APEC youth program's China head: 'Never underestimate young people'
Updated 08:19, 09-May-2019
By Sim Sim Wissgott
01:24

Young people deserve to be heard at the policy-making table, the head of China's APEC youth leadership program urged this week on the sidelines of a forum to encourage youth innovation.

"Young people stand for the future, no matter how important today's leaders are. Always more important are the leaders of tomorrow," Han Tianqi, CEO of APEC Voices of the Future Competition China, told CGTN in an interview.

Every year, when the leaders of the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meet, several dozen youth delegates from around the world are invited to take part in discussions and interact with world leaders.

The APEC Voices of the Future program has national chapters from New Zealand to China, Peru, Vietnam and the U.S. Last year, some 100,000 candidates sought to be among the chosen few youth delegates at the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.

Participants include high school students and young professionals. But their age is deceptive.

"Never underestimate them," Han warned when asked how teenagers fit into an international organization made of leaders who are often at least three times their age.  

"We have interacted with a lot of amazing high school students: they can be top engineers already, they can be young experts in international politics and they have even written published papers during high school."

Among this year's crop of candidates are Olympic champions and unicorn company founders, according to Han, who was himself a youth delegate in 2013.

Illustrating the diverse background of youth delegates and the organization's desire to appeal to young people, Chinese actor and singer Wang Junkai was officially named APEC Youth Ambassador at the APEC Voices of the Future Youth Innovation Forum in Beijing on Monday.

"I hope more youth can improve themselves and pay attention to the development of the world," the singer – whose international fans know as Karry Wang – told CGTN, adding he was honored to be involved in the project.  

Wang Junkai talks to CGTN on the sidelines of the APEC Voices of the Future Youth Innovation Forum in Beijing, China, May 6, 2019. /CGTN Photo

Wang Junkai talks to CGTN on the sidelines of the APEC Voices of the Future Youth Innovation Forum in Beijing, China, May 6, 2019. /CGTN Photo

APEC Voices of the Future was set up in 1998 to provide "leadership and educational diplomacy" opportunities in a region that accounts for 40 percent of the world's population and 60 percent of its gross domestic product.

China still has the most extensive preparatory set-up to select young delegates, drawing candidates from over 100 schools and universities around the country, according to the organization.

Young people can bring fresh new perspectives to international bodies like APEC, especially on issues like education, which they understand better than anybody, Han argued.

On other issues as well, "we just speak up and hope that our voices get heard."

Youth discussions at past APEC summits, for instance, have focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and using digital tools to help the economy. At every summit, youth delegates then draft a declaration for the APEC Business Advisory Council.

Despite APEC's focus on trade and economic cooperation, what makes an ideal youth candidate is thus not so much their field of study but excellence and leadership skills, Han noted.

"There's no limit for your background. You can be an engineer, you can be an artist, you can be a musician even."

"The qualities that we look for are you have to excel in your own field and at the same time you need to shoulder more social responsibility… to exercise leadership to make society a better place."

Beyond allowing them to meet directly with world leaders, APEC's Voices of the Future provides its participants a unique opportunity to grow, to interact with youth from other countries and regions, "to widen our horizons, open up. It's just like a door leading to the world: if you open it, the world is right in front of you," said Han. 

"You can see the top talents across the world, you can see how brilliant they are and they will inspire you. You can interact with world leaders face-to-face and some of this experience, especially when you're young, will change your life."

China's APEC youth delegate selection process has just begun and will take several months. Around 15 lucky candidates will then travel to Chile for the main APEC summit in November.

(Video credit: Wang Kailin)