Summit of Asia’s Freedom Movement

The Asia Liberty Forum discusses liberal solutions to regional challenges
Barun Mitra at Asia Liberty Forum 2018

The Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) is arguably the most important meeting place for liberals, libertarians and friends of the freedom movement in Asia. You may call it a summit of the continent’s freedom movement. Organized annually by the Asia Network and co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, this year’s conference was held in Jakarta in cooperation with the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS). Close to 300 participants from no less than 32 countries joined the two day program and discussed challenges facing the region and how best to address these with free-market reforms.

Brad Lips, CEO at the Atlas Network, set the tone at the beginning: “The ideas of freedom have roots in many Asian traditions”.  To learn more about these traditions and how they translate into modern policies that promote freedom and prosperity stood at the center of the conference.

In his key-note address Suraj Vaidya, the Chairman of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), highlighted the importance of free trade in a region overshadowed by political conflicts. “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will,” the business leader from Nepal quoted French economist Frederic Bastiat. Vaidya warned of the dangers of violent extremism: “We must not make our region hostage to a small group of terrorists,” he said.

The freedom movement’s main challenge today is populism. This was the key-message of prominent liberal intellectual from India, Barun Mitra. "Liberalism has never faced a greater threat than today”, he said. “Populism transcends ideologies. This is an existential crisis for liberalism”.

Among the highlights of the conference was the talk by the former Indonesian Finance Minister M. Chatib Basri who stressed the many beneficial effects of an open economy particularly for this part of the world: “The success story of Asia was the success story of globalization”, the politician said. However, he conceded this message has not convinced the masses: “We failed to explain the benefits of globalization to the people”, Basri said. To correct this perception, has been a driving force of the ALF-network from the beginning.

Once more, South Asia was well represented with delegates from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In a special workshop, our partners from India explained how they used innovative tools to promote property rights.  “Technology can provide great help in protecting property rights”, said Ambrish Mehta from Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH) who together with his wife Trupti spearheads a project to secure property rights for marginalized communities using GPS technology and Google maps. Ahead of his times in many ways is also our partner Baladevan Rangaraju from the India Institute; the Regional Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) has partnered with Mr. Baladevan to explore using blockchain technology to secure property titles.

The conference ended on a positive note for the delegates from South Asia. The organizers announced that next year’s Asia Liberry Forum will be held in Colombo – and co-hosted by our partners Advocata.