Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
October 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.


Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues. This month we focus on Japan.

Japan's Economy

by Peter Drysdale (, former head and founder of the Australia-Japan Research Centre* and Professor in the Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University.

With real GDP growth of 2.4 per cent last calendar year and running at an annual rate of over 6 per cent in the first quarter of 2004, Japan's economic malaise looked like it might be coming to an end. But growth dropped back to an annual rate of just over 1 per cent in the June quarter and there is still a long way to go to get it back on track.

A major drag is massive debt overhang of the order of 150 per cent of GDP. One way of dealing with the deflationary consequences of this is for the economy to grow its way out of the problem. This requires a big and sustained rise in productivity. Historically, Britain managed to do this after the Napoleonic Wars. But lifting Japan's productivity is a huge challenge, especially in the face of demographic change that reduces flexibility in the economy.

Another way is for Japan to inflate its way out of the problem. But this is a process that easily gets out of control when people inside and outside Japan lose confidence in the value of holding Japanese assets and inflation turns into hyperinflation as it did in the early years after the Pacific War.

A boost to productivity growth can only come with painful restructuring of the economy and reform of the social and political institutions affecting economic performance. Accelerated corporate and financial restructuring, increasing openness to outside ideas and products, and improved performance from the government and the central bank have all contributed to steadily increased productivity and growth.

Iwao Nakatani, Chairman of Sony, has even suggested that Japan should open up migration to boost the country's creative fibre. Prime Minister Koizumi has his sights set on privatisation of the postal savings system, in the past not only a source of huge misallocation in public spending but also at the heartland of vested interest politics in Japan.

The kick-start to growth last year, however, came from the impact of China's surging growth and the boost that gave to export and economic activity. As China takes over from the US as Japan's major customer and the prospect of deep integration of the Japanese and Chinese economies looms, one question for the future is how to prevent the frigid Japan-China political relationship from derailing this strengthening of their economic relationship.

*The Australia-Japan Research Centre (AJRC) conducts research to explore and improve understanding of Australia and Japan's strategic interests in the Asia Pacific economy, as well as to advance Asia Pacific economic cooperation. This encompasses research into trade, finance, and macroeconomics, as well as international economic relations, strategic analysis, and economic security in the Asia Pacific. http://aps

For a regular update on Japan, subscribe to Japan Focus:

Security as an issue in Australia-Japan relations since '9/11'

by David Walton ( of the University of Western Sydney.

Given the current international environment and the extent of regional interaction between Australia and Japan, a co-ordinated plan of action to combat terrorism in the region is essential. The lack of direct consultation until recently suggests that this feature of the bilateral relationship is in need of significant improvement.

In 2003, dialogue on security matters was conducted at a comparatively frenetic pace. Vice-Ministerial level meetings between the United States, Australia and Japan resulted in substantial consultations on concerns such as terrorism and the North Korea imbroglio. A joint Australia-Japan statement was made on combating international terrorism (July 16) and a memorandum of defence exchange was signed (September 29). The memorandum allows for the sharing of intelligence information and exchange of military college cadets. This was an important step towards developing security networks and formal links between the two defence establishments.

It is highly unlikely that either Australia or Japan would wish to pursue a direct security alliance. The current provisions for triangular contacts (involving the United States) and upgraded bilateral consultation make the need for a formal alliance unnecessary. Indeed the domestic difficulties in both countries make the concept of an alliance politically untenable. The bilateral relationship, which has largely been driven by commercial interests and which still suffers spasmodically from issues related to the Pacific War, is not ready for a full-blown security relationship. That said, the volatile security environment and the fact that the defence exchange agreement is piecemeal has made the upgrade in security links more palatable both domestically and internationally. Recent steps towards a more coherent security framework are therefore welcome and further action should be encouraged.

