Youth members of the Asian elite

Mohamed Ibrahim Al-Dessouki, Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Young people make up more than 60 per cent of the population of many Asian societies, and they are establishing themselves as part of the region’s elite, writes Mohamed Ibrahim Al-Dessouki


A look at the demographic map of the Asian continent indicates that it makes up 60 per cent of the world’s population, totalling some 4.88 billion people according to 2023 statistics, among which are nearly two billion young people, making up some 60 per cent of their societies. These young people are a considerable resource for their societies and represent a promise of future economic and cultural growth. 

These young people are not only a dynamic workforce for their countries and a cornerstone of their economies, but they are also eager to renew their countries’ elites in different sectors, providing them with a new source of drive and a way of safeguarding their national interests. They are ready to correct any misguided policies they see being implemented on the social and political fronts, and their electoral weight means that they cannot be ignored or looked down upon by their elders.

The efforts of Asia’s youth, especially members of Generation Z, are an enormous source of optimism for their societies, and they are both welcomed and appreciated by their wider societies. These young people encourage their peers to contribute to their societies and to extend a helping hand to those around them, regardless of the difficulties they may face in entering public service or being involved in public affairs.

Even Japan, known for its tradition of preserving the elderly in the public sphere, has seen a promising young political elite emerging that is gaining increasing confidence from the Japanese public. The latter admire their ideas for solving societal problems using innovative methods that suit the developments of the third millennium, and young people are increasingly gaining ground in various Japanese electoral districts as a result, especially at the local level.

Among the rising stars of this elite, the name of 26-year-old Ryosuke Takashima stands out, as he became the youngest mayor in Japan’s history after winning the elections in the city of Ashiya in the country’s Hyogo Prefecture. He is a graduate of Harvard University in the US, where he specialised in environmental engineering.

Another young man is a YouTuber popularly known as “Shin,” who, aged just 26, won a seat in the local council of the city of Hiratsuka. Then there is Ayaka Nasuno, aged 25, who won the most votes in the city council elections of Kawasaki. There is also Arfiya Eri, aged 34, described as the first woman of Uyghur origin to win a parliamentary seat in Japan, whose campaign focused on highlighting male dominance in politics and the tremendous gender pay gap in Japan.

If we look elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, there are other young leaders in their twenties and thirties who in this case are tackling the problems of climate change. The reason for this choice lies in the fact that the region faces existential risks from climate change, with seven of its ten countries being classified as among the most prone to disasters resulting from climate shifts and fluctuations. 

This has prompted these young leaders to sharpen their determination to educate their peoples about climate change and ways to address it and mitigate its effects while at the same time promoting green leadership.

One of the first such young leaders is a Filipino lawyer who tours the provinces of her country, listed among the most hurricane-prone globally, and focuses her efforts on supporting rural areas severely affected by hurricanes. She assists residents in protecting the environment and achieving what she calls climate justice.

Another is the young Cambodian leader Bengsen, who is regarded as an inspirational figure due to his creative proposals to address the climate crisis and his passionate commitment to what he does. He has trained over 7,000 people over the past two years in climate action and entrepreneurship, holding workshops online in his country and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. He won a Champions of the Earth Award from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2023.

In Bangladesh, the agricultural scientist Ong Singh is active conducting research to improve agricultural systems and sustainable farming in areas where climate change leads to soil erosion and affects their inhabitants. He has established climate initiatives that have greatly contributed to raising public awareness of this vital issue.

In Nepal, there is young electronics engineer Sadikshya, who visits rural areas and meets with female farmers to identify their problems and seek solutions to them. She has established a project called Himalayan Innovations aimed at reducing emissions and increasing the use of green and renewable energy and obtaining it at affordable prices.

In Indonesia, the site of recent presidential elections, competing parties have focused on attracting young influencers on social media and integrating them into their ranks. Their keenness stems from the fact that there are 204 million eligible voters in Indonesia, including 106 million under the age of 40, or more than 52 per cent of the total. The influence of these young voters cannot be ignored, and many older people listen to their analyses of local, regional, and international affairs.

In South Korea in the Northeast Asia region there is a highly educated young elite whose influence transcends local boundaries. Among its members are the actor Park Seo-Joon, born in 1988, who has a significant influence on youth culture, Choi Won-Woo, a young actor born in 1997, and Choi Tae-Joon, a 30-year-old who has helped to raise awareness about mental health issues.

The southern part of the Korean Peninsula earned profits of $12.4 billion last year from its exports of films, series, songs, and electronic games, and it suffices to attend a concert of the famous pop group BTS, composed of young South Koreans, to understand the extent of the soft power that the country is now garnering owing to the activities of its young elite.

These are just some examples of the young Asian elite that is rejuvenating Asian societies and helping them to retain their forward momentum. These young people are helping societies across Asia to escape from the influence of a lazy and calcified older elite that could otherwise lead them to decline and regression.

* The writer is a former Al-Ahram correspondent in Tokyo and an expert on East Asia foreign affairs.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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