Asia Update 2019: international experts guiding Estonian decision makers in rethinking Asia

03.06.2019

In May, the attention of Asia experts and other interested parties in the Baltic Region was directed towards Tartu, where the Asia themed conference “Asia Update 2019” was held for the first time. The high-level conference attracted 43 world class speakers and nearly 300 participants to the shores of the Emajõgi River – such dignified treatment of Asian topics can no doubt be considered one of the largest events of this kind in the region. The aim of the conference was to educate and provide information on the ongoings in the entire Asian region, but also to facilitate communication between various partners to further develop cooperation in business, education, and politics.

Photo: President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid opening the conference | Author: Joonas Sisask

Globalization affects everyone and in order to understand its impact, it is necessary to pay close attention to the changes in lines of force between major powers and different regions. Over the last few decades, we have once again seen the central point of balance of power shift to Asia and have arrived at a moment where, instead of speaking of the rise of Asia, we should talk about the region as a political force that has already reached the top and is also striving towards taking over fields that are currently still dominated by the United States and Europe.

The rapidly changing geopolitical situation means that it is vital to think outside one’s comfort zone in Europe as well, to get used to a new environment, in which both economy and politics are increasingly influenced by developments originating from Asia. Europe and the United States can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring Asia, as failing to pay attention to the real leaders of world economy would put them in an economically risky situation. But how should we understand culture and economy of a region with which we have had very limited contact and what do those dangers, which we have come to fear based on media coverage, really contain? Those are the questions to which “Asia Updated 2019” sought answers in Tartu.

There is only a handful of experts in Estonia who work with Asian topics in-depth and the conference series launched in the summery Tartu aims to increase the number of people who would be able to create a supportive environment for conducting cooperation with Asia and who would have a balanced understanding of and attitude towards Asian topics. The thorough and enlightening speeches and presentations of world-level experts contributed greatly to giving Estonian entrepreneurs, politicians, officials, and academics a more broad-based understanding of Asia. According to feedback from entrepreneurs and other participants, the discussions that took place at the conference were inspiring and encouraging and laid a solid foundation for developing cooperation between Estonia and Asia.


Author: Joonas Sisask

The conference that spanned over two days hosted experts from China, Japan, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, who took the stage to share their experiences and knowledge concerning events in Asia. Representatives from countries such as Belgium, New Zealand, and Sweden also shared their experiences and lessons learned from cooperation with various Asian countries. All the speeches shared an underlying truth that Asian matters should not be rushed, as success will not be achieved without a long-term strategy regardless of the field, be it entrepreneurship or politics. Both fields are closely intertwined in Asia, therefore, it is necessary to develop cooperation even more when looking into the future.

In cooperation with entrepreneurs, state representatives, and researchers, Estonia ought to define its interests in Asia and seek out strategic cooperation options in the sectors of interest. All Asian markets are often characterized by unpredictable risks; however, they also come with unprecedented opportunities – a balance has to be struck between those to reach the goals that have been set. It is suitable to highlight the example of Belgium here as, thanks to its long-term continuous contacts and national strategy for Asia, Belgium is the first and only European country that has succeeded in attracting an Alibaba e-commerce centre. Similarly, Estonia has similar opportunities in various fields; however, we need more knowledge, well-thought-out decisions, cooperation and, above all, understanding of Asian matters to make a breakthrough.

The global triumph of Chinese technology seems to have experienced significant setbacks due to the trade conflict with the United States, but this certainly does not imply that we should not take the impact and also dangers of China into account in the future. Cooperation with countries that have vastly difference culture and politics can be tricky, however, a situation in which Estonia leaves Asia out of sight would be far more dangerous for us. This is why it is necessary to set up clear objectives for Estonia’s cooperation with Asia and to act towards achieving those objectives together.

The Asia Information Centre of Enterprise Estonia will continue to organize discussions and information exchanges concerning Asia and the Asia Update conference will be held again shortly to bring together world-class experts, entrepreneurs, politicians, and academics. This year’s conference was organised by Enterprise Estonia, the University of Tartu, TalTech, the City of Tartu, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Education and Research, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference also received support from Horizon Pulp & Paper, Toppan Printing, and Eversheds Sutherland.

More information on the conference and speakers can be found on the event’s website estonia.ee/asiaupdate/.

Tanel Rebane, Director of Trade Development Agency

Kai Kreos, Head of Asia Information Centre

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