David Walton was guest editor of a special issue of the journal Japanese Studies (September 2004, see on the Australia-Japan bilateral relationship, discussion of which was an important focus of the 2003 biennial Japanese Studies Association of Australia conference. Following on from the conference, academics in Australia and Japan have continued their efforts to energise the security relationship. In 2004 as part of second-track diplomacy two major workshops on Australia-Japan-US security issues have been held in Tokyo and Brisbane.

The Japanese Studies Association of Australia is an affiliate of the ASAA. See


This month we profile Jamie Mackie, Emeritus Professor at the economics department of the Indonesia Project, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra; Professor Mackie is a former President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. His areas of expertise include Indonesian politics and economics, overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and Australian immigration policy.

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

A. During World War II when serving in HMAS Warramunga between PNG, West New Guinea, The Philippines and Japan. I became aware of how little we knew about any of these countries and the urgent need to know a lot more. Also, I found the Philippines (and even Japan in its then wrecked state) highly intriguing and attractive. While at university after the war I had in mind to try to get back up there some time, although there was then almost nowhere to study Asian countries or languages in Australia. When Macmahon Ball was appointed to the Politics Chair at the University of Melbourne I attended his first course on Asian Nationalism in 1949. Personal dealings with him later confirmed my yen to 'get up there somehow'

Later when Herb Feith went up to Indonesia as the first Volunteer Graduate I asked him to look out for job opportunities for me and he wangled one - in the State Planning Bureau. I was profoundly lucky to be able to follow in Herb's footsteps. That's how I got involved with Indonesia - and from there I moved into the inaugural Department of Indonesian Studies at Melbourne, then to Monash University and later to the ANU.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. Hoping Indonesia can make the demokrasi dan reformasi transition succeed - and at the same time get back to the sort of 7% GDP growth rates it experienced under Suharto who, despite his shortcomings, transformed the country over his thirty-year reign.

Also the situation of the Southeast Asian Chinese, especially in Indonesia. The correlation between ethnicity and their superior wealth is a troubling socio-economic problem, not getting better as it needs to (and we used to think it would). Will it be very different by 2025?

Also, questions about reviving the Keating drive of the mid-1990s towards closer engagement with our neighbours, especially Indonesia (and not just China).

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. The victory of SBY in Indonesia may, repeat may, open up a chance to get a new and better start if he can make the new political arrangements work. But that is a big ask. Unless the political parties are much more effective and become deeply rooted in the society - and the patronage-based business world is made a lot more honest, competitive and transparent (a huge ask), I fear that Indonesia will just go on limping along at 4% growth rates which are not sufficient to soak up the unemployed. The economy may even stagnate. Suharto at least made a good start on that front, creating a 'better class of corruption' as Professor Ross McLeod puts it!

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

A. Currently I am not very optimistic, despite so many very good young scholars in these fields. It's a mixture of inadequate government funding, lack of continuing momentum to get to grips better with Asian countries and cultures and the 'don't care much' community attitudes. I think the character of Asian studies may have to be adapted to changing educational circumstances and new technologies over the next twenty years, so that it will look very different from the 1980-1990s version by 2025. We're now well past the pioneering phase and thousands of Australians now work and live in Asian countries. So the Asia experts should be drawing on their needs, skills and demand in determining what we offer.

Researcher of the month

Kama Maclean ( started her university study at Sydney University but it didn't click. She took some time off, worked and travelled, her budget getting her as far as India. She was fascinated and knew then what she wanted to study. Life took her to Melbourne where she enrolled in Indian history and started to learn Hindi. With Hindi and two years of Sanskrit she was well equipped to delve into Indian history.

Her PhD, Power and Pilgrimage: the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad 1976-2001, was awarded by La Trobe University in 2003. It investigates the Hindu pilgrimage festival, the Kumbh Mela. It concentrates on Allahabad, at the confluence of three holy rivers - the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati, and the largest destination for pilgrims (conservative figures suggest that during the festival up to 15 million people a day visit the site). Kama wanted to make sense of such an enormous, vibrant event but also to investigate, given her interest in power, how the authorities controlled such a display of religiosity. Her study considers prosaic aspects such as disease control, food and clean water supply, sanitation, as well as religious sensitivities and now the security threats such a crowd might attract.

