Last Friday the Brunei twitterverse received a tweet from none other than the UK Foreign Secretary @williamjhague bidding all a “Selamat Pagi Brunei”. Mr. Hague was in the country for the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministerial meeting held at the ICC, where he and other dignitaries would hobnob with others from around the globe.
Savvy in social media, in the days prior to his visit to the region, William Hague used LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to pose the question to British businesses in the region, “How can the UK grow trade with SE Asia? Tell the Foreign Secretary”. The answers he received in return included - focus on health care; aviation and aeronautical sector; education arts and culture.
Just before coming to Brunei he tweeted, “Friendly debate with acting FM of Singapore: #Facebook v #Twitter: which is better tool for communicating? He said Facebook, I said Twitter”. He even got Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore to write on his Facebook page.
So, some of us online folks were lucky to have a tete-a-tete with William Hague at the Residence of the British High Commissioner, just before his meeting at the ICC. He was obviously interested in how we use social media in Brunei.
Before our chat Mr. Hague and Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Haji Awang Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong, Minister of Education, officially launched the "BUBA Awards" Schools’ Competition, an essay writing competition amongst the sixth form colleges in Brunei.
According to the press release, BUBA stands for the British Universities’ Brunei Association, and is made up of forty-eight British universities and colleges with a track record in the Brunei market. In the past, BUBA has focused on maintaining levels of customer satisfaction in Brunei. Now, in response to the Brunei government’s focus on economic diversification, the knowledge economy and research, and the emergence in Brunei of strong partners for British universities, BUBA aspires to a more strategic role. BUBA’s members seek to involve Bruneian academics and institutions in their own research networks. The “BUBA Awards” are intended to advertise that opportunity amongst future generations of Bruneian researchers; and to encourage collaboration between educational institutions of the UK and Brunei.
I understand that it has been many years since the last tour of Asia by a British foreign secretary, but the word is that Britain is now looking east to do business.
Though in Brunei, British influence and presence has never really diminished, as we are still one of the youngest states in Asia, and defence cooperation is quite apparent. In the rest of Asia, the Brits have over the years, been seen to retreat strategically back to Europe. There was a recent editorial in the Singapore papers that questioned the British strategic ability to project real power and influence into Asia, given their economic preoccupations and straightened defence circumstances. While Obama may be able to back up economic talk with the “walk”, so to speak, of the Seventh Fleet, the Royal Navy is not what it once was. But at least they have Will and Kate.
I think that following on from the responses received on line, the British export to Brunei that would provide the most mutual benefit is education.
I read with interest an article in the London Times that investigated the rise in foreign admission, especially from Russia and China, in traditional English public schools. Apparently the oligarchs and champagne communists can't get enough of an exclusive boarding school education.
But for us, its not just cold showers and wintery cross-country runs. Though any time spent in education abroad is bound to broaden an individual's experience, be it from taking the bus or riding the tube, finding a halal butcher or living on a diet of instant noodles, it is the kind of education that encourages independent thought and acquisition of knowledge that is the greatest value.
We in Brunei would like to encourage creativity and innovation. The past week has seen a great deal of press and official statements to this effect, especially in relation to the creation and protection of patents and other intellectual property. I believe that in order for us to be truly innovative, or to arrive at ideas and solutions that are unique and useful, we would need not just technical knowledge and skills, but the ability to exercise independent thought and reason. To defend one’s views, and not to accept things on face value.
After all, in order to create a patent, one needs an original idea.
For the version that I mistakenly sent to my editor click here.