about challenges he faced in reporting then and now, particularly in the Middle East, and if he regrets any of his initial work on terrorism.

I am not alone in these opportunities. Hannah was the lead interviewer for the executive VP of JP Morgan, Cary has been interviewed by top Chinese news networks, and Dez has made some huge political and professional connections.

Today we have a meeting with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Today and tomorrow are supposed to be the biggest and most exciting days, but I am not sure how you can possibly beat the days we have had so far...

An Awesome Interview


One of the best parts of this conference is the unprecedented access that we have to VIPs. Two days ago, we had the opportunity to go to the ABAC meetings, mainly to check out the area where we'll be participating in the CEO summit etc. But, my group got lucky, because the Voices of The Future program set up an interview with Peter Scher for my small group (Kelly and Dez also got to sit in on it). Scher is the Vice President of Global Government Policy and International Relations for JP Morgan Chase. I think the spirit of the interview was to hold him up for about twenty minutes, but my group asked him questions for a solid 45 minutes, after which time, Dr. Gordon talked to him and he agreed to come speak at Furman. Scher was one of the lead negotiators that helped China join the World Trade Organization, so his insight into global economic issues is one of the most impressive in the field.

Being an employee of a huge financial institution, Scher also has a lot of insight regarding how to prevent future financial crises. He talked a lot about the need for government regulation to be combined with institutional values. This part of the interview was especially inspiring to me because it is easy for me to be disillusioned with the ethical failures of many businesses, and hearing a higher up at a financial institution say that values are important gave me hope for the future of market economies everywhere. According to Scher, institutions should work to create an environment of transparency, diligence, and responsibility. Transparency refers to everyone should know what he or she is doing enough to explain it to anyone else. Diligence is simply hard work. Responsibility is the idea that each person should be encouraged to voice their concerns at anytime, and they should feel the obligation to do so. Although Scher may simply have a charismatic presence, I felt like he was being genuine, and that he himself embodies the values that he lauded to us.

In addition to enjoying the interview immensely, I have never been so impressed by my liberal arts education as I was during that day. We only had about twenty minutes to prepare for the interview, and most of the members of my group had a really hard time coming up with insightful questions to ask Scher, but I, along with the one other delegate who attends a liberal arts school, had an easy time deciding what piece of insight we wanted from Scher that we couldn't get from the internet. It seems that all those philosophy classes have actually paid off, because we had a handle on balancing the flow of conversation with the ability to direct it. I usually don't believe my professors when they say that they are teaching us to think for ourselves, but after that interview, I'm a believer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We met the president of Singapore and went on a night safari


Tuesday began bright and early with a wake up call at 7:15 a.m. or 6:15 p.m. back on the east coast. Breakfast lasted from 8-8:50 and is done in a very western style. They serve eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, croissants, and many other breakfast items one might find back in the United States. The buses left promptly at 9:00 for the opening ceremony of the Voices of the Future program. As we have all learned, the Singaporeans place a huge emphasis on punctuality and following the predetermined schedule. It seems that every fifteen minutes of the day is planned out. We arrived at Singapore Management University to hear the speakers for the day. The first was Dr. Vivian Balikrishnan, the Minister of Community Development. He spoke about the global economic recession and the measures the global economies are taking to address the problems. Also, he emphasized the role that the youth would play in building a better future. After he spoke a tea break ensued, and Dez, Kelly, and I met him with Dr. Gordon. Hannah was not present because she was being interviewed by a Chinese television station. Following tea, Mr. Ho Kwon Ping, the CEO of Banyan Tree Holdings, a prominent Asian hotel corporation, spoke and provided a great deal of shock to the audience. He gave a very blunt speech and led off with the question: How can the youth listen to the older generation when they have created the current problems of climate change and the global economic recession? He emphasized a need for greater social entrepreneurship and a return of morals to the business world. He probably articulated his disdain for investment bankers at least three times during his speech. A panel discussion ensued with two other businessmen from Singapore and the students were allowed to ask questions. Kelly and I both took advantage of the opportunity. Following the panel discussion, we had lunch even though they seem to feed us at every break. I will probably gain some weight on this trip. Our opportunity to meet the president of Singapore came after lunch when we went to The Istana, official state grounds where many Heads of State are met by the Singaporean president. President S R Nathan arrived around three o'clock. He took the time to shake everyone students hand. After the president completed his rounds, I had the opportunity to approach Dr. Balikrishnan again because he had accompanied the president to The Istana. I asked him about race relations in his country, and how the lessons Singaporeans have learned could be applied in the United States. After meeting the president everyone returned to the hotel to get ready for the Night Safari and dinner. We all had a buffet dinner at the night safari that had dishes from most of the member economies. Once people finished their dinner, the night safari awaited. On the night safari there were a number of different animals from tropical areas in Asia, Africa, and South America. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it and the native tribal dancers who continuously walked around the park beating their drums and dancing. Tuesday was a great day for the entire Furman APEC group, and Wednesday promises to be quite exciting as it is the first day of the ABAC meetings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Duckboats and spicy octopus


