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

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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 The e-bulletin normally appears in the third week of each month.



by Emeritus Professor Clive Kessler, University of New South Wales

Since September 2001, the struggle between radical and progressive - between 'ungentle' and 'gentle' Islam - has become a matter of urgent importance, not only among Muslims but to many others around the world.

The course of this contest in Malaysia may be of more than local significance since Malaysia's leaders have demonstrated singular success among Muslim-majority nations in achieving economic growth, while also promoting and identifying themselves with modern, liberal forms of Islam.

During his long premiership, Dr Mahathir Mohamad opposed the Islamists with a stridency that often served their political objectives more than his. With more convincing religious credentials, his successor Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has, in less contentious manner, pursued the same objective, now embodied in the project of 'Islam Hadhari'. This recognises that the Islamic faith, rather than being immutable, has been shaped by Islamic civilisation over centuries. Such recognition of the legitimacy of continuing religious change and innovation that is faithful to the original divine inspiration is the essential foundation of any coherent 'modernist' position.

Yet even in Malaysia the outlook for modern understandings of Islam is not altogether bright. Malaysian Islamist activists have long targeted religious modernists and progressives, seeking to stigmatise them as apostates. They are now attacking proponents of Islam Hadhari. The project is also facing critics from the bloated Islamic affairs bureaucracies, at federal and state levels, and even from within UMNO, the dominant Malay-based party in the governing coalition, including from members of the Prime Minister's own Cabinet and Ministry.

Generally, these attacks have not been directed against the Prime Minister himself but against certain less 'protected' and secure surrogates, such as the courageous and principled women's and human rights NGO, 'Sisters In Islam'. Still, last September, the 'Muslim Professional Forum' gave unbridled rein to criticism of the Prime Minister's religious orientation under the banner 'Liberal Islam: A Clear and Present Danger'.

The underlying issues are of central concern to the nature of the modern Malaysian state and citizenship. They have raised the question whether the Malaysian constitution recognises, and the state's multifarious government instrumentalities respect and uphold, freedom of religion. Long obscured, that question is now before the courts. Civil, not religious, court judges will have to decide whether people are first of all citizens and only then Muslims, or whether, in the 'special' case of citizens from the majority population, they are in the first instance Muslims and only subsequent to that also citizens. The religious authorities understandably take the latter view; but presumably the view of the constitution, laws and courts is, or ought to be, the former.

The ultimate decision will have implications for one of Dr Mahathir's most fateful innovations: his decision, via a constitutional amendment in 1988, to raise the status of the shari'a courts (and so, he hoped, enhance his own standing in the eyes of Islamists) to a 'co-equal' status with the civil law courts. Interesting times lie ahead, not least because faith itself, or rather the government's ambiguous and even vacillating management of it, is now on trial.



On the occasion of the granting of his doctorate, Mark Roberts (La Trobe University), reflects on the subject of his PhD thesis, Building Bridges: Australia's Relationship with Vietnam 1983-1996.

Forty years after they encountered each other in bloody warfare, Australia and Vietnam have built an important, multifaceted relationship. But there is still much work to be done.

While the Whitlam government was quick to establish relations with Hanoi in February 1973, after withdrawing from the Vietnam War, Vietnam's involvement in the Cambodian conflict meant bilateral relations stagnated from 1979. The Hawke Labor government came to power in 1983 with a policy to restore aid and comprehensively develop the relationship. Not only was there a sense that Australia had a responsibility to assist Vietnam in its recovery, but that doing so was a test of Australia's capacity to engage with the countries of the region.

Despite the differences in economic, political and social systems, the two countries found they had similar aims. Both wanted to become significant participants in a region from which they had been largely excluded, and both had embarked on major economic reform programs that incorporated the desire to look beyond their own shores.

Australia encouraged Vietnam to find ways to communicate with its neighbours - in particular Cambodia - and the rest of the world. Innovative approaches to aid enabled groups of students to learn English in Canberra. These former students now occupy leadership positions in government and education in Vietnam, and Australia has become the official destination of choice for overseas study.

