IF the notion of ASEAN unity and integration is the stuff of Trumpian nightmare, then `the Donald’ should steer clear of the one-man diplomatic icebreaker called Pak Karim.
Far from bearing any diplomatic licence in his pocket nor carrying any sensitive communication in his pouch enjoying immigration immunity, Karim Raslan – to give him his due recognition – is single-handedly fostering collaboration raising awareness and building bridges amongst community and business leaders, students and the media in the region.
He is able to leverage on an extensive rolodex (millennials would have to google that) of contacts to connect disparate communities that spark off interest in the notion of Asean amity – if not yet quite unity.
What makes him uniquely able to undertake this onerous task is both the size and substance of the name cards he has amassed and close contacts he can call upon.
It comes as no surprise then when Pak Karim’s team (no prizes for guessing its collective name – KRA for Karim Raslan and Associates) is vigorously embarking on `bridge-building’ initiatives – with the spotlight first falling, and beginning with the city of Solo in Java.
He had gathered a team who amongst others comprised a posse of Pinoys (journalists and businessmen from Manila and Davao – why Davao; you will learn later); a top editor from Menado and one each from Sinar Harian and Sin Chew Daily; and me from Malaysia. And I almost forgot, there was also a senior journo from Myanmar making up the rest of the gang.
The rest of the group were made up of KRA personnel from Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Hanoi scurrying about brimming with the vigour and energy of youth, untainted idealism, tonnes of motivation (and perhaps caffeine) and who would not mind brewing the coffee if needs be.
So at the end of March, the city of Solo drew in the disparate band of visitors who rushed about from hotel to meeting venues in a posse of black Kijangs behaving just like any high-powered conference delegate would, but with a little more tact and less of the dizzy diplomatic chaos.
There were sessions with university students, meetings with Chinese merchant groups, briefings with the local business community, talk-and-tea with batik entrepreneurs and relaxed chat sessions with young professionals throughout the 48-hours we were in this ancient historical city located in central Java.
These sessions may have been all too brief but the packed programme did give the `delegates’ a sense of what drives `Soloans and Surakartans’ at least, and perhaps helped shape view their place in an Asean utopia.
The students of Universitas Sebelas Maret may be bookish but eager to play their part. The Chinese business community looked to have put the troubled racial riots in the past and look forward to a regional rise in trade. Solo’s batik industry appear to be in rude good health and for budding entreprenuers, Asean they agree, is their oyster.
The KRA juggernaut next plans to move to the southern Philippines where a similar effort will be carried out to engage the citizenry with the goal of promoting the Asean credo.
Which takes us to the significance of the southern City of Davao which will be the focus of KRA’s next effort similar to Solo.
Karim cannot stress enough the weight of personality of the current Philippines President whose power base was built from the Mayor’s office in dynamic Davao. Building on this uncanny connection to men who were once Mayors, Pak Karim cannot be faulted for knowing his way round the corridors of power.
With `political-know-who’; the quest for Asean unity is two steps along the way. When it does finally happen – all the efforts and seeds planted over 48 hours in Solo would be etched indelibly in history as epochal in the annals of Asean history.