Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
June 2005 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <>

Welcome to Asian Currents

Asian Currents aims to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. Please feel free to forward this email to others you think would be interested in receiving Asian Currents. Registration is free and open to all by simply registering your email address at (scroll down to the Asian Currents button.) The e-bulletin normally appears in the third week of each month.


Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues. This month we look at the fallout from the Corby case and suicide in India.


by Professor Adrian Vickers, University Of Wollongong,

The hysteria surrounding the trial of Schapelle Corby for possession of 4.1 kilos of marijuana at Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport, has led to a new low in Australian-Indonesian relations. While government-to-government connections remain strong, the Corby case has shown just how easy it is for the Australian media to stir up underlying negative views of Indonesia amongst the general population. Drawing on a reserve of xenophobia, radio announcers such as Malcolm T. Elliott of 2GB expressed deeply racist views shared by others who expressed absolute belief in the innocence of Corby. The old colonial stereotype of the innocent Anglo-Saxon women at the mercy of blood-thirsty Asians was dusted off and given an airing across most forms of the media. Corby could have been one of the contestants on Big Brother or Australian Idol for the way that 'ordinary Australians' were asked to express their emotional identification with her through the sympathetic photographs and film of her crying face - 'this is one of our daughters' emailed a listener to Sally Loane's ABC radio program.

Why was the Australian media, with one or two honourable exceptions such as The Australian, so quick to jump on the bandwagon of Schapelle-ism? The short answer is probably 'they did it because they could': the manipulation of emotions intrinsic to present-day mass media tends to have a life of its own. Individual journalists seemed helpless to control the process. As one ABC reporter commented to AM, the media scrum around Corby's appearance was an ugly experience, 'but we have to join in'. Editors and producers instructed their reporters to find fresh angles, and sent new crews as reinforcements, so that by the day of the verdict there were more Australian reporters on Bali than after the Bali Bombings.

The death threats and sending of a hoax terrorist package to the Indonesian Embassy marked the point when the public finally reacted with horror to the media-induced frenzy of the last days of the trial. The packet of white powder gave Indonesian commentators, sick of the travel warnings and of being labelled as an Islamic terrorist society, a free kick at Australia. If nothing else, that eased the tension. Tempo magazine's labelling of the event as 'Jemaah Korbyah' played nicely on the mirroring process of Australian-Indonesian reporting.

The Corby coverage will have long-term consequences, however. The appeals process will be drawn out, an excuse for more reporting in the media, and this will deepen the already negative image of Indonesia as a land of terrorist attacks, natural disasters and chaos. Indonesian studies in Australia has been undergoing a crisis since the late 1990s, a combination of institutional travel bans, 'Living Dangerously' media images, and changes of fashion amongst young Australians who are more interested in studying Spanish or French than Asian languages. The crisis looks set to continue.

Tempo articles can be found at

For more discussion of the media and the Corby case, see


by Peter Mayer, Politics Department, University of Adelaide. Dr Mayer is currently finishing a major study on suicide in India.

'Free trade "behind India suicide epidemic"' ran a recent headline in The Australian (17 May 2005). The story covered a report by the London-based charity, Christian Aid, which blamed a surge in suicide numbers in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) on reform principles prescribed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and supported by the UK government. A story linking suicide deaths to economic reforms makes arresting reading - but is it true? I am inclined to be skeptical, for several reasons.

First to the allegation. Christian Aid argues the problems started when India's central and state governments took steps to liberalise the economy in face of the 1991 financial crisis. For example, they reduced subsidies on fertilisers. In response farmers in AP switched from growing traditional crops to cash crops such as cotton. To pay for this, they borrowed heavily, often at usurious rates of interest. Failures in the monsoon have seen crops wither, and with them farmers' hopes of repaying these loans. The next step - charges Christian Aid - a rash of suicide deaths.

Unfortunately, Christian Aid uses figures which, when they can be checked, are wildly different from published official suicide statistics. The charity claims the number of deaths jumped from 200 in 1999 to 2,115 in 2004. This extraordinary rise occurs because Christian Aid appears not to have taken the elementary steps needed to account for population increases. Indeed, looking at farmer suicide rates in AP compared to other groups, suggests these are actually lower, with civil servants 10 to 100 times more likely to suicide than farmers. Furthermore, farmer suicide rates in AP are only moderately high by all-India standards. Overall suicide rates in India have been rising steadily since 1980, well before the period of reforms, with rates much higher in south India than anywhere else.

