Youth need to be concerned about regional affairs

Despite being in the most educated country in the region, Singaporean youth generally exhibit a relatively weak understanding of and familiarity with regional affairs, unless it affects them on an individual level.

A study conducted in 2007 by the Asean Foundation found that only 50 per cent of students claimed to be somewhat familiar with Asean.

This year, the Association of Public Affairs Singapore conducted a survey on civic attitudes and policy awareness of Singaporean youth leaders to evaluate young people's attitudes towards politics, current affairs and policy issues.

This quick opinion poll found that there is a gross apathy for Singapore's immediate region.

In an interdependent world, citizens need to be concerned not only about domestic affairs but those at the regional level as well.

In the case of Singapore, long-term sustainability and security of the country are highly dependent on the international economy as well as foreign relations; internal conflicts in neighbour states can spill over and affect Singapore negatively.

Thus, Singapore's involvement in Asean plays an important and strategic role for the country's sustainable development.

Why should Singaporeans care about Asean and regional affairs? The fallout from the falling Malaysian ringgit, the recent haze and the United States' recent involvement in the South China Sea could seriously undermine regional security and rattle investors' confidence. Can we remain apathetic to such matters?

Transnational crimes and other non-traditional security issues, such as pandemics, can have dire consequences for Singapore.

How many of us are aware that the region is gearing up for the establishment of an economic community at the end of this year? Or that Asean states are advocating free movement of labour between member states, which goes against Singaporeans' hope for a tighter immigration policy?

When Singaporeans are indifferent towards regional affairs, government leaders will also find it hard to initiate or implement policies to fulfil regional goals such as the Asean Socio-Cultural Community.

There is a long way to go before citizens of the region can say "Asean makes a difference to my life". But Singaporean youth should start to be more concerned about regional affairs and take a keen interest in promoting good relations among member nations in the grouping.

Oh Ying Jie (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Youth need to be concerned about regional affairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe