Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
September 2004 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <>


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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Asian Currents is normally brought out in the third week of each month. Please note that in October, staffing arrangements mean that the ebulletin will not reach you until the end of the month.


Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues.

Alarming Indonesia?

by Miranda Darling, ( Miranda did her undergraduate degree at Oxford. She has been observing the 2004 Indonesian elections and will be starting a Masters in Strategic Affairs at the Australian National University in 2005. This piece was written before the bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, perpetrated by non-state actors who did not hesitate to make Indonesians their victims, whatever their target.

A recent report, Attitude Matters: Public opinion in Australia towards defence and security, released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), found that Australians are growing increasingly afraid of Indonesia. There is little in these results to be surprised at. The Australian media invariably presents the Indonesian government through the prism of East Timor, or more recently, Aceh and Papua. There are things for Australians to fear in the Republic of Indonesia, but they come from non-state actors, not directly from the government itself.

What is it that Australians fear when they look at Indonesia?

Are these fears really grounded?

The lead-up to the Indonesian Presidential elections has thrown up some unexpected results:

Presidential candidates are not attacking each other in speeches, or via their supporters in the streets. Instead, there has been an overwhelming dedication to the democratic process itself by both candidates and the voters.

Candidates are not pairing up with 'like' running mates, for example a military candidate with military running mate. Rather they are trying to balance their partnerships and form coalitions.

They are not attacking the West. The candidates are not uniting the people by finding a common enemy outside Indonesia. They may not like us but that does not necessarily make them dangerous to Australians as a nation (again we deliberately exclude non-state actors in this equation).

And finally, Islamic parties are not campaigning on the basis of sharia. Even the party of Muslim puritans (PKS), with their strong ideological background based in sharia, campaigned on non-sharia related themes. There has been very little 'confessionalisation' of the political discourse - few Arabic terms used in the speeches. This means that the parties know there is not the support for theocratic, extreme government. Islam will definitely be in the political arena but there is no evidence for the radicalisation of mainstream Indonesian Islam.

Australians should be alive to the potential Indonesia has as a guideline to other countries in political transition such as Iraq, and to the asset that a huge population of moderate Muslims can be for the West. Rather than viewing Indonesia in simplistic, fearful terms, we should openly welcome the voices of moderation. Their success in pursuing democratic reform and equitable economic growth will do much for our security. We should get this message across to all Australians.

Survivalist anxiety - again

by David Walker (, Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University and author of Anxious nation: Australia and the rise of Asia, 1850-1939, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1999, which won the Ernest Scott prize for History in 2001.

A recent two-day symposium at Deakin University invited audience discussion of the Australia-Indonesia relationship with members of a visiting four-person Indonesian delegation. The findings of the ASPI Report attracted comment, as well they might: for around 30 percent of respondents claimed to feel threatened by Indonesia.

Some participants doubted the figures and wondered what could be learnt from such an exercise. Others saw the response as evidence of a persistent undercurrent of anxiety about Asia, cultural baggage left over from the past. Others again felt that it would be wrong to deny the Federal Government a measure of 'credit' for this heightened anxiety, given its persistent campaign over border protection and assorted threats from the north.

Since at least the 1880s Australians have been warned their proximity to Asia posed special dangers. It followed that no European community had more reason to know and understand Asia. At the point that Australia became a nation 'knowing Asia' was linked with 'national survival'. And one of the earliest forms of knowing Asia was 'knowing' that it threatened Australia.

This kind of knowledge satisfies several requirements. It distils 'knowledge of Asia' to an irreducible essence - the rise of Asia threatens the West in general and Australia in particular. Scholars and others might indulge themselves with fancy theorizing but on the street it was sufficient to know that emerging Asia posed a threat. In this way the 'need to know' could be satisfied without having to go to the trouble of studying or understanding Asia.

This might appear patronizing towards those with anxiety about Asia. It is not. On the contrary, it is critically important that we examine more closely the contexts in which 'Asia' is invoked. What are the cultural foundations of this anxiety? Is it more about 'us' and the conditions of 'our' survival than it is about 'them'? What rhetorical strategies did Arthur Calwell have in mind when he promoted post?war European immigration as Australia's 'second chance at survival'? Why have survivalist anxieties in their various forms proved so culturally durable?

If we accept that knowing Asia is important, it is no less important to know the history of this appeal and the many cultural forms it has taken. How knowing Asia has been presented and promoted in Australia must become an integral facet of Asian studies in Australia.


An executive summary of the ASPI report can be found at

For travel advice to Indonesia, see

For an Indian perspective on the Jakarta blast, see


This month we profile Elaine McKay (, Senior Policy and Management Adviser, Partnership for Gender Equity: Phase II, UNDP, Phnom Penh, Cambodia and a former President of the ASAA.

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

A. I boarded with a girl whose parents were doctors in Malaya. Meeting Colombo Plan students from a variety of Asian countries at the University of Melbourne in 1950s broadened this experience. In 1956 the Executive of the Students Representative Council invited delegations from Asian countries to attend the annual meeting of the National Union of Australian University Students. Only the People Republic of China accepted. I shared a room with the female translator. I was also a member of the first and second student delegations to go to Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia in 1956 and 1957. The only course available with Asian content at that time was Economic Geography taught by Donald Fryer and Bob Wilson. I took it in 1957. In 1958, I went to Indonesia as one of the first Australian volunteers under the program initiated by Herb Feith.

Why? I guess at the beginning it was the attraction of the exotic but with first-hand interactions with people from the region, it became an interest in the challenges of nation building. The idealism expressed by young people from the region was inspiring.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. I work in Cambodia, where so much has been destroyed not only physically but socially and culturally. This has opened a space for opportunism, self-interest and rampant corruption. I do not hear leaders talking about their vision for their country. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, there is not a culture of consensus. The rule of law and all aspects of governance and community building are weak. Eighty-five per cent of the population is rural and productivity in agriculture is very low by regional standards. The population is also very young ? 63 percent under the age of 24. GDP is not keeping pace with this growth so the prospects for poverty reduction are not good. Women are major contributors to both the formal and the informal economy but this is barely recognized and maternal and infant mortality are among the highest in Asia. Sadly, although overseas development assistance represents half the national budget, it is not sufficiently well coordinated to make a significant difference.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. My job is to assist the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MWA) to influence national policy development from a gender perspective. We have made some significant progress ? last year, in what must be a world first, the MWA was designated one of the six priority ministries. My project sponsors programs to build the capacity of MWA staff and the female staff of other ministries in leadership and management, English language, computer skills, project design etc. I am also part of a process to reinvigorate the coordination of overseas development assistance (ODA) in which the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), is playing a leading role.

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

A. At the recent ASAA conference I heard that Asian content is increasing in professional disciplines such as architecture and law. There was some debate as to how rigorous this would be given that it was not likely to be taught by Asia specialists. While this maybe true in some cases, it is certainly not always so. Indeed, most of us of the older generation started out as non-Asia specialists. I'm in favour of mainstreaming Asian content as well as maintaining the more 'purist' studies which can then act as a contextual resource. The exchange of views between disciplines could be enlightening.

The place of Asian studies is still precarious and its advocates will inevitably be in competition with other interest groups. We still have to make out a good intellectual and cultural case for the place of Asian studies in our schools and universities. I believe this should be the next challenge for ASAA.


The Australian Research Council recently announced the successful applicants for its Research Networks. Among the 24 awarded was the Asia Pacific Futures Network (APFN) to be hosted at The Australian National University (ANU). This program received $1.5 million over five years and was one of only four humanities projects to win support.

The APFN's goals are to stimulate innovative research across disciplinary and area boundaries, thus enhancing Australia's interactions with the Asia Pacific region. The network brings experienced researchers into collaboration with government and industry with a view to finding new research directions, partnerships and training opportunities. In its five-year plan the network will focus on governance and security, culture and religion, media and communications, health and population, and trade and industry. Another significant component will be the nurturing of new generations of Asia-Pacific researchers.

Louise Edwards ( from the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University will convene the network with the support of a management committee, whose members who will each oversee region-of-study initiatives (noted in brackets below).

Management Committee composition

A number of industry and government leaders have generously agreed to serve on the APFN's Advisory Council. Their expertise will ensure that the network's academic program interacts with broader political, economic and social needs.

Advisory Committee composition

The network's website contains further information about the scope of the goals as well as source data on the current state of Asia-Pacific studies in Australia.

Website of the month -

This is a collection of images of Indonesia. The images - symbols, heroes, older politicians and historical figures - are offered to assist students to make their assignments more interesting, and help teachers to make their lessons more enjoyable. You are authorised to use these images for research or study only. Contact David Armstrong ( for more information.

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

Did you know?

The first National Centre for Language Training will be based at the University of New South Wales. The Centre will be run by a consortium that includes several Australian universities and TAFE institutes, headed by NewSouth Global, a subsidiary of the University of New South Wales.

This centre is designed to help equip Australians with the practical language skills and cultural knowledge they need to operate effectively in international markets. It will provide practical training in key languages, cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication skills targeted to the needs of Australian business. Business people will be able to study short, practical courses through to more advanced courses in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic.

