Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
January 2005 | 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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Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues. This month we focus on various aspects of the recent tsunami.

ACEH: The devastation of peace and the tsunami process

by Barbara Leigh, Head of Asia Pacific Studies at the Institute for International Studies, University of Technology, Sydney and member of the ASAA council. Dr Leigh has lived and worked in Aceh.

The tsunami that wrecked the coast of Aceh has dramatically changed the face of politics in the Indonesian province. Before 26 December 26, 2004, the region was closed to all foreigners. 40,000 members of the Indonesian military and police (BRIMOB) had free rein, with reports suggesting their involvement in a wide range of illicit wealth-making activities. While purportedly winning the hearts and minds of the Acehnese, in fact the military presence only strengthened the resistance movement seeking independence from Indonesia.

With the massive devastation of the capital, Banda Aceh, and the obliteration of whole villages on the west coast, Aceh has entered the international consciousness. Australia's generous pledge of AUD$1 billion to help Indonesia recover from the tsunami, along with the outpouring of funds from elsewhere in world has shaped the focus within Jakarta on the Aceh situation in humanitarian more than militaristic ways.

What effect will these changes have on the war? The war still continues with reports of shoot-outs amidst the search for loved ones and control of the delivery of aid. The two sides have shown an intransigence that would seem almost insurmountable, even in the face of such massive disaster. The strategic dimension of the conflict, given the international climate of humanitarian support for the Acehnese people, and implicitly, support for Indonesia and Aceh's place within that nation, will be to work towards a strengthening of Acehnese civil society. The presence of large numbers of foreign journalists and aid workers in the province may assist in advocating such an outcome. And if Indonesia believes Acehnese civil society is becoming disciplined and responsible enough to allow the implementation of the autonomy law which envisages decentralisation and the enforcement of security by a trained Acehnese police force, ultimately there could be a withdrawal of Indonesian troops. On the other hand, opportunistic use of the plight of the Acehnese either by members of the Indonesian military or by GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka/Free Aceh Movement) could swing things in ways that would not facilitate a peaceful solution to the 'Aceh problem', a problem that is infinitely greater than before, while ironically now having better chances for peace.

THE DARK SIDE OF GIVING: Australia-Indonesia relations post-tsunami

by Robert Cribb, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University and President of the ASAA.

Australians are justifiably proud of their swift response to the humanitarian crisis in Indonesia following the Boxing Day tsunami. Not only has it demonstrated genuine generosity, Australia's prompt and leading role in the relief effort is seen by many commentators to offer the chance for Australia to prove definitively to Indonesians that our intentions are good, and to banish the lingering strains in relations caused by the separation of East Timor in 1999. Indeed, with thousands of Indonesians and Australians working together on restoring a battered region, a host of new personal ties should put new depth into the relationship. This could provide an insurance against future tensions.

Already, however, there are signs that things might not turn out so well. Indonesia is too poor and too badly hit to have the luxury of refusing foreign aid, as has India. But not all Indonesians will welcome this intrusion of foreign benevolence.

Indonesian traditions place great emphasis on reciprocity. 'Rice debts must be repaid in rice, blood debts must be repaid in blood' was a slogan of the nationalist revolutionaries in Aceh during the revolution of the 1940s, when the Acehnese were enthusiastic supporters of Indonesia. Reciprocity can mean revenge.

Within this framework, gifts create obligations, and generous gifts create big obligations. There is a vast gift economy in Indonesian society, in which power-holders bind the weak and the poor to them by means of generosity. Some dismiss this as corruption but it is also a means for helping to redistribute wealth in a country where the official tax and social welfare system is not up to the job.

Of course Indonesians do not fear they will have to repay all those aid dollars back one day or that they will need to send relief workers to Australia. What they fear is being bound to do the will of Australia and other Western countries. They understand that beneath the veneer of the doctrine of Christian charity--that gifts ought to be made with no expectation of return--the West also has a strong sense of reciprocity. If Australia has spent $500 million to help Indonesia, how can Indonesia then play hardball in trade negotiations, on the issue of human rights, on illegal immigrants and environmental issues?

Receiving countries, too, are always aware of the power of creative accounting. $1 billion has been allocated to assist Indonesia, but how much will be spent on Australian salaries, on products from Australia, on contracts for Australian firms? Foreign aid can sometimes be a cover for financial transactions which barely touch the purported recipient. Yet that figure of $1 billion will stand as a constant reminder to Indonesians that they have to be civil to Australia.

