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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (July 2016)

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The historic referendum and one with far reaching ramifications, has confirmed Britain’s exit from the European Union. The run up to the vote was bitter and exposed all the differences within British society, not least of which is the fact that most of those who voted to leave had earlier supported the entry into Europe. Within two generations, roughly, the same voters have come full circle and decided against staying in the European Union. There are two aspects to this referendum that are of utmost relevance to Asia and its endeavours to make this its century.

There is, of course, the most discussed issue of the sharp age division within the referendum. More than 70 percent of those under the age of 35 have voted to stay within Europe. Whereas the majority of those above that age have turned the tables on Brussels and exited the European Union. This has deep implications for where society, generally, is heading. The younger populations around the world see themselves increasingly as global citizens and not just the flag wavers of a particular political or geographical entity. The Internet and its power of providing seamless connectivity all across the world, is obviously the key factor behind this global citizen appeal.

The other and as important an issue, is that of trading isolation over integration. Britain has always had a different sense of self when it comes to Europe. Voices against the ‘transnational bureaucracy’ of Brussels have always found an ear in Britain. Its history, and emergence as an empire, happened despite opposition from within Europe. In fact even as its empire emerged overseas and in other continents, it’s war fighting remained most intense with European countries. From Waterloo onwards such battles have come to be ingrained in British folklore thereby, accentuating the sense of self as being different from the rest of Europe. It has now returned to its deep desire to once again become an island, albeit now, one without the benefits of a global empire.

Both of these factors pose important challenges for Asia and its ambition to make this its century. Asian youth increasingly travel to countries within the continent, as tourists and as business people. And there are an increasingly large number who live and work in other Asian countries. Asian children have grown up in other countries, speaking local languages with as much ease as their own native tongue. These are the integrators of Asia, the dynamos of change that this continent desperately needed. It is possible, for example, to find a Mandarin speaking Indian girl teaching the language in New Delhi. And fluent enough to be a teacher. The reverse is also possible.

Then there are those who continue to live and work with the old outlook of an insular Asian, deeply suspicious of the ‘other’, refusing to acknowledge, let alone integrate, with the larger interests of the continent. There is an age divide in Asia, much as Britain has just vividly displayed its own generational divisions. The younger Asian is willing to move elsewhere for work, while the older ones hold on with desperation, wanting to keep the ‘foreign’ out. Who is a foreign and who is a native in this Wi-Fi driven world of connectivity, instant messaging and news, is actually a purple argument. Or at least so it seems with logic. But in this game of integration and isolation logic doesn’t always seem to succeed. There are clearly other, louder, voices playing with popular sentiment. That populist sentiment was on display in the run up to the British referendum. And it is on air regularly in Asia.

‘Asian Century’ is an appealing vision for this the most dynamic and diverse continent. But it is a dream only achievable if the people and their leaders accelerate the path of integration. Isolationist tendencies, already entrenched in Asian societies, will prevent the continent from reaching the goal of an Asian Century. That goal can only be reached with greater market, societal, security and political integration. And certainly in that order of preference, since market integration is always a safer bet than the last hurdle, political integration. The youth have a preference, whether in Britain or in Brunei, it is for the nay sayers to read the writing on the wall. Encouraging integration is the surest route to achieving the Asian Century goal, while isolation is certain to keep Asia mired in conflict and controversy. The choice is stark and the result is as apparent.

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