Asian Studies Association of  Australia
Asian Currents
ISSN 1449-4418
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
May 2004

In this issue

  Welcome Top  

Asian Currents aims to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. By telling you what is happening in the research world, we hope you will be able to make better use of the wealth of knowledge available and that you will recognise the importance of fostering Australia's Asia knowledge.

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  Analysis Top  

Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues. This month we look at the surprise result in the Indian elections and at the dangers of the war against terrorism for Southeast Asia and Australia.

Poll-axed: how the BJP lost India's elections
Robin Jeffrey
Professor of Politics at Latrobe University

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies were dismayed and surprised at their defeat in India's general elections, but advertising agencies and market researchers ought to be more chastened still.

The alliance built around the rival Congress Party won 217 seats (145 for the Congress itself). With support from various smaller parties, the alliance is able to form a government.

A passion for polling bears much of the responsibility for the BJP's defeat. For the past 20 years, the Indian advertising industry and its market-research cousins have grown and prospered. No media organization can go to air or to press without a poll of one kind or another. Viewers and readers like polls. So do the advertisers who lust for viewers and readers.

The BJP's nimble younger leaders embraced the model. The recipe was that your market-researchers conducted polls, you discovered what voters wanted, you modelled your advertising to meet these expressed desires and you developed a cadre of television-savvy spokespeople to talk to India's 70 million TV households. And electoral victory would be yours.

But the problem lay in the fact that India has more than 200 million households. Two-thirds of them don't have TV. And in a country where 75 per cent of the 1,000 million people live in villages, polling too often resembles alchemy rather than science.

The pollsters and marketers will feel the result of the election less than BJP politicians and their allies, many of whom now will be looking for jobs. The ad men and ad women will move on sell their services to telephone companies, soap-makers and car manufacturers. Media outlets, hungry for the quick thrill and ratings spike that poll results offer, will continue to commission them. But canny politicians will recognize that polls in rural India still have more to do with mass-media entertainment than science.

Terrorism and democracy
Howard Dick
Associate Professor, Department of Management, University of Melbourne

Terrorism has probably been too prominent on the political agenda and in the media. Nevertheless, there are grounds for concern that the next six months will be a time of increased vulnerability. This is particularly true of Southeast Asia, and also Australia.

Unlike Communism, the driving forces of terrorism lie beyond Asia. The festering sores of the Palestine-Israel conflict, of Iraq, of Afghanistan make plausible the belief that Islam is under siege, as also that the United States and its close allies are the enemy. These beliefs have gained global credibility from the unilateral invasion of Iraq, and the abuses of the allied occupation. The United States government has yet to persuade electorates in the West, let alone in the Middle East or Asia, that it acts with the authority of international law and in defence of human rights.

Asia has its own trouble spots, especially in the democratic countries of Southeast Asia. Indonesia faces a secessionist movement in Aceh and ongoing religious strife in Sulawesi and Maluku; the Philippines struggles with the long-running insurgency in Mindanao and Sulu; in recent months strife has also broken out in the southernmost provinces of Thailand. These insurgencies are connected loosely by the thread of Islam, more directly by trade in weapons and drugs, by shared intelligence, and by training.

The strategic danger to Southeast Asia is not only the synergies between these insurgencies but also the ideological fuel from the worsening debacle in the Middle East. As realists warned at the time, the invasion of Iraq has not contained but diffused militant Islam.

Ironically the United States administration, which has put such effort into controlling the flow of information to media in its own country, has completely failed to appreciate that global media now penetrate to most corners of the Islamic world. Bad news now spreads with amazing speed to increasingly sophisticated Muslim societies. United States credibility in most of those countries is now at an all time low.

This situation has left Australia dangerously exposed as a high-profile US ally. Our proven ability to mediate relations with Asian neighbours has been gravely compromised by the lack of distance from an unusually clumsy US administration. This has been underlined by the Al Qaeda announcement that Australians are now targeted by Islamic militants in Indonesia.

The probabilities of terrorist acts in the capital cities and tourist resorts of Asia, as indeed in the barely protected main cities and resorts of Australia, are now greatly magnified. Terrorist groups have very strong incentives to strike in the lead-up to elections in the United States and Australia, perhaps also in Indonesia.

A danse macabre between terrorism and democracy has long been observed in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. New acts of terrorism would make the reelection of President Bush and PM Howard all the more likely.