None of this means that relations have to go bad. But we should not imagine that aid in time of emergency will buy us Indonesia's friendship.


by John Funston, Associate Director of the National Thai Studies Centre, Australian National University

The tsunami has had a devastating effect on some sectors of Thai society and the Thai economy, particularly those associated with the tourism industry. But its impact has been limited to such specific areas and most analysts believe it will not reduce this year's GNP by more than about 0.5 percent (growth is still expected to be between 5 percent and 6 percent). The number of Thais killed is, relative to other countries, small (around 2,500) but Thais have of course been moved by the humanitarian disaster which has also involved deaths of around an equal number of foreign tourists. There were some initial shortcomings in the organising a response but overall Thai officials and ordinary members of the public have cooperated and done an outstanding job in ameliorating suffering.

Politically there is an election scheduled for 6 February, and Prime Minister Thaksin's active involvement in addressing these issues has enhanced his standing in the eyes of the electorate. He was expected to win a clear majority anyway, but the disaster has strengthened his position.

Since becoming PM four years ago Thaksin has made it a matter of honour to stress that Thailand is not an aid recipient country, it is an aid donor. He has reiterated this position in the current crisis, although Thailand is accepting assistance in some specialist areas.


For an annotated directory of Internet resources on the 2004 tsunami disaster in Asia, including news sources, information on relief efforts and donations, missing persons and victim contact information, and impact on affected countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, go to:

For the Thai coordination effort see


This month we profile Raymond Mallon (, an economic consultant based in Viet Nam and co-author of Viet Nam: A Transition Tiger?, who would like to see greater cooperation between Asia-based Australians and Asian studies programs in Australia.

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

A. An early general interest in Asia was strengthened while studying Agriculture Economics at the University of New England (UNE), where I interacted with many Asian post-graduate students. They helped stimulate my interest in both Asia and development. Following graduation, efforts to find work in Southeast Asia led to my first international consulting assignment in Laos.

While doing a Masters of Economics at the Australian National University (ANU), I also studied the Thai language. I joined the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as Country Economist in 1988, working on Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam. I was seconded to Viet Nam for two years in 1991. I never made it back to ADB. Viet Nam is a fascinating country for an economist to work.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. Two daughters; understanding the processes of transition to market economies (the subject of Viet Nam: a transition tiger?); business regulation reform; and regional cooperation in the Greater Mekong sub-region.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. Study of transition processes helps me think beyond what I learned at university about market economies. During the early stages of reform many of us 'advisors' had a somewhat simplistic view on what reform entailed. Most reforms were ineffective without broad-based support and institutional development. Studying the characteristics of successful regulatory reforms helped me learn much about Viet Nam and to think more about how market economies work, and some of the causes of market and government failure. Viet Nam has also helped me develop a healthy cynicism of development fads.

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

A. I get optimistic when I receive emails from nieces and nephews looking for information about Viet Nam for school projects. I learned little about Asia at school (most of this was from Kipling and Conrad!). But the reports about cutbacks in funding for Asian language and other studies at university level are a real concern. Australia needs more people who understand Asian languages and culture for economic, political and security reasons. Costly mistakes may have been reduced if more Australians were studying Indochina in the post World War II period.

Unfortunately Australians appear to be under-represented in terms of Asian studies students undertaking in-country study and research (at least in Viet Nam). Maybe there could be more cooperation between Asian-based Australians and Asian studies programs (e.g., mentoring of students doing field work, collaboration in applied research, and/or training links with Asian based Australian professionals and business people). Asian studies programs might be more pro-active in contacting Asian-based Australian groups and demonstrating the potential benefits to business of these programs. Increased funding for twinning arrangements (e.g. for training and applied research) between Australian and Asian research institutions might be a good use of AusAID resources. Many Asian-based Australians would be happy to support field work in Asian studies program.

See for details of Viet Nam: A Transition Tiger?

Researcher of the month: PhD scholarship

This month, instead of a profile of a researcher we bring you news of an opportunity for a PhD scholarship. The PhD project will investigate principles and performance of the United Nations in relation of a number of hot spots in the Muslim world. These could range from the protracted Israeli-Palestinian dispute, to the war in Iraq, or the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It will also assess the capacity of the United Nations to address Muslim grievances.