All suicide deaths are cause for concern and worthy of investigating to find ways of preventing them. But claims that Indian farmer deaths are caused by the forces of globalisation do not stand up to scrutiny. A meticulous study of Punjab farmer suicides, conducted by G. S. Bhalla and colleagues at the Chandigarh Institute for Development and Communication in 1998, found that a) the numbers of suicides had been wildly exaggerated by activists (almost all deaths in some age groups, for example, had been counted as suicides); b) almost none of the genuine suicides reflected agricultural indebtedness, per se. (many of the loans were taken to pay for dowries); and c) most of those who killed themselves had recognisable forms of personality problems and were heavy users of alcohol and other drugs. It seems highly probable that a comparably detailed investigation in AP would come to similar conclusions.

You will find Christian Aid's report, The damage done: Aid, death and dogma at

For a similar perspective, see the environmental activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, 'Poverty and Globalisation' 2000 Reith Lectures


This month we profile David Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University and Director of the Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies.

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

A. When I was at North Sydney Boys High in 1968, I was amongst the first cohort of students to study a new Asian Social Studies course. My teacher, Colin Freestone, was inspirational. He had recently returned from being a volunteer abroad, teaching in Malaysia, and spoke Indonesian. He injected such an innovative verve into his teaching that he really fired the imaginations of his students. In 1971 he, and another young teacher, Philip Kitley, (now Professor of Media Studies at the University of Wollongong) took a group of school and university students to Indonesia for a month. I was hooked. Less than a year later, I was back in the region, with a scholarship to study at the United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore, after which I did a Bachelor of Asian Studies at ANU. Since that first exposure to Indonesia, Asia always seemed to me the logical orientation for Australians. It was nearly 20 years later that I took my first trip to Europe.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. It is critically important that young Australians be given the opportunity and the encouragement to study in Asia, not simply passing through as tourists, but living there. Working with colleagues around Australia to set up and maintain the Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) has been my major preoccupation for more than a decade. ACICIS places Australian students into Indonesian universities for a semester or more for credit to their Australian degree. Previously it was extremely rare to find any Australians enrolled at Indonesian universities. Now there are dozens every semester from virtually every state in Australia. Adequately funding the program, however, remains a constant struggle.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A.I see ACICIS helping to strengthen the next generation of Indonesianists in Australia. Sharing the experience of studying in Indonesia, from whatever home university they may come, builds a strong sense of esprit de corps amongst each group of ACICIS students. They have a sense of being part of a 'national' will to engage with Indonesia. On graduating they bring that experience of having lived and studied alongside Indonesian friends to careers as international volunteers, aid workers, educators, diplomats, linguists and business people. As they move into influential positions within their various professions, I am convinced we shall see a more profound appreciation across Australia of the importance of Indonesia.

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

A.I look forward to a time when there will be hundreds, even thousands, of Australians living and studying throughout the Indonesian archipelago. I hope for a government which supports the embedding of Asian languages so soundly within the Australian education system that it would be the exception rather than the rule to find a monolingual Australian.

Researcher of the month

Adrienne Petty-Gao speaks Mandarin nearly as fluently as a native speaker. She has studied Chinese language, calligraphy and painting in China, and has taught English there for six months as well. Her undergraduate studies focussed on internal labour migration in China and its ramifications for domestic and international stability. Her PhD studies concentrate more on history, specifically on connections between Tasmania and China. While she has found few remaining links between early Chinese immigrants and their home villages, she is gaining plenty of insights into the assumptions made about local Chinese and how we might re-consider the telling of Chinese heritage in Australia.

Take the example of the self-styled half Chinese Thomas Jerome Kingston Bakhap (1866-1923, a prominent Tasmanian politician. Bakhap's views on 'the Chinese Question' were radical for the early 1900s when the White Australia Policy was in full swing. He was one of the few to speak out for cordial relations with China and the Chinese, and advocated the need for Chinese history and language to be taught in schools around Australia.

Bahkap's mother married the Cantonese Gee Sing Ge Bakhap, herbalist and grocer, when Thomas was two years old. From then, he grew up like other children of mixed Chinese marriages, learning to speak fluent Cantonese and taking trips to China at a young age. Adrienne's research, however, reveals that despite his strong affiliations, Bahkap was more probably of entirely Caucasian descent. Such is the riddle of multiculturalism!

'Thomas Jerome Kingston Bakhap and the Chinese Question', Launceston Historical Society Papers and Proceedings, forthcoming 2005. See

Website of the month

With discussion about North Korea and its nuclear capacity again in the news, and some suggestion the United States may take the issue to the United Nations, this month we feature a website devoted to North Korean Studies. provides an overview and related links on North Korea (DPRK). It looks at the DPRK's relations with Russia and Australia, research on history and historiography, and the problems of former Soviet Koreans.