Business also greatly assisted the Australian push into Vietnam. Even before the policy of Doi Moi (renovation) was formulated, Telstra had pioneered the modernisation of telecommunications in Vietnam. Banking, legal and tourism ventures were other fields in which Australia was an early leader.

The idea of engagement with Asia was further developed under Prime Minister Paul Keating who, having been impressed by Vietnamese-Australians from his own electorate, strongly believed in the intrinsic value of a relationship with Vietnam. He visited Vietnam and welcomed their leaders in Australia. When Keating was defeated in 1996, the Vietnamese feared a substantial downgrading of the relationship. In fact, Alexander Downer has made more visits to Vietnam than any previous foreign minister.

While official and business contacts are good, much remains to be done in the areas of intellectual and cultural engagement, and to encourage Vietnamese-Australians in helping to build bridges between Australia and Vietnam. It is the presence of these people in Australia that makes the relationship unique and, although mutual suspicion still exists between Hanoi and those who came to Australia as refugees, hostility is decreasing as greater numbers return to visit their rapidly developing homeland. Generational change will facilitate greater connections between Vietnamese in Vietnam and Australia, which in turn will enhance the prospects for mutual understanding.



This month we profile Sally Burdon, managing director of Asia Bookroom in Canberra, a bookshop selling out-of-print and new books about Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and Africa.;

Q. How did Asia Bookroom come about?

A. Asia Bookroom has its roots in the antique print, map and book gallery my parents founded at the end of the 1960s. It began as Weekend Gallery Books - selling general material but always with a specialisation in Asia, especially after my parents went to an estate auction with the intention of buying just a few books but in the end acquiring the whole library! This library had a very heavy emphasis on China, and that, combined with their interest in Asia made it a perfect match. They had lived in what is now Pakistan before Partition (leaving on the last Frontier Mail), Malaya during the Emergency and Singapore in the early 1950s. As a child, though I missed most of the travelling part of my family's life, I was always fascinated by Asia and thrilled by Australia's proximity to it.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. I have been watching with growing disquiet the rise in, and support of, intolerance of difference within our community. It astonishes me the ignorance one still hears of. Many of the responses to the Corby case are perfect examples! At Asia Bookroom we are on a mission to create far more than just a place to buy books - very important though that is - but also to be part of a bridge between the West and Asia. We have a real commitment to supporting those working in the Asia studies field by delivering useful books and information, and as strong a commitment to helping to intrigue and fascinate those who have not yet 'seen the light'.

Examples of how we are building that bridge are the Asia Reading Group (a group of people from the community, who meet regularly at our premises) and the regular events - book launches, poetry readings for example - we host. These events are educational, sometimes inspirational and on occasion very practical fundraisers. We are just beginning to work in the schools area, sure that this is one of the most important things we can do: inspiring and exciting young people is incredibly important!

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

A. I would love to see Asian studies become part of every person's school education and languages made more accessible and exciting. Not everyone is going to spend their life studying Asia but everyone could benefit from a broader appreciation of what an interesting and privileged position Australians are in and what it means to occupy our place in Asia.

Postgraduate of the month

Kate Shanahan ( was born and raised in Sydney. She attended St Patrick's College Sutherland where she was first introduced to the Indonesian language and culture and made several trips to Indonesia. Kate fell in love with the country. She went on to do a BA Asian Studies at the University of Sydney, majoring in Indonesian language and Asian studies. Kate then embarked on a Masters of Arts in international relations at the University of NSW while working part time with the Centre for Refugee Research at UNSW.