Further links:
  • While Howard Dick's article calls for vigilance about the effects of the war on terrorism in our region, and suggests the need for a diplomacy more sensitive to perceptions in the Islamic world, as Allan Gyngell, director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, pointed out recently it's not all bad news in Asia. See
  • Article from the South Asia Analysis Group, TERRORISM IN S.E.ASIA-- India's Concerns,
  Profile Top  

This month we profile Dr Peter McCawley (, the Dean of the Asian Development Bank Institute in Tokyo. Peter McCawley has worked as an academic and as an Australian and international aid official for over 30 years. He taught in the Economics Faculty at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta in Indonesia in the early 1970s, later became Head of the Indonesia Project at the ANU in 1980, served as a member of the Jackson Committee of Review of the Australian Aid Program in 1983, joined AusAID as a Deputy Director General in 1986, and became an Executive Director of the Board of the Asian Development Bank in Manila for four years in 1992.

Q. When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?

A. In 1967 when Professor Heinz Arndt, then Head of the Department of Economics in the Research School of Pacific Studies (now the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies) and Head of the Indonesia Project, offered me a PhD scholarship to work on the Indonesia economy. Heinz was keen to strengthen the work of the new Indonesian economics project. I was glad to have the opportunity to work on such an interesting, important, and misunderstood country. It also seemed to me to be clearly in Australia's broad national interests to strengthen Australian knowledge of Indonesia.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. I have three current preoccupations. One is working to strengthen the ADB Institute in Tokyo. The second is helping support an ADB team to finalise the international negotiations for the current round of replenishment of the ADB's Asian Development Fund. The ADF provides the money needed to support the soft loan activities of the Bank. And the third is implementing a large Public Policy Training Project in Viet Nam to help train mid-level public servants. This project, currently budgeted at $US 15 million over two years, is in the early stages. A lot of work is needed to ensure that the design and implementation is done properly.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. Mass poverty in developing countries and especially in Asia is, quite simply, the most serious economic and social global challenge that we face. Mass poverty breeds misery, desperation, sickness, and undermines our efforts to strengthen global human and social security. The work of bilateral and multilateral development agencies can, in a modest way, help support the key efforts of developing countries within Asia to overcome mass poverty. Ultimately this battle will be won -- hopefully towards the middle of the 22nd Century -- as a result of the work of developing countries themselves. But international assistance can play a useful if modest role.

Q. What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?

A. Two things. I hope that Asian studies will contribute to a more mature understanding than currently exists in Australia of the neighbouring countries around our nation. This way, we will be better placed to define our interests and identify our proper role in the region. I also hope that many more Australians will recognise the stunning potential that exists to expand economic linkages between Australia and Asia to the mutual advantage of both Asians and Australians. At present, Australia is missing out on all sorts of opportunities across the region.

  Diary dates Top  

The 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia (29 June to 2 July 2004) will opened by the Governor-General, His Excellency Major-General Jefferey at the National Convention Centre in Canberra on 29 June. For the first time, delegates to the ASAA Conference will have the opportunity to have their papers peer-reviewed and placed on the web as part of refereed conference proceedings in line with the requirements of the Australian Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). Papers in PDF format can be submitted up to 2 August, one month after the end of the conference, to give presenters the opportunity to respond to suggestions and comments at the conference itself.

The conference's program--with approximately 160 panels and over 470 accepted papers--is now available online at

A special event during the conference will be a major address at the National Press Club on 30 June by Dr John Yu, Chancellor of the University of NSW. Dr Yu will speak on Knowing Asia: Australia's Future. For bookings, see

    ASAA Conference Honours scholarships for students from Australia or New Zealand

     The 15th Biennial ASAA Conference has received a special earmarked grant from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, to offer a small number of scholarships to current Honours students at Australian or New Zealand universities to attend the ASAA Conference.

     The purpose of the scholarships is to enable Honours students to attend the conference, to hear the presentations and to develop contacts with specialists from other universities. Scholarship recipients are not expected to present a paper.

     The scholarships cover registration fees for the conference and return budget airfares to Canberra, but not accommodation or other expenses.

     Applications should be made to: Dr Robert Cribb, Pacific and Asian History, RSPAS, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200; fax 02 6125 5525; e-mail and should include:

  • A brief covering letter with full contact details
  • A copy of your academic record
  • A 600 word (two page) summary of your Honours thesis topic
Applications should be received by Friday 9 June 2004.