The University of New South Wales, committed to carrying on a distinguished tradition in the scholarship of Indian history, appointed Kama as Lecturer in South Asian and World History in September 2002. Her course on Modern India aims at helping students to look at India's present (its cricket, its nuclear program, Bollywood, for example) through its past. Similarly, her approach to world history interweaves eastern and western perspectives on the development of the modern world.

To read more about the 1998 Kumbh Mela, go to: See also, about the Chatham House India Project which aims to promote understanding of India's economic, political and social development, and its impact on the rest of the world.

Website of the month

The Asian Law Centre, an initiative of the University of Melbourne Law School, commenced activities in 1985. It is the first Australian centre devoted to the development of our understanding of Asian law. Recent initiatives have also aimed to promote Asian interest in Australian legal systems and law. Its website includes a bibliographic database to assist students, scholars and the public wishing to know more about Asian legal systems.

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

Recent article of interest

The Elephant and the Dragon: can India's rise match China's?
Tim Harcourt, Chief Economist at the Australian Trade Commission asks is India the new China? Or even the new India?

To read his article go to,,0_S1-1_CORPXID0029-2_-3_PWB110475452-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html.

Did you know?

Asian languages are under threat at the University of Sydney. Peter Upperton, a student of Thai, argues for their retention.

In late August 2004, our class was told by a visibly upset lecturer that our Thai language class was to be closed in order to save Sydney University some money. A month later the Indonesian language classes were told the same news. The next day there was a car bomb outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The juxtaposition of the two events does have relevance. In this new international situation, Australia needs all the friends it can get, especially with our near neighbours, and a greater understanding by a greater number of Australians about Southeast Asia and, indeed, the rest of the world, is essential.

The policy decision to close these classes (which directly affects some 60 students in Sydney University, but also disturbs thousands of other Asian students and their parents), is patently not in Australia's best long term interests.

Both political parties have emphasised the need for closer links with South East Asia. The recently signed (July 2004) Free Trade Agreement with Thailand shows mutual respect and need, as well as specifically stating that there will be enhanced cooperation in education. Our trade with Thailand is set to expand - but what do the management of Sydney University do? Go in the opposite direction.

Another effect concerns the new generations of immigrants with one or more Thai or Indonesian parents who lose the ability to speak a second language quite quickly in the process of assimilation. They will now not be able to get it back as they progress through our educational system. This shows a very narrow world outlook from one of Australia's oldest and most prestigious centres of learning.

Luckily the decision has not yet made its way to the Vice Chancellor's desk, nor has the Academic Board been consulted. If you would like to add your weight to the growing numbers of citizens who are disturbed by this move to close Thai and Indonesian, please email the VC at or write to him at A14 - Main Quadrangle, The University of Sydney, Sydney NSW 2006.

Diary dates

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

BALANCING CHINA AND THE US - POLICY OPTIONS FOR AUSTRALIA Panel Discussion: with Hugh White, Greg Sheridan and Professor Bruce Jacobs Thursday 4 November, 6.30pm to 8.00pm Basement Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, The University of Melbourne, corner Swanston Street and Monash Road, Parkville. Free of charge. To reserve a seat, send an email to: with 'Hugh White' in the subject line.
ENQUIRIES: Please call Asialink on (03) 8344 48003. Website:

INDIAN NOVELIST AND HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER ARUNDHATI ROY AT THE ART GALLERY OF NSW, Friday 5 November, 10.30. Ms Roy will be in conversation with Professor Stuart Rees, Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation. Tickets $38 or $30 Art Gallery Society members - includes light luncheon. Bookings essential: (02) 9225 1878 or fax (02) 9221 6234,

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:

INTERNATIONAL KOREAN STUDIES CONFERENCE 2004, 11 and 12 November, 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 our 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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