The ASEF Youth Dialogue Series with ASEM Leaders is part of the ASEFYLS program where selected delegates moderate the session and present pertinent questions to the ASEM Leaders.

By Nur Syahirah Khanum and Alvin Adityo

Thursday, 6 May 2021, ASEF Education officially launched the first ASEF Youth Dialogue Series with ASEM Leaders. On this occasion, Ambassador Johannes Matyassy, Deputy State Secretary and Director of the Consular Directorate, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) was invited to share his thoughts and experiences on COVID-19, multilateralism, the role of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and shares his advice to young leaders pursuing the international political arena.

The session was moderated by four delegates from the 4th edition of ASEFYLS. They are Ms Setthikun Sun, Cambodia, Ms Martina Chiaraluce, Italy, Mr Elischa Link, Switzerland, and Mr Emanuel Aegerter, Switzerland. The moderators addressed several questions to Ambassador Matyassy which were gathered from the other 4thASEFYLS delegates prior to the session. The questions are:

  1. Based on your perspective, how do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic will impact relations among nations?
  2. Collaboration between Asia and Europe will be essential in creating a global sustainable, just, equitable economy. What role do you see for ASEM, especially in a post-pandemic world? Do you see a special added value for small countries in this platform?
  3. Students and young leaders often feel disconnected from processes of multilateralism, intergovernmental bodies, and international collaboration. These things seem so big, so far away and so exclusive. Why do you think that multilateralism should be appealing to young people, and how can they engage in it?

The session opened with encouraging words from Ambassador Toru Morikawa. He enthusiastically expressed “Youth Up!”, and explained that young people need to be a part of the political decision-making process to make better policies. It was a meaningful opportunity for young leaders to listen to experienced political leaders in the spirit of curiosity and learning. Ambassador Matyassy proceeded with the dialogue by candidly sharing his experiences when he was starting as a political leader. He also shared his realistically hopeful views about multilateralism as we proceed with our lives during COVID-19.

Ambassador Matyassy assured us with the words, “what concerns all of us, can only be solved by all of us”. It is a realistically hopeful reminder that as long as we are collectively caring, we can solve any challenge despite arising difficulties – this includes climate change. Climate change affects everyone, leading to the need to involve all to mitigate and adapt to it, He further expressed. It requires a global commitment and caring collective action. This has become evident as countries come together to address COVID-19.

Ambassador Matyassy also highlights the importance of defending and advancing multilateralism despite its imperfections. He further explained that in pursuing multilateralism, it is vital to “build inclusive, innovative, and forward-looking partnerships”. Reflecting on the COVID-19 impacts, the pandemic has shown us the different ways to do things. His Excellency expressed that the pandemic has shifted the balance in the way we do things. To find the new balance, society is rethinking our ways of living and working which will change the behaviour of society. This shifts the relations between nations, balancing internal policies and solidarity. In this case, despite the differences and various reactions from the pandemic, solidarity between nations is the key aspect for us to overcome the pandemic.

His Excellency commended ASEM as both an informal and formal platform that brings together various nations and promotes mutual understanding. The informal character of the platform encourages “out-of-the-box thinking” during discussions. It is valuable for finding solutions. Not only that, Ambassador Matyassy shared that as a non-European Union member, it allows Switzerland to communicate and reach consensus with the Union, while building connections with the Asia region. This platform is beneficial as it brings various interests together and fosters consensus building with the European and Asian nations, while producing concrete results through various collaborative projects. Ambassador Matyassy reminded us that mutual exchange and understanding is the foundation for finding the solutions for tomorrow.

When the topic of discussion later touched on young people’s engagement and influence in international political agendas, His Excellency reminded us that we are already in the process of engagement. Through the ASEFYLS platform, we are exchanging and developing ideas with other participants from the conference. Additionally, His Excellency encouraged us to raise our voices and our opinions whenever it is possible, because what we are doing now is influencing the future of the world and ourselves

Ambassador Matyassy further advised us suggesting that we should get an education, develop a focus area, and experience studying abroad. Education gives us the advantage to have a sense of understanding of how the world functions. His Excellency provided an example from Switzerland where political education is offered in schools, providing the younger generation with knowledge about the political and democratic systems and how they work in the country. Secondly, it is to be focused to develop expertise in a specific area. The Ambassador explains that even though international relations studies give us exposure and a special flair on international topics, any other studies and specializations including health, law, geography, or economics would give us certain expertise. This would help us to have a position in a multilateral group where we could provide expertise and practice solidarity through our knowledge. Ambassador Matyassy further asserted, “always remember to be the person that people listen to”.

As a closing remark, Ambassador Matyassy once again reminded us to stay focused on what we are doing right now. Meeting and working collaboratively with people from other countries and exchanging ideas to approach certain issues that are necessary for the future of our world. His Excellency affirmed us with three significant aspects for multilateralism to flourish in a post-COVID-19 world and the role we can play – we must value cooperation and collaboration and be responsible to decide our future.

Ambassador Toru Morikawa opened up the First Youth Dialogue with ASEM Leaders with “Youth Up!” Slogan.


His Excellency Johannes Matyassy during the dialogue with young people across the ASEM regions, moderated by ASEFYLS participant representatives (Top right: Elischa Link. Bottom left to right: Martina Chiaraluce, Setthikun Sun)


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