Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
November 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 Bronwen Dalton, School of Management, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS)

Reports of famine and human rights violations have contributed to a growing interest in the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea, until now rarely researched because of the country's isolation and repressive political system. A research project conducted by Bronwen Dalton and Kyungja Jung seeks to provide a deeper understanding of this 'hermit kingdom'. It focuses on the changing role and status of women since the famine in the mid-1990s.

Many women suffered the consequences of the famine: starvation and famine-related disease; infant mortality and morbidity; family breakdown; and an increase in sex trafficking and prostitution. However, many have also become active players in emerging capitalist processes, particularly those centred on local markets, thus creating new opportunities for themselves and new challenges for the regime.

The North Korean economy contracted by thirty percent from 1991 to 1996. The causes of this decline included the sudden demise of Soviet aid; the collapse of the socialist world market; structural problems of the command economy; the diversion of massive resources to maintain a huge military force and to glorify the Dear Leader; and droughts and floods.

The food shortages and subsequent economic crisis resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of North Korean refugees, most of whom went to China, with a small proportion fleeing to South Korea. According to figures prepared by South Korea's Ministry of Unification in late 2004, about 200,000 North Koreans were estimated to be living illegally in northeastern China and approximately 6,000 in South Korea. This exodus has created a valuable new source of data on North Korea.

To bring some of the newly released Korean language research to an English-speaking audience and build on its findings, Dalton and Jung have been gathering individual life histories of North Korean female refugees and contextualizing these accounts with data drawn from in-country field trips; interviews with NGO representatives; declassified US and South Korean government documents; and analysis of Korean language research.

Thus far the research has found that many North Korean women are branching into private economic activities. With the winding down of the rationing system--on which men had depended to support their families--there has been a significant increase in trading at local farmers' markets. It has been women more than men who have been seeking ways to survive in the emerging non-state economy.

This new economic activity appears to be changing social behaviour. Compared to the 1960s and 1970s, there are now relatively high rates of divorce and/or separation and reports that women are reluctant to marry or have children. It is not yet clear whether this is a permanent shift in role and status of women, although it appears that the new, female-driven, spread of capitalism could pose a serious threat to the traditional authority of North Korean men.



by Zifirdaus Adnan, Lecturer in the Indonesian Language and Culture, University of New England

There are repeated calls for Australian state and federal governments to do more to promote Indonesian language teaching in Australia. These usually argue that Indonesian language skills are vital for enhancing Australia's security. Governments are asked to provide funding for staff and teaching materials and to support language teachers' professional development both at the school and tertiary levels.

There is no doubt that such support is needed. However, given the severity of the decrease in student numbers, promoting the case for Indonesian language teaching must go further than a plea for resources. It must also aim at changing public opinion: for it is members of the public who decide whether to invest their time and money studying a language or encouraging their children to do so.

With the mainly negative public sentiment toward Indonesia, there is much to be done. The perception in the community that Indonesia is a threat to Australia informs that sentiment, one which is based on ignorance and reinforced by sensationalist media reporting.

What can we do to change these perceptions and persuade the public to study Indonesian? Here we face a paradox: the argument that the study of the Indonesian language is important in terms of the defence and security may help convince politicians, military officers and some members of the community, is also likely to reinforce the belief that Indonesia is an enemy and a terrorist threat. From this flows an attitude of hatred and distrust and an inclination to have nothing to do with Indonesia.

Leadership from governments to help sway public opinion towards a more positive attitude is needed. But we cannot rely solely on government. Indonesian educators can also contribute to this effort. Media interviews and articles by academics and public statements by the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE) do help. There is potential to develop these into a public campaign which helps to inform Australians about the positives in the Australia-Indonesia relationship, such as the recent visit by the Indonesian President to Australia, the cooperation between Australian and Indonesian security agencies in fighting terrorism, the resurgence of democracy in Indonesia and improving economic conditions.

People also need to hear a broader set of reasons for studying Indonesian such as the significant number of Indonesian students studying in Australia, the huge size of the Indonesian population (242 million according to a CIA estimate in July 2005), at least about 10 per cent of whom can afford to study in Australia and purchase Australian products; and, Indonesia's close political support for Australia as a partner in Southeast Asia.

An Indonesian motto says, tak tahu maka tak kenal, tak kenal maka tak cinta (you will never love something if you do not know it). If the Australian public is to change its view of Indonesia it must first be given strong encouragement to get to know its neighbour.



