Bachelor of International Relations/Bachelor of Laws (Hons) student, Yasmin Poole, recently returned from the APEC Conference in Papua New Guinea. She gives us a brief recount of her experience.
When I boarded my flight to Papua New Guinea to attend the APEC Conference, I had no idea what to expect. What does diplomacy really look like? What kind of people will I meet? What is Papua New Guinea really like?
I have always been interested in foreign affairs and the Pacific. However, this was my first foray into the region and travelling to a developing country. Despite the nerves, only a few seconds after arriving at PNG, I was greeted by smiling locals welcoming us to their country. As myself and other youth delegates left the airport, we were followed by local PNG paparazzi - a pretty unique experience!
We began the conference with the youth summit 'APEC Voices of the Future'. 80 youth delegates from 21 APEC nations, including myself, were tasked with constructing the APEC Youth Declaration. This document is sent to APEC leaders and outlines the key issues facing young people across the region, representing the voices of over a billion APEC youth. No pressure!
We began our day with a series of presentations, in which delegates spoke about their respective economies and issues facing young people. It was powerful to hear from local perspectives - I learned about Thailand's budding start up ecosystem and how it is assisting local farmers, Canada's initiatives in gender equality in parliament and the experiences of a delegate growing up in rural China.
We also discussed what an inclusive economy means for us all. Japan's delegates raised the issue of reducing mental health stigma, whilst New Zealand's delegates discussed their work to empower Māori and Indigenous cultures. I was continually struck by each delegate's passion, open mindedness and intelligence.
After the youth meetings, myself and the rest of the Australian delegation were lucky to meet with the Australian High Commissioner and his team. There was much to discuss - Australia's foreign policy initiatives in PNG, the rise of China, gender equality and improving trade relations.
We also asked about foreign aid, which was very visible in the country. We had visited many buildings that were funded by Australia Aid, such as several University of Papua New Guinea lecture theatres or their recently constructed museum. In turn, we travelled on China Aid buses, saw many China Aid bus stops and roads lined with Chinese flags. It was different, absolutely - but hit home at the importance of foreign aid and how Australia can improve in future.
An undoubtable highlight was the official APEC CEO Conference itself. We spent the first day hearing from top business figures across the region, including executives from the World Trade Organisation, Time Magazine and law firm DLA Piper. The speeches implored action against protectionism, embracing a digital future and creating a better society for young people and future generations. We also spent the night networking with APEC business leaders on the official APEC Cruise Ship - another pinch yourself moment!
The second day involved hearing from major APEC leaders, including our very own Scott Morrison, alongside Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States Vice President Mike Pence. This, for me, is when I really saw soft diplomacy in action. The tension between Xi and Pence was unmistakeable, with Pence taking a hard line "America First" approach and Xi opting for rhetoric regarding collaboration and removing sanctions. It was confronting, but incredible to sit and hear the speeches that later made headlines around the world.
Ultimately, as an APEC delegate astutely pointed out - our youth conference was called 'Voices of the Future' but was just as much 'Ears of the Future'. We observed, listened, watched and learnt - from each other, from APEC leaders and just being in PNG. Sometimes that is the best way to understand rather than doing the talking.
More information about the Bachelor of International Relations/Bachelor of Laws (Hons) double degree can be found on the ANU Programs and Courses website.