ASEAN Australian Engineering Congress 2004 (AAEC 2004) will be held from 26 to 28 May 2004 Sutera Harbour Resort Kota Kinabalu Sabah. See The congress will address the following themes:

  1. Regional security
  2. Safety and health
  3. Economic development
  4. Sustainability
  5. Environmental issues

The Asia Bookroom at Weedon Close, Belconnen, Canberra, invites you to the launch of Professor James Cotton's new book, East Timor, Australia and Regional Order. Intervention and its Aftermath in Southeast Asia, by Dr Milton Osborne, historian and consultant specialising in Southeast Asia on Friday 28 May from 6pm. Please RSVP by 26 May (02 6251 5191).

From 30 April to 20 June 2004 you can see an exhibition of Japanese prints: images from the floating world at the Art Gallery of South Australia. See

James Castle, Chairman, The Castle Group, Jakarta, Indonesia, will be speaking at the Coombs Extension Lecture Theatre, ANU, Canberra on 9 June at 4.00pm on Indonesia's Election Process Impact on Social Stability & Business. His talk will be followed by the launch by Ross Garnaut, Professor of Economics, Division of Economics, RSPAS, ANU of Business in Indonesia: New Challenges, Old Problems, edited by M. Chatib Basri and Pierre van der Eng and published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. Acceptances (for Book Launch on 9 June only) by 1 June 2004 to: Cathy Haberle, email:

Cultural and Religious Mosaic of South and Southeast Asia: Conflict and Consensus through the Ages. A Regional Conference co-hosted by IAHR and UNESCO, New Delhi, 27-30 January 2005. See

You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to:

  Student of the month Top  

Rachel Diprose ( was awarded first class honours in Indonesian Studies from the University of NSW in 2002. She had majored in both Indonesian and Spanish as part of her Arts degree (complemented by a Bachelor of Commerce) but it was her experience as part of the Australian Consortium of In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) which decided her to pursue Indonesian studies. She describes her ACICIS semester spent at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta (Yogya) as one of her best experiences to date:

Apart from meeting wonderful people from all over Indonesia and Australia during my stay in Yogya, it was the ACICIS experience which has provided me with a lifetime of friends and now colleagues, as our paths have continued to cross over the past five years. Studying with ACICIS gave me an understanding of all facets of Indonesian life, something you simply cannot achieve from the snapshots you get studying in Australia.

Rachel has spent the last two years working for the World Bank in Indonesia, most recently as a researcher on a project into conflict and community negotiation in East Java. In October she will start a a PhD in Development Studies and Conflict at Oxford University.

  Website of the month Top  

Orientations: The magazine for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art

This website ( This web site gives detailed information on Orientations publications concerning Asian arts, especially antiques and includes an Asian Art Search Engine.

If you would like to nominate a site which contributes to the maximizing of Australia's Asian knowledge, please contact

  Congratulations Top  

In April the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Government of Singapore announced plans to establish Singapore's first foreign university. UNSW Singapore will be the first wholly-owned and operated research and teaching campus to be established overseas by an Australian university and will be UNSW's first offshore campus.

UNSW Singapore will be built on a green fields site near the CBD at South Changi. The campus will offer a comprehensive range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees and will include extensive research laboratories. It will begin enrolling students from February 2007 and will have capacity for 15,000 students, at least 70 percent of whom will be drawn from international locations and up to 30 percent from Singapore.

Half of the student load will be in the science/engineering areas, where the initial focus will be on technology, IT, electrical engineering, telecommunications and possibly chemical engineering. In the humanities and social sciences, the initial focus will be on commerce, languages, Asian studies, Australian studies, media and communications and fine arts.

For more information check the UNSW Singapore website:

  Recent article of interest Top  

Images of Australia in Asian Languages, The National Library of Australia (NLA)

The National Library of Australia seeks to collect Asian language Australiana comprehensively. This includes works published overseas in Asian languages where the subject is wholly or substantially Australian. It also includes Asian language books published in Australia, as well as Asian language editions and translations of Australian authors, whether published locally or overseas. The Asian Collections contain some 3000 Australiana monographs in Japanese, 1000 in Chinese and around 200 in other Asian languages. In addition there are many journal and newspaper articles about Australia in these languages. An introduction to these holdings was included in 'National Library of Australia News,' volume XIV number 7, April 2004, pp. 14-17. It can also be found at

  Feedback Top  

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  About the ASAA Top  

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia; supports teaching and research in Asian studies; and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asia Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference.

The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to establish a Council for Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge and Skills (C-MAAKS), chaired by an outstanding Australian, to oversee a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has detailed this proposal in Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset. See

Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA), thanks to a grant from the Myer Foundation made to assist the ASAA promote the study of Asia in Australia. It is edited by the ASAA's promotions agents, Francesca Beddie and Peter Rodgers.


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