Recent article of interest

The Philippines elections 2004: issues and implications, Research Note No. 13 2004?05, Frank Frost, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Section, Parliamentary Library, 11 August 2004

In the Philippines national elections of 10 May 2004, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (in office since 2001) secured re-election and pro-Arroyo parties also gained majorities in both chambers of Congress. The new Arroyo administration, however, faces formidable challenges, particularly in confronting institutional 'gridlock', pursuing economic reform and seeking to resolve ongoing insurgencies, some with links to international terrorists. This Research Note reviews the outcome and key implications of the elections. (4 pages)

Diary dates

TREASURES OF BRUNEI DARUSSALAM, 4 August - 4 October 2004, National Museum of Australia, Canberra. This exhibition opens a window on the vigorous sea trade that was taking place around Southeast Asia before Europeans arrived. The collection of trade ceramics dates back at least to the early 16th century, recovered in 1998 from a wreck site 40km off Brunei Darussalam. Entry is $8 adult; $6 concession; $5 child; $16 family. For more information telephone: 02 6208 5000 or go to

LIVING TOGETHER IS EASY - JAPANESE AND AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS, Monday 30 August - Sunday 7 November, National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square, Melbourne. This exhibition brings together the diverse practices of six Australian and six Japanese artists. It explores connections between regional specificity and cultural identity, global politics and interpersonal relationships, biodiversity and sustainable ecologies, and the natural and constructed environment. See website:

THE 2004 KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL, Monday 20 September - Wednesday 6 October. Some of Korea's biggest film hits are touring Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra See for times and venues.
WHEN: Monday 20 September 2004 (Sydney) - Wednesday 6 October 2004 (Brisbane)
TIME: See above website
WHERE: Cinema Paris, Fox Studios, Moore Park, Sydney; National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra; Kino Dendy Cinemas, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne; South Bank 5 Cinemas, Brisbane
ENTRY: Free of charge
ENQUIRIES: Please contact Melissa Hansen on: (02) 9211 2120 or at:

2004 Indonesia Update, 24-25 September, Canberra: NATURAL RESOURCES IN INDONESIA: THE ECONOMIC, POLITICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES, Coombs Lecture Theatre, ANU, Canberra. Details and registration (the conference is free of charge) see: The publication arising out of last year's conference Business in Indonesia: New Challenges, Old Problems (Indonesia Update Series, ISEAS & ANU, 2003), edited by M Chatib Basri and Pierre van der Eng is now available for purchase. See

LIES, CONSPIRACY AND PROPAGANDA, 26-27 September, Canberra. This conference at the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, will examine conspiracies, real and imagined, along with the lies and propaganda which are used on the one hand to conceal reality and on the other to create suspicion and mistrust. Registration form and provisional program at

AUSTRALIA INDIA BUSINESS EXCHANGE PROGRAM - Applications close Thursday 30 September. The Australia India Business Exchange Program (AIBEP) aims to improve Australia's bilateral business relationship with India by giving one Australian and one Indian high-potential executive the opportunity to live and work in each other's country. These exchanges enable participants to gain familiarity with the hosting country's business environment, economy, society and culture, as well as their own company's relations with its partners or traders in the host country. See or contact Divya Raghavan on: (02) 8234 7400 or

ANZ MISSIONARIES, AT HOME AND ABROAD, 8-10 October, Canberra. The 1st Biennial TransTasman Conference on Australians and New Zealanders in Christian Missions, at Home and Abroad, will take place from 8 to 10 October at the New Lecture Theatre, Coombs Extension, Australian National University, Canberra. See Conference Organiser, Ian Welch,

Australia-Malaysia FTA Study: Call for Submissions. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is inviting public submissions and comment on issues relevant to the Australian scoping study for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and Malaysia. The deadline for receiving submissions is Friday 15 October 2004. Submissions may be lodged electronically to See

EDITING WORKSHOP 14-16 October, Adelaide. The ASAA and Flinders Asia Centre are sponsoring an editing workshop from 14-16 October 2004 for postgraduates interested in editing an edition of the magazine, Inside Indonesia. The workshop is free, and a small number of scholarships are available to cover travel costs. Scholarships will be awarded competitively on the basis of proposals submitted by 1 September. Interested postgraduates specialising in Indonesia can get more information about the proposal and the workshop by contacting

International Korean Studies Conference 2004, 11 and 12 November 2004 University of Wollongong.. The Park Era: A Reassessment After 25 Years 2004 marks the 25th year since Park's assassination, and yet his legacy lives on, underlining the position of great importance the Park era holds in South Korea's development as a nation. The conference will reflect upon some of the key questions that need to be examined about how Korean culture, psychology, democracy and national infrastructure has come to be what it is today. For full details and conference registration, please visit the website:

CURRENT PERSPECTIVES AND NEW DIRECTIONS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LEARNING, 1 ? 3 December, Singapore. The CLaSIC 2004 conference at the National University of Singapore aims to bring together academics, researchers and professionals from Asia and beyond for an exchange of insights on current and future developments in foreign language teaching and learning. Special attention will be paid to ICT, multimedia and foreign language learning. See


THE FOURTH ASIALEX CONFERENCE, 'WORDS IN ASIAN CULTURAL CONTEXTS', 1-3 JUNE 2005, SINGAPORE: call for papers. The conference will examine the functions and representations of words in Asia and of Asia in. The organizers invite presentations. Submission deadline for abstracts is 31 December 2004. See

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About the ASAA

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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