Meeting of minds on South Asia

21 July 2016 | General News
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Mr Wickremesinghe giving the keynote address at the Convention

NUS’ Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) held the South Asian Diaspora Convention (SADC) 2016 on 18 to 19 July, bringing together South Asian business leaders, politicians, policy makers and academics, as well as individuals with a keen in interest in the region, to exchange ideas and build collaborative networks. Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, graced the occasion as Guest-of-Honour, with Special Guest Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, in attendance.

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Mr Tharman (left) speaking with Mr Wickremesinghe (centre), with Ambassador-at-Large Pillai looking on

In his keynote address, Mr Wickremesinghe spelled out the “smart and sustained economic reforms [which Sri Lanka has embarked on] to harness the country’s tremendous potential”. These plans included reducing the budget deficit, reforming the tax law to cut red tape for businesses and formulating a new set of incentives for investment, among others. “South Asia is very much the place to be,” said Mr Wickremesinghe as he went on to list the country’s infrastructural plans such as the setting up of a third port in Trincomalee, development of the hill country, as well as tourism projects on beaches, yachting and cruising.

Welcoming the attendees, ISAS Chairman Ambassador-at-Large Gopinath Pillai said that the Convention had gained greater traction and reach due to its association with NUS and the excellent support from the Singapore government. He also announced two new initiatives that ISAS would be embarking on — the study of Islam in South Asia and the study of India-China relationships.

At the Gala Dinner on 18 July, Guest-of-Honour Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave his views on the challenges and opportunities of globalisation in a forum with Mr Shyam Saran, India’s former Foreign Secretary. Asked if there is room for optimism amid the recent spate of worrying events happening around the world, Mr Lee acknowledged that while these are troubled times, globalisation has delivered considerable benefits to South Asia, China and the world. “The way forward is more globalisation, but also more distribution of the benefits of globalisation to those who have not enjoyed it or those who may be at risk of its side effects,” he stressed.

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Mr Lee (left) and Mr Saran engaged in a lively dialogue during the Gala Dinner

Former President of Singapore Mr S R Nathan was conferred the Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora 2016 award at the dinner, for his long-standing, dedicated and notable work in forging closer bilateral links between Singapore and India. Mr Nathan, the country’s longest-serving President, had previously received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour accorded to people of Indian-origin by the Indian government, in 2012.

During the “Partnership in Education” plenary on 19 July, Principal Speaker NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan said that the world was moving into a very different future, based on the commoditisation of information, which has allowed content to be readily available; commoditisation of skills, where technology is levelling the playing field; and commoditisation of complex thinking, where artificial intelligence is capable of performing tasks currently mastered by humans. “Universities, because of our focus on education, knowledge and preparing for the future, are therefore well-placed to, and should, be key economic drivers of societal and economic advancement but this requires major shifts in the way that universities teach and do their work,” said Prof Tan.

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In his speech during the education plenary, Prof Tan spoke of the different future facing the world

SADC was launched in 2011 and this third edition, held at Raffles City Convention Centre, hosted about 75 speakers and 1,000 guests, almost 300 of whom were from overseas. The event featured various plenary sessions on topics such as infrastructure investment, education and South Asian geopolitics.