Recent article of interest

In an article published in New Matilda Robin Jeffrey, Professor of Politics, Latrobe University and Immediate Past President of the ASAA, shows that in Australian universities, fewer than five per cent of students do any sustained study of an Asian country during their degree. Fewer than three per cent study a language of Asia. Among those who do, close to half are students from Asia, who go home armed with an extra language rather than staying to build Australia's Asian knowledge. Professor Jeffrey calls on the government to make a coherent investment to renew the cadre of Asia specialists; to get the study of Indonesian onto unshakable foundations; and to ensure national delivery of strategic languages of limited student demand (like Hindi, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Arabic). The price tag, Professor Jeffrey points out, is relatively tiny - around $5 million a year.

Did you know?

The Confucius Institute, China's version of the British Council or the Alliance Francaise, has opened its first Australian site at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Unlike other cultural organisations, the Confucius Institute works through a local university. The National Office of Chinese as a Foreign Language and UWA will contribute half the funding each and appoint half the board members. The Institute will offer courses not only to students but also to travellers, businesspeople and school children. See

Diary dates

SPEAKING WITH CLOTH-INDONESIAN TEXTILES, Friday 22 April to Sunday 28 August, Melbourne. This exhibition explores contemporary life in Indonesia through personal stories, highlighting the breadth of creativity and cultural diversity in Indonesia. At the Immigration Museum, Old Customs House, 400 Flinders Street, Melbourne. See or call (03) 9927 2700.

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.

SONS OF KINGS, Exhibition of Paintings, Wednesday 8 June to Sunday 4 September 2005, Sydney. Created in the Rajput courts of Rajasthan, north-west India, these paintings and drawings encapsulates the vitality and sensuality of life at the courts from the 17th to the 19th century. At the Art Gallery of NSW. See For enquiries phone (02) 9225 1744 or email:

CHINA: FACING THE CHALLENGES OF GLOBALISATION AND LABOUR ISSUES 22 June 2005, Melbourne. China is actively pursuing Free Trade Agreements with many Western countries, including one with Australia. Yet, it is experiencing a number of challenges to provide the labour to meet its increasing economic growth. Professor Richard Freeman from Harvard University will examine China and the political economy of trade agreements. Mr Terry Collingsworth, the Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Fund, will discuss the development of effective mechanisms for implementing labour rights in China. 6pm to 7.30pm at the Basement Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne. To reserve a seat, send an email to: with "China & Globalisation" in the subject line or contact Asialink on (03) 8344 4800.

CHINESE STUDIES ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA, Ninth Biennial Conference, Bendigo, 30 June - 3 July 2005. Hosted by La Trobe University at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, Victoria. A special feature of the 2005 CSAA conference will be a stream on the Chinese diaspora in the Asia Pacific. See:

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. 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

EIGHTH WOMEN IN ASIA CONFERENCE, University of Technology, Sydney 26-28 September 2005. The theme of this year's conference is 'Shadow Lines', which has to do with movement across both geographical borders as well as those of the mind. Guest speakers invited include Dr Valentine Moghadam from the University of Illinois, Dr Ananya Jahanara Kabir from the UK, Dr Ruri Ito from Japan, and also Carla Bianpoen and Ms Samsidar who are both working with displaced women in Aceh. See For enquiries, please email

INDONESIA COUNCIL: OPEN CONFERENCE, Flinders University, Adelaide, 26-27 September 2005. This multi-disciplinary conference will provide a forum for innovative work on Indonesia, with particular emphasis on bringing established scholars and newer students of Indonesia together. Registration is free. To register, please send an email with your name, institutional affiliation and email address to by 1 August 2005.

Call for papers - SOUTHEAST ASIA, A GLOBAL CROSSROADS CONFERENCE, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 8-9 December 2005 This conference will have several panels, including the New Media, Pop Cultures, In(ter) Asia Panel. Papers are invited that deal especially with new media technology (including radio, television, film, and internet), as important sites of production and consumption of popular cultures (not only the aesthetic genres like pop music or soap operas, but also sports, fashion, travels, shopping) within contemporary Southeast Asian societies. See

Call for papers - MEDIA AND IDENTITY IN ASIA CONFERENCE, 15-16 February 2006, Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia. This is an interdisciplinary conference jointly organised by the Media-Asia Research Group at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia. For more information visit

Call for papers - THE NEXT ASAA CONFERENCE! 26-29 June 2006, at the University of Wollongong. Invitations are open to panel organisers and individual presenters to submit abstracts at, especially on the theme of 'Asia Reconstructed', a title that is intended to invite submissions from fields as diverse as development studies and post-colonial literatures. Contact Professor Adrian Vickers, conference convenor, 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 show national leadership in the promotion of Australia's Asia knowledge and skills. See Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset

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.

Return to Asian Currents home page