Asia Vision 21

The Harvard University Asia Center’s Asia Vision 21 annual conference series has been a concerted effort at analyzing long-term issues and developments in Asia while forging a vision of the region for the 21st century. It was conceived in the Beijing Capital Airport in March 1998 as a response to the financial crises of 1997-1998. Ezra Vogel, then-Director of the Asia Center, guided the initial effort and enlisted the advice and support of some of Harvard’s leading alumni in the region to propose the project agenda. Victor Fung, Minoru “Ben” Makihara, Tatsuo Arima and Jaime Zobel de Ayala were asked to form an Advisory Board to accomplish this. Victor Fung has chaired the board up to the present, and ever since has had a significant influence on the content and direction of Asia Vision 21.

The first conference, held in Cambridge in 1999, examined the financial crises in which both the causes and some of the proposed solutions to problems in the region were examined. Subsequent conferences explored specific topics such as regional institution building for long-term economic, social, and political development in Asia; the emerging rise of China in the region; managing crises and dealing with the unexpected; values and changes in Asian societies; the integrating effect of communication technology; how to pay for health care and pensions; proliferation and regional disputes; the influence of Islam in Asia; scientific and technologic models for development; governmental and institutional governance; global and regional imbalances; maritime security in Asia; aging and elder care; and the environmental impact of the development of new energy sources. The location of Asia Vision 21 alternates between Cambridge and a major city in Asia. Conferences have been held in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore, and Shanghai.  

Asia Vision 21 also serves as a neutral meeting ground for individuals concerned with major developments in Asia who traditionally have refrained from discussing sensitive issues together in other Asian contexts. The approximately 75 participants in Asia Vision 21 bring a high degree of knowledge and experience in finance, business, economic policy, governmental actions, and academic work. Emphasis has been placed on those leaders young enough to play a role in implementing the visions that emerge from the conferences.
At the conferences, this group of leading thinkers and institutional actors are asked to step back from their daily routines to think about what Asians want for their society, politics, economy, and institutions in the decades ahead, and then discuss what may be done at present that will help lead to those outcomes. The presence of Harvard faculty has helped focus those discussions as well as address U.S.-Asia relations. The discussions at the conferences have been thoughtful, provocative, and useful. The final conference report is distributed widely not only to participants, but also to academic institutions, libraries, think tanks, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and individuals in Asia and North America.  

The mission of the Harvard University Asia Center is to sustain and strengthen linkages between Harvard and East, Southeast, and South Asia. The annual Asia Vision 21 conference underscores this mission as it is a focal point of interaction between the Harvard community and leaders from Asia. A by-product of the Asia Vision 21 conference series has been the building of a collegial network of relationships among Asian and Western participants, which in many cases now extends over a decade and a half.  
In 2014, after 15 years of presenting Asia Vision 21, the Harvard Asia Center handed over organizational responsibilities for the conference to the Fung Global Institute with which it continues to cosponsor the annual event.