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By Swetha Das, a fourth year Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) student.

If you know only half of what is happening around the world, then you probably live with the same dread I do. A fear of impending war, of greater cultural and religious divisions, and domestic conflict. It is in these times that we look towards our own seas, to our neighbours and alliances for a solution.

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This is where the significance of HPAIR, the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations, lies. The five-day conference brought more than 600 competitively selected delegates from over 70 countries to Sydney for panel discussions, case competitions, cultural events and networking. The aim of the conference: to connect bright, ambitious students to share their perspectives, ideas and experiences in a communal space while understanding the importance of maintaining strong ties to our Asian alliances. As HPAIR claims, it is a forum to “enact real social change”.

There are many tracks delegates could choose to undertake. Some focussed on entrepreneurship, others were focused on humanitarian affairs, business and the world economy, health and social policy, and the environment and sustainability. My ‘security and diplomacy’ track led me to field trips to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading and panels on power in Asia.

It was refreshing to examine international relations removed from a Eurocentric lens. With each panel particularly focussing on the Asia-Pacific region, the discussions were enriched by the delegates’ cultural diversity. Many of them were from China, India and South-East Asia and were able to offer their opinion without a Western medium to dilute the information on Asian culture.

It was a privilege to watch panel discussions with esteemed guests such as former Australian Foreign Minister and New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, Dr Luke Nottage Co-Director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law and Dr Carl Ungerer from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Their panel discussed the prevalence of hard power and how this affects relations with the United States and North Korea.

The practicality of what we were learning in the five days was put to the test by international security expert Dr Ungerer. In a seminar on terrorism and the ‘Cyber-Caliphate’, delegates in the security and diplomacy track had to brainstorm ideas on combatting the rise of lone wolf terrorism and online extremist communities. It was a visceral, confronting discussion - but enlightening - particularly with the plethora of voices and perspectives in the room.

For a change of pace, our very own Professor James Der Derian, Director of the Centre for International Security Studies at Sydney University, spoke at a panel on soft power and security. The discussion centred around examining the cultural influences of India and China on the West.

The five-day conference aimed at connecting like-minded individuals on pertinent global issues, and moving the focus of world politics to the Asia-Pacific region. With our tumultuous political landscape, the significance of this type of conference has never been clearer.

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