After graduating, she decided she had to get back to Indonesia, so took up a one-year volunteer position with Australian Volunteers International (AVI) at RAHIMA (an Islamic women's rights NGO) in Jakarta. One year became two years, for Kate did not yet want to go home. In her second year she started working part time as translator and editor with ICIP (the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism) another Jakarta-based NGO (

Kate was in Jakarta at the time of the Australian Embassy bombing in September 2004. With her language skills and contacts, she was the right person to become the AusAID-funded coordinator of support for local victims of the bombing. She coordinated the distribution of Australian funds to victims and their families, working closely with 'Aisyiyah' (the women's wing of the Muhammadiyah) and with the Australian Red Cross and Australian Consul in Singapore in relation to victims being treated abroad.

When that job finished in May 2005, Kate was still not ready to leave Indonesia. Instead she became the program development coordinator in Indonesia for AVI. Her job entails facilitating the relationship between AVI and the local organisations in Indonesia, and setting up new volunteer placements in Indonesia.

Website of the month : South Asia Quake Help. News and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts after the Earthquake of October 8th, 2005. [Several founders and members of the SEA EAT (South East Asian Earthquake And Tsunami) blog, which gained worldwide attention at the time of the earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004, have remobilised to help with current relief efforts.

Recent article of interest

David Martin Jones and Susan Windybank of the Centre for Independent Studies have written a paper, Australian Foreign Policy Responses to New and Old Security Dilemmas, which investigates the complexity of the current security environment, in which 'old' strategic concerns about a breakdown in the East Asian power balance and the possibility of large-scale conflict have been joined and complicated by 'new' security issues such as transnational terrorism, crime and state failure. See

Did you know?

The Australian Government is preparing a White Paper on Australia's Overseas Aid Program, which will provide a medium term blueprint for Australia's future aid strategy. As part of that process analytical reports on key geographic and thematic issues (including on Asia, HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific Region and Indonesia) have been drafted. These can be downloaded at

Diary dates

THE POETIC MANDARIN, Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection, 23 September to 27 November, Sydney. The focus of this exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW is the cultural life of the imperial Chinese Mandarins.

KOTO-A Culinary Success Story from Vietnam, 25 October, Melbourne. Jimmy Pham, founder of the KOTO restaurant in Hanoi, will speak about how he went from a Vietnam War refugee to managing the popular restaurant and training school for Vietnamese street kids. He will be joined by two graduates of the KOTO (Know One, Teach One) program who will talk about the impact of KOTO on their lives and also give a short cooking demonstration. 5.30pm to 6.30pm at the Yasuko Hiraoka Myer Room, Level 1, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, corner of Swanston Street and Monash Road. To reserve a seat, please send an email to: with "KOTO" in the subject line or contact Asialink on (03) 8344 4800.

ENGINEERING THE SOUL: MARKET ANXIETIES AND CHINA'S NEW EXPERTS, 28 October, Perth. Gary Sigley, Asian Studies, University of Western Australia, will present this seminar at the Asia Research Centre at 12.30 pm in the Senate Room at Murdoch University. See

ASIA IN SCHOOLS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Intercultural Understandings, Beliefs, Regional and Global Issues, 31 October and 1 November, Darwin. This is a two-day workshop for teachers in the Northern Territory. It will examine debates in a globalised world about religious beliefs, values and multiculturalism. On day one there will be a train-the-trainer session on intercultural understanding. First Floor, AXA Building, 9-11 Cavenagh St, Darwin from 8:30am to 4:00pm. Contact Jennifer Ure, Asia In Schools Project Officer, Department Employment, Education and Training, for an application form:

CRESCENT MOON: Islamic Art and Civilisation in South East Asia, 10 November 2005-29 January 2006, Adelaide. A new exhibition at the Gallery of South Australia. For details, see

SPORT, POLITICS AND ETHNICITY IN INDONESIA, 11 November, Perth. Seminar with Colin Brown, Media, Society and Culture, Curtin University at the Senate Room, 12:30 pm Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University

HUMAN CAPITAL ASIA CONGRESS 2005, 14-15 November, Singapore. Human Capital Asia magazine is sponsoring a two-day conference featuring human resource (HR) leaders from around the region who will discuss the HR challenges they have tackled successfully across various Asian countries, cultures and workforces. Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre Contact: Rozi on (65) 6423 4631, ext 229, or go to

INTERNATIONAL PEN ANNUAL LECTURE: Beyond Words: Reporting on the 'War on Terror', 15 November, Canberra. Marian Wilkinson, who will deliver the lecture, is National Security Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald and served as Washington correspondent for the Herald and the Age during the Iraq War. 5.45pm for 6.00pm National Library of Australia Theatre.

