“When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will,” quoted Suraj Vaidya, Chairman of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI). Vaidja cited French economist Frederic Bastiat’s statement to highlight the importance of free trade in a region overshadowed by political conflicts.

Vaidya warned of the dangers of violent extremism in his keynote address at the Asian Liberty Forum (ALF) held in Jakarta, Indonesia on February 10-11, 2018. “We must not make our region hostage to a small group of terrorists,” he said.

ALF is an annual gathering of liberals and libertarians. Participants from 32 countries joined the two the two-day program. “The ideas of freedom have roots in many Asian traditions,” remarked Brad Lips, CEO at the Atlas Network. “It is essential to learn more about these traditions, and how they translate into modern policies that promote freedom and prosperity,” he added.

Former Indonesian Finance Minister M. Chatib Basri stressed the many beneficial effects of an open economy. “The success story of Asia was the success story of globalization,” he said. He conceded, however, that this message has not convinced the masses. “We failed to explain the benefits of globalization to the people,” admitted Basri.

The main challenge in the Asian region today is populism. “Liberalism has never faced a greater threat than today. Populism transcends ideologies. This is an existential crisis for liberalism,” commented Liberty Institute Founder Barun Mitra from India.

In spite this, initiatives to push back and promote liberal democracy and economic freedom is strong in Asia. The entrepreneurial spirit in the region is vibrant. Asia is the biggest change-maker in the century offering innovative ideas.

In a special workshop at ALF, Ambrish Mehta from India’s Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH) presented the organization’s project to secure property rights for marginalized communities using GPS technology and Google maps. “Technology can provide great help in protecting property rights,” said Mehta. Blockchain technology is now also being used to secure property titles.

ALF was co-organized by the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), Atlas Network, and EFN with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.