After a few hours of sleep we began day 1 of our adventure today (some as early as 5am depending on our ability to defy time zones and sleeping patterns). Our first official meeting isn't until 6:15 tonight when we have a welcome dinner and training session on interviewing world leaders,so we spent the day exploring Singapore. The city/country has been completely taken over by APEC (meaning roads are blockade, welcome signs cover every inch of the city, etc). Our favorite part of the day: almost everything we would want to do is free for us as APEC delegates. All transportation is taken care of for example. Even better, we went on a duck boat tour (vehicle that travels on land and in the water) which is valued at $30, but was free for us. Also free is the $20 ferris wheel ride(think the London Eye but 30 meters bigger) and 12 other activities and museums.

When we told the organizing committee we were wandering around today they sent two Singaporeans with us as guides, and besides the tour we went on,we also explored markets, went to two temples, and sampled some local cuisine (Hannah ate the "Spicy Octopus Hot Plate"... she almost died).

Essentially, I (and we) love Singapore. If I could figure out a way to stay longer I would, and the meetings haven't even begun yet. The architecture here is amazing (seriously), the food is delicious and the people are incredibly accommodating. I am really excited for dinner tonight when we get to meet all the other delegates...

We Made It!

After much anxious anticipation, we finally made it to Singapore. We met at 5:30 Friday morning at Furman, and we arrived in Singapore at 1:30AM on Monday. In total, we spent about 32 hours travelling, took three planes, and ate four meals aboard an airplane.

The plane ride from Atlanta to Tokyo was by far the most adventurous. Dez, Kelly and I sat together. Whenever Kelly or I had to get up to stretch or use the restroom; we didn't ask the others to get up. We simply climbed over one another using the armrests as stepping stones. Once I accidently kneed Dez in the face when she was sleeping. Cary only got up once during the entire 14 hour flight. This happened at the ten hour mark. His seatmate slept nearly the entire time. We predict that he took a sleeping pill.

The plane from Tokyo to Singapore was much nicer than the plane from Atlanta to Tokyo. We had leather seats and our own personal televisions which showed a wide variety of movies and TV shows. Cary's television was the only one that didn't work in the entire plane.

When we arrived in Singapore, we were immediately greeted by two college aged women with signs for the APEC delegates. 25 feet later, 3 men from APEC came to greet us, and they helped me with my rolling carry on.

Instead of going through regular customs, we had our OWN line. That's right; we didn't have to wait for customs! This line was reserved for APEC delegates only, and it only took us about six minutes for ten of us to go through customs. After going through customs, another four or five students greeted us and helped us with our bags. Finally, three more students met us and showed us to our shuttle which took us to the hotel. One student rode with us, and I pestered him the entire time about a variety of Singaporean trivia. Some facts that I learned include that Changi is a type of tree, and tons of things are named after it. And There is a huge ferris wheel called the Singapore Flyer which is 30 meters taller than the London eye. I guess Singapore does not have royalty, but they pretty much treated us like we were royalty. Dr. Gordon said that on a scale of 1 to 10, this APEC has been a 12 so far. I have given it about a 25!

When we got to the hotel, we checked in and got some pretty sweet SWAG, and we were thankfully each given a room. As soon as I got to my room, I pretty much conked out.