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Geneva Forum on East Asia Opening Ceremony: a Parallel between the Theme and the Organisers

By Silvia Ecclesia

After great trepidation, finally, on October 11, 2021, the Geneva Forum on East Asia came to a start with a grand opening ceremony. The Forum, a product of long and strenuous preparations from the Central and East Asia Studies (CEAS) Initiative of the Graduate Institute, will consist of several academic sessions, as well as career and social events during the week. 

When I arrived at Auditorium Ivan Pictet this afternoon for the opening ceremony, I could sense a feeling of excitement and nervousness pervading the room. Students from the CEAS initiative were walking around in their nice jackets and suits, welcoming attendees, doing last-minute preparations, checking slides and microphones. A little Wheel of Fortune was set up in the left corner of the room – I won a bottle, yay! – and it really did feel like a lucky day. Not only the organisers, but also all students present could feel this sense of anticipation sweeping across the room. 

The opening ceremony began with what can only be considered as the perfect encapsulation of the atmosphere in the Auditorium. One by one, in little sketches with colorful montages, we saw, in an introductory video, all the organisers one after the other explaining what this forum meant for them and what it was going to be like for all of us.

The initiative’s president Alma Weijia Chen presented the speakers: Dr Jean-Jacques de Dardel – former Swiss Ambassador the the People’s Republic of China, Mongolia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dr Andrew Michael Ong – Director of the Division for Asia Pacific at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and our Directrice Dr. Marie-Laure Salles, who spoke first.

In her initial remark, Mme Salles praised the stamina and motivation of the student organisers who achieved such great results during such difficult times. She then went on, starting the core discussion of the day, spelling out what the current ‘question on East Asia’ is. Geopolitical dynamics, multilateralism, environmental policies, and new technologies are all subject to the influence of the rise of East Asia. 

Talking in depth about new technologies and innovation, Dr Ong presented the Intellectual Property (IP) perspective and showed us how the data on IP are a clear indicator of the emergence of East Asia as a primary innovator. In fact, in 2019, China surpassed the United States in the number of patents filed, gaining first place in the World

Dr. de Dardel, instead, accompanied us in a journey through the history of Asia until modern day in his attempt to answer the question ‘What is the role of East Asia in the world in the 21st century?”; a role that is both promising and scary. According to him, building bridges is possible, and already undergoing, but policy bridges can only be achieved through the human component, bringing individuals together. Art and culture also play a major role. 

With the elegant mediation of Alma, the speakers answered questions from the public, in person and online, spanning through a plethora of topics among which figured multilateralism, diplomatic life, different working environments, Covid, and fragile States.  

As the guests and the host continued to talk about how the rise of East Asia was extraordinary as well as unstoppable, I could not avoid thinking about how, in a way, CEAS in itself was embodying the rise of the region they study and represent. In her opening remarks, Alma reminded the audience how CEAS was founded only about one year ago, and it has now managed to organise an event with more than ten sessions and thirty speakers coming from all around the world. Talking to other students about CEAS, the admiration for how much they grew and expanded is always a topic that comes up. 

While GISA’s lines count more than thirty initiatives, the newly founded ones usually start off a little slow to steadily grow and become more established. CEAS, on the other hand, reached an incredible level of engagement in a very short period of time. This piece does not want to be a love letter to CEAS; it only wants to make you reflect on how? What does CEAS have that others don’t? 

To answer this question I will borrow the final words of both speakers at the opening ceremony. When asked what their ultimate advice for an audience full of students was, Dr de Dardel shared with us a very personal teaching: When we start a new job, we start at the bottom and try to get the attention and appreciation of our superiors; those who now are peers, however, will be our superiors in the future, thus a kind of, what he calls, ‘humanistic approach’ towards our colleagues is what will bring us to success. ‘Think about how you can serve and give, and it will come back a thousand fold to you’ is what Dr. Ong left us with. And what does this have to do with CEAS? Well, the only thing I can see that might differentiate them from others, is their sense of community – a strong group of people committed to a common goal and passion not for their personal improvement but for the sake of the whole. Students supporting other students.   


The Geneva Forum on East Asia will take place between October 11-15, 2021. For more information follow CEAS on their social media or at www.onlineceas.com.

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