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Asia Pacific Week (APW) 2021 not only marked the 11th year of the event, but also signified the second year of a fully online, virtual conference, hosted by a committee of 13 ANU students supported by their academic convenor Katerina Teaiwa and the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific (CAP). Over four days from 21–24 June, 80 delegates from over 17 countries and 31 universities listened to and participated in a wide range of academic panels, discussion workshops and social activities.
APW has, throughout its history, functioned as an interdisciplinary event that attracts students and young professionals from all over the world, all with diverse backgrounds, languages and stories. Through a week of thought-provoking panels, debates and workshops, as well as a vibrant social schedule, it aims to bring together young individuals and equip them with the requisite knowledge, skills and empathy to become compassionate leaders of change in the dynamic Asia and Pacific regions. Given the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was hosted online this year too, as it was in 2020. Though restricted by the inherent difficulties of a lack of face-to-face contact, the opportunities presented by the online platform were undeniable, with this format granting far greater flexibility in the face of constantly changing travel advice, and the ability to cut across barriers previously imposed by time or budgetary restrictions to reach individuals in far corners of the world.
As such, the organising committee and invited panellists, guest speakers, and experts settled, alongside the 80 virtually participating delegates online, into what has increasingly been the new norm: learning, engaging and broadening horizons through a fully virtual environment. APW again this year experimented with new technologies and the wonders of Zoom and Zoom Webinar platforms to bring to their delegates an experience that was as seamless, integrated and personalised as it could be through a computer screen.
In choosing the theme for this year, ‘Unveiling Layers of Crises: Learning from the past, reimagining the future,’ the committee was mindful of not only the most obvious crises facing us in the immediate future—COVID-19—but also the layered consequences of numerous other crises in our region that have gone unrecognised or under-acknowledged. The delegates and the committee reflected upon past pandemics, past conflicts and past successes in the hope of reimagining our approach to those challenges facing us ahead.
The conference began with the (pre-recorded) Opening Ceremony welcome by the ANU CAP’s Acting Dean Professor Sharon Bell and a keynote speech by Professor Penny Sackett. The high calibre of clarity and insight provided by both of these speakers was continued throughout the academic content of the week. Academics from the ANU School of Culture, History & Language, including Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa, Associate Professor Carol Hayes, Dr Ross Tapsell, Dr Shameem Black and Associate Professor Chris Ballard contributed to APW in their participation on a diverse array of panels, which considered the lasting legacies of colonialism, started a broader conversation surrounding labour mobility in Pacific, and addressed the necessity to keep alive the language and cultural connections that bind us into communities.
Other highlights of APW 2021 included the Language Taster event, hosted in four separate languages and by experts in the language. Delegates thrived upon the challenge of their dip into the worlds of Tok Pisin, Mongolian, Tibetan and Korean. The Pacific Dance Workshop, hosted again over Zoom by Maryjane McKibbin Schwenke, Co-Director and Founder of Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts—a Pacific cultural centre based in Sydney—was another event in which the delegates and committee had the opportunity to participate. The opportunity to move together and connect through dance, through a computer screen that transcended the challenges of thousands of kilometres and travel borders, was truly unique.
The conference was concluded with the capstone ‘Women in Diplomacy’ panel. Moderated by Caitlin Gauci, a Research Associate in the Pacific Island Program at the Lowy Institute, the panel featured Ms Julie-Ann Guivarra, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality, Elizabeth McGregor, the Assistant Secretary of the Asia Branch within the International Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Her Excellency Busadee Santipitaks, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Thailand to Australia. These women, through their diverse backgrounds and experiences, provided important and engaging insights to the delegates online, and those in Canberra who were invited to attend the final panel in-person. Meeting and conversing with local Canberra delegates was truly a highlight for many of the committee members.
Finally, the Closing Ceremony concluded with guest performances by delegates, the ANU KPOP society and most importantly the keynote speech contributed by Senator for the Greens, Dr Mehreen Faruqi. Her address considered and challenged the Australian Government’s approach to its imposition of border restrictions, and she invited the delegates to do the same.
Overall, APW 2021 concluded with lasting friendships and connections forged by young people all over the world. The academic content presented throughout the conference challenged, questioned and expanded the mindsets of those in attendance, and the other unique events featured in the week supplemented this.
APW is a true testament to the talent and passion that the College of Asia & the Pacific boasts in both its academics and students. Hopefully it remains a key event in the ANU calendar for the years to come.