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Catching Up with the Young Asian Diplomats

July 12, 2023

By Julian Rhoads

Fifteen mid-career diplomats from Asia and the Pacific Islands visited the United States last month—from Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York to the bayous of Louisiana and the redwood forests of California—as part of The Asia Foundation’s Young Asian Diplomats program.

Coursework in diplomacy and foreign policy at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

The three-week program of dialogue and exchange included coursework at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, a study tour in the Big Apple, briefings with tech leaders in San Francisco, and a first-hand look at how climate change is affecting the mighty Mississippi in New Orleans.

The participants hailed from Bhutan, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. We caught up with two of them in San Francisco, Ms. Sujana Aryal of Nepal and Mr. Nguyen Dong Anh of Vietnam, and asked them to share their reflections on their U.S. visit and their calling as diplomats.

In this time of rapid change and new diplomatic challenges that range from international law and security to environmental sustainability and economic development, there has never been a greater need to invest in transformative, next-generation leadership. The Young Asian Diplomats program provides a unique opportunity for participants to study the complex issues, processes, and challenges that shape U.S. foreign and domestic policy, and deepens the bonds of understanding among a new generation of leaders.

Highlights of the three-week program included discussions of U.S.–Asia-Pacific relations with high-level officials from the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and skills-building master classes on negotiation and diplomatic communication. Coursework on foreign policy and diplomacy in a global era was offered in partnership with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. The delegation received in-depth briefings on current geopolitical issues from former U.S. ambassadors, government officials, and academics. They met with the chef de cabinet of the president of the United Nations General Assembly and received a briefing on UN priorities and the scientific approach to tackling the Sustainable Development Goals.

The young diplomats with Asia Foundation president Laurel E. Miller, left center, in black. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Throughout the program, the delegation considered issues of importance to Americans and U.S. policy, including healthcare access, climate change, and the history and legacy of slavery. The program also connected with everyday Americans through “dinner diplomacy” and people-to-people exchanges.

The program also exposed the young diplomats to a broad panorama of ordinary American life. Between coursework and site visits, the delegation visited New Orleans for a swamp tour and briefings on Mississippi River hydrology, they viewed New York City from the Empire State Building, and they strolled among the giant redwood trees of Northern California.

Viewing the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, north of San Francisco. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

On June 20, the final day of the program, the delegation attended a breakfast in San Francisco with The Asia Foundation’s President’s Leadership Council and the local diplomatic community to share their reflections on the program, followed by final meetings with Meta, to discuss Facebook’s approaches to global threats, and with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office.

The observation study tour introduced the young diplomats to a broad spectrum of Americans from across the United States, helping them to become more adept at communicating outside of customary diplomatic circles. They also shared thoughts about their own countries’ policies and the issues and the concerns of their fellow citizens. The program provided opportunities for the diplomats to develop personal bonds within their cohort and build international perspectives and networks of support and collaboration.

The young diplomats in Washington, D.C. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

The Young Asian Diplomats program is made possible by generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation and partnerships with foreign ministries across Asia and the Pacific Islands. This year’s Young Diplomats included Mr. Sonam Tobgay, Bhutan; Ms. Hul Thonnak, Cambodia; Ms. Adi Mere Naulu Uluivuda, Fiji; Ms. Udita Gaurav, India; Mr. Andi Sparringa, Indonesia; Mr. Thansamay Sivanna, Laos; Ms. Ili Amirah Sulaiman, Malaysia; Ms. Khulan Ganbattulga, Mongolia; Ms. Sujana Aryal, Nepal; Mr. Jude Roa, Papua New Guinea; Mr. George Mariano A. Soriano, Philippines; Ms. Subashini Silva, Sri Lanka; Ms. Pajaree Varathorn, Thailand; Mr. Crisostomo Castro Martins, Timor-Leste; and Mr. Nguyen Dong Anh, Vietnam.

Julian Rhoads is assistant director of The Asia Foundation’s Leadership and Exchange Programs (LeadEx). He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related programs: Leadership & Exchanges

1 Comment

  1. Great initiation and exposure

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