Entry requirements: an Honours degree (Political Science/IR, Sociology or a related social science discipline), with a grade of H2A or above with a minimum grade of distinction for the research component, or the equivalent.

The successful applicant will be located at the School of Political and Social Inquiry (Clayton) and would receive a living stipend at the level of an Australian Postgraduate Research Award ($18,484 per annum, tax free) for three years.

Application forms are available from the Monash University website at Applicants should make sure to contact Dr Akbarzadeh: before submitting their application forms which are due on 7 February 2005.

Website of the month is the website of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, a non-profit, apolitical organisation dedicated to promoting greater understanding between New Zealand and its Asian neighbours. It has a wealth of resources and links to Asian-related topics.

Another New Zealand site, that of the New Zealand Asian Studies Society,, carries a recent report, Knowing Asia, The Challenge of New Zealand's Tertiary Education Sector which cogently presents the reasons for supporting and strengthening tertiary-level study of Asia to:

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

Recent article of interest

Dr Frank Frost from the Information and Research Services of the Parliamentary Library prepared a background paper on last November's ASEAN summit in Vientiane, to which the Australian Prime Minister was invited for the first time. His research note considers new prospects for cooperation, in both the political and economic arena.

Did you know?

On 1 January 2005 the Thai-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) came into force. This required Thailand to immediately eliminate tariffs on wheat, barley, rye and oats and its tariff and tariff rate quota on rice. Thailand will also eliminate its 80 percent tariff on large passenger motor vehicles and lift its minority foreign investment limits in its mining sector. TAFTA also liberalises the environment for services trade and investment.

For further information see

Diary dates

THE ART OF JAPANESE SCREEN PAINTING, Art Gallery of NSW until 5 February. This is a free event, putting on show the gallery's collection of Japanese screens, dating from the 17th to the 19th century.

TERRORISM IN THE PHILIPPINES, 1 March, Brisbane. An evening seminar with Dr Paul Wilson, Professor and Chair of Criminology at Bond University. Time: 6pm at Customs House, 399 Queen Street. Free to members. General admission $22. RSVP: 28 February 2005, 07-32202198 or

THE RISKS AND REWARDS OF PUBLIC PARTICIPATION, 6-8 March 2005, Sydney. The Asia Pacific Conference of the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) will provide a wide range of studies, tools, advice and research on the latest techniques and approaches to community consultation. Speakers are drawn from USA, India, South Africa and New Zealand as well as Australia and will feature information about environmental, water, infrastructure and community based projects. The International Association of Public Participation is a non-profit organisation established to advance the practice of public. See

AUSTRALIAN MISSION TO THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK (ADB), 15-18 March 2005. Austrade invites interested parties to join the 2005 Australian Mission to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This mission is designed to bring you closer to the business opportunities the Bank offers, provide access to the key decision makers in the Bank, and give you a first-hand look at the strategic directions the Bank will take in the short and medium term. The focus of this mission is on consulting opportunities. For more information contact Liza Bautista, Austrade Manila, tel: +63 2 7578 287 or email:

WORLD EXPO: March to September in Aichi, Japan. 127 countries and 6 international organisations, along with leading Japanese corporations such as Toyota, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, will take part in the Expo. The Australian Government has committed $35 million to Australia's participation in the event, and has been joined by the Victorian, Queensland and Western Australian state governments and the private sector in preparing Australia's participation. For each month of the six months of the Expo, the business program will feature one of the following sectors: agribusiness; natural resources and energy; biotechnology; information and communications technology; automotive sector; and environmental technology. See for more information about the Australian pavilion.

IICEF 05 INDIA INTERNATIONAL CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL FAIR, 27 May - 6 June 2005. This fair is for institutions wishing to recruit Indian (especially in South India) students for under and post-graduate programs.,5678

JAPAN- NEGOTIATING THE 21ST CENTURY, Japan Studies Association of Australia 2005 conference, 3-6 July 2005, University of Adelaide. The conference will bring together scholars from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and around the world to share the latest research in the fields of Japanese Studies and Japanese Language Education. The deadline for proposals of panels is 28 February 2005. See for further detail.

IMPROVING POLICING FOR WOMEN IN THE ASIA PACIFIC REGION CONFERENCE, 20-23 August, 2005, Darwin. Delegates from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Asia will explore how policing can better protect women's human rights and strategies to improve the number of women in key decision making positions within policing. For more information go to the Australasian Council of Women and Policing website at

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


What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Send your ideas to

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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