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Take an Asia Minute to Discover the Diversity of the Asia-Pacific Region

By Curtis S. Chin | Published: March 12, 2019

Two years ago, I made the pivot to digital video. Armed with an iPhone, I had a simple goal.

I wanted to complement the op-eds that I regularly write on Asia and on U.S.-Asia ties and provide an easy-to-understand-and-access and more visual (and hopefully more entertaining) resource about the Indo-Pacific region. 

My intended audience? Teachers, students and would-be travelers to what remains the most dynamic region in the world — Asia.  Whether discussing the economic challenges or sampling the food of the region, I wanted to share some of the sights and sounds, as well as ideas and questions that I have had the chance to explore in destinations across Asia as a business person, former U.S. ambassador, Milken Institute Asia Fellow and plain ole’ tourist.

And so, my Asia Minute with Curtis S. Chin YouTube Channel was born. 

With the help of friend and Southeast Asia analyst Jose B. Collazo, I launched a series of one-minute videos on Asia. Each “Asia Minute” focuses on a topic that can spark a conversation, a discussion, a trip or, if nothing else, a “Google search” to learn more.  Appearing every month or two, topics of the Asia Minute videos have ranged from the looting of ancient Cambodia (and what it might mean to museums today) to China’s “One Belt One Road” infrastructure initiative, and from the plastic pollution that plagues the Pacific Ocean to one of the more popular episodes, about "Crazy Rich Asia" with author Kevin Kwan. 

 

 

“Think about it!” is my mantra.  Think about Asia, in all its diversity. Think about all the forces shaping Asia, and how best to navigate a world in transition as Asia rises. And think too about the intertwined paths of Asia and America.  

For too many people, China alone defines Asia for them. That’s somewhat understandable given that it is China—for good and for bad—that dominates news headlines from the region these days.

China’s economy has grown to the second largest in the world, after that of the United States. Its presence is increasingly seen and felt through products that are either “made in China” or perhaps, like many Apple products, “assembled in China,” and through the ever-growing numbers of Chinese tourists. Asia has also witnessed an increasingly assertive, if not aggressive, China in the South China Sea.

It’s also understandable that India, with its rich culture and diversity, and its own global diaspora, is included in many people’s vision of the Asia Pacific—make that the Indo-Pacific—region. The great civilizations of China and India have shaped large parts of the region.

Here though, is an underlying message of many of my Asia Minute videos: Asia is much more than China and India. 

Take time to learn about and better understand in particular the diversity that is Southeast Asia. This includes the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

 

 

Many are surprised to learn that Indonesia is the fourth largest nation by population in the world, and has some 18,000 islands, including world-famous Sumatra, Java and Bali. It is also the largest majority Muslim nation in the world.

Together, the countries of ASEAN have a population of more than 635 million, an economy valued at $2.4 trillion and a landmass covering more than 1.7 million square miles.

Collectively, the ASEAN nations ranked fourth after Canada, Mexico and China as a goods export market for the United States in 2015, and the United States is the fourth largest trading partner for ASEAN. The Southeast Asia region is also the largest destination of U.S. investment in Asia.

The ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, officially launched in 2015, brings freer movement of goods, services, investment and skilled labor, and also freer flow of capital, and underscores the region's commitment to a single 10-nation common market. And given the diversity of cultures, languages and religions of ASEAN, Americans may well be pleased to know that English is ASEAN’s working language.

By some counts, 1,000 dialects are spoken in the 10 member states of ASEAN, including reportedly 726 across the Indonesian archipelago, about 150 in the Philippines and approximately 130 in Malaysia, according to the South China Morning Post.

Amidst ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions, it is even clearer that Americans should pay more attention to Southeast Asia.

 

 

Come explore the region, from the world-famous beaches of Thailand to the skyscrapers of crazy rich Singapore to the many ‘second cities’ that are off the beaten path.

The diversity of opportunity that is Asia goes well beyond China and India alone, and exploring that may well begin with simply an Asia Minute of your time.

About the Author

Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group LLC and the inaugural Asia Fellow of the Milken Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @CurtisSChin.

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