CHINA STUDY TOUR, 16 November to 6 December. The Australian Catholic University will lead a four-week study tour to Beijing, Shanghai, minority regions of Southwest China, Hong Kong and Macao. COST: $4,000 (ticket and domestic costs) ENQUIRIES: Dr. Andrew Papadimos, (07) 3623 7180,

GENERATIONAL CHANGE AND NEW POLICY CHALLENGES FOR AUSTRALIA AND KOREA, 16 November, Sydney. The Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific, University of Sydney, with the support of the Australia÷Korea Foundation, is hosting a one-day conference for policy makers, academics, media and students to explore some of the key policy issues and challenges facing both Australia and Korea today. Keynote Speaker:╩the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP╩8.30am to 5.30pm at The Women's College, University of Sydney. Cost: $AUD50 (Includes GST). For registration form see or contact David Hawkins

APEC CEO SUMMIT 2005, 17-19 November, Pusan, Republic of Korea. The theme of the 10th CEO's summit will be Entrepreneurship and Prosperity: Building a Successful Partnership in the Asia Pacific Region. See

DIPLOMACY AND NATIONAL SECURITY, ASPI defence and security luncheon, 24 November, Canberra. Mr Michael L'Estrange, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs will speak at a luncheon hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The Boathouse by the Lake, Canberra, 1200-1400, RSVP 17 November 2005 online at or phone (02) 6270 5109

ASIACONNECT: Maximising Australia's Asia Skills, 18 November, Melbourne. AsiaConnect is a one-day Asialink conference aimed at maximising Australia's Asia skills. It will showcase opportunities and career advantages of gaining Asia skills; provide an opportunity for networking and exchange; increase understanding of factors leading to Australian commercial success in the Asian region and examine how professionals in a wide range of sectors effectively engage with the countries and cultures of Asia. Friday 18 November 2005; 8.30am to 5.30pm (Conference); Sofitel Hotel, 33 Collins Street, Melbourne. $95 General; $55 Students. For further information, please refer to:

INDONESIA: THE NEW ORDER AND ITS LEGACY, 18-19 November, Canberra. This conference will reconsider the place of the New Order regime in modern Indonesian history and its complex legacies for today and the future. Invited speakers include Sidney Jones, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Jamie Mackie, Vedi Hadiz, Andrew McIntyre, Simon Philpott, Richard Robison, David Jenkins and Arief Budiman. The conference will honour Professor Harold Crouch, who is retiring at the end of 2005. Coombs Lecture Theatre, Australian National University. Contact Beverley Fraser: indicating your name, institutional affiliation and contact details.

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

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 AUSTRALIANS AND NEW ZEALANDERS IN CHINA, 1800-1950, 14-16 April 2006, Canberra. This conference will have a special focus on the contribution of women to ANZ-China relations. Abstracts of approximately 300 words are invited. Contributions by ANZ citizens/residents of Chinese ethnic origins are particularly welcome. Contact the convenor, Dr Ian Welch,

THE NEXT ASAA CONFERENCE! 26-29 June 2006 at the University of Wollongong. Call for papers 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 or Margaret Hanlon, at

ASIA-PACIFIC MISSIONARIES: AT HOME AND ABROAD, 2nd Biennial conference, 25-27 August 2006, Canberra. The conference will be held at the Coombs Lecture Theatre, Australian National University, Contact: Dr Ian Welch,

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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 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.

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