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Reflections on the 2016 Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum

With more than half the world’s population (and its languages), the Asia-Pacific is by far the most diverse region. Throughout history, countries in the region have had to balance influences and sensitivities related to – amongst other things – culture, religion, traditions and working norms.

The Internet world is no different, and we see great diversity within the region (and sometimes within a country!) when it comes to the Internet and the role it plays in society. The Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) is one medium through which players and actors from across the region and beyond are able to engage in dialogue and hallway conversations to debate issues, exchange knowledge, and help shape at least rough consensus on current and emerging issues.

This year’s APrIGF in Taipei was perhaps the most diverse to-date. Having been involved with the APrIGF since its inception, I was happy to see new faces in the room this year, together with a number of younger faces. New voices in the conversation are important – otherwise what we end up with are the usual suspects repeating more or less the same conversation – what I like to term “us talking about us”.

There was also an improvement in the gender balance at the event – for the first time I saw a panel discussion that had only one male! Of course there were many other panels that were male-dominated, so there is still room to do better. Gender issues were raised in many of the panel discussions, and it was good to see people openly discuss ways in which we can improve the gender imbalance that exists in many spheres.

I am of the opinion that gender issues must be mainstreamed – there is little point in having such discussion in silos. This is something we will be paying more attention to at the ISOC Asia-Pacific Bureau.

I was surprised to find that some twenty participants in the Youth IGF (held alongside the APrIGF) had paid their own way to the event. I thought this was quite remarkable – for these young persons (who were from the Philippines) to put in the effort to fund their own trip. The younger generation’s involvement in Internet governance is critical – after all they are the future. Being digital natives, their perspectives are vital – but often missing – when discussing and shaping policy. In interacting with several of them, I found them to be highly aware of topical issues and concerns, and they offered insights that I found quite valuable.

Overall, I think this year’s APrIGF was well organised, and congratulations to the host for their efforts. The visa process – always a concern for some participants – was handled well, and having an e-visa process certainly made things far easier than the usual (and often multiple) visits to Embassies and Consulates required of participants.

The synthesis document being developed will summarise the views of participants and serve as a reference document in various fora within and beyond the region.

The next APrIGF is scheduled for Melbourne, Australia most likely in the second half of 2017. I hope that is an opportunity for the “Pacific” part of Asia-Pacific to better participate in the event, and share some of the unique issues and challenges from what some term “the liquid continent”.

Photo credit (centre photo): Shuyi Guo