This month we profile Harold Crouch ( who, after a distinguished career, is about to retire as a professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. His books include the very influential The Army and Politics in Indonesia (1978). In early 2000 Professor Crouch established the Indonesia office of the International Crisis Group ( and served as director of the ICG's Indonesia project until February 2002.

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

A. I became interested in studying Asian politics while still at school in the 1950s. Although courses on Asia were rare at universities in those days, I was able to take a subject devoted to Asian politics in the University of Melbourne's Department of Political Science, then headed by Professor MacMahon Ball, one of Australia's pioneers in Asian studies. I became interested in India and, after graduating, obtained a (British) Commonwealth scholarship to do my Masters at the University of Bombay. My thesis was on the politics of Indian trade unionism, a topic that provided the opportunity to visit many parts of India during my two very enjoyable years there. On returning to Australia I still had an urge to visit other parts of Asia and arranged for a job as an English teacher in China, due to start in August 1966. The timing, however, was bad as my planned arrival coincided with the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution so I never made it to China. I then turned my attention to Indonesia where Herb Feith, who had spent 1967 on sabbatical leave in Indonesia, arranged for me to replace him at the University of Indonesia. There I spent three fascinating years teaching political science under the auspices of the Volunteer Graduate Scheme, the precursor of Australian Volunteers International. On my return to Australia I met and then married a Malaysian student. This led to a long sojourn of about 17 years in Malaysia where we both taught at the National University of Malaysia. Eventually we returned to Australia where I continued to be involved in the study of Asian politics in the ANU's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies.

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

A. After observing Soeharto's New Order for several decades, I was delighted to witness its collapse in 1998 and had high hopes for the 'Reformasi' that followed. Reformasi, however, has not been smooth and many of its original supporters have been disappointed, although I think it has been quite successful in some areas. My current academic preoccupation is with trying to understand the factors that have facilitated as well as obstructed reform in Indonesia.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. Future developments in Indonesia are obviously very important for Indonesians but they are also important for Australians. I don't claim that Indonesia should always be given top priority in Australian foreign policy but I do say that we need to give it a lot of attention.

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

A. Currently many Australians have a distorted perception of Indonesia, particularly in regard to Islam. Some of the same distortions also affect majority perceptions of Australia's own Muslim population. Asian studies can help to overcome these distortions.

Postgraduate of the month

Nalin Mehta ( is writing a doctoral thesis at Latrobe University on the emergence of satellite news television in India and its political impact. He has an MA in International Relations from University of East Anglia, and BA (Honours) Journalism from Delhi University where he topped the university.

Nalin has worked as a political correspondent and news presenter at New Delhi Television ( and Zee News where he covered several tumultuous events such as the 2003 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat, the assassination of the Nepalese royal family, the great Gujarat earthquake of 2001 and various state elections.

Wanting a break from the world of TV, Nalin came to Australia to work with Professor Robin Jeffrey (immediate past president of the ASAA) who he describes as the most respected authority in the world on the Indian press.

As well as his doctoral research, Nalin is working on, an online database on HIV policy in the Asia-Pacific region and is jointly involved with senior academics from around Australia in organising the 'Television in Asia' project, supported by the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network.

Nalin's article, 'The Great Indian Willow Trick: Cricket, Politics and India's TV Revolution (1991-2005)', will appear in a special South Asia edition of the journal Sport in Society ( Another article, 'Modi and the Camera: The Politics of Television in the 2002 Gujarat Riots' has been accepted for publication by South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies (

Book of the month

Australia's Language Potential by Michael Clyne, UNSW PRESS

This book explores the paradox of a nation rich in language resources, yet characterised by monolingual thinking and poor use of our linguistic potential. For example, one international survey cited in the book shows that Australian business leaders were competent in fewer languages than their counterparts in 27 other countries. In an attempt to put the value of multilingualism back on the public agenda in Australia Professor Michael Clyne illustrates the ways in which our language resources can be consolidated and further developed for universal benefit.

Recent article of interest

On 16 November, President Bush opened his visit to Asia with a speech in Japan in which he offered he asserted "[i]n the 21st century, freedom is an Asian value -- because it is a universal value. It is freedom that enables the citizens of Asia to live lives of dignity. It is freedom that has unleashed the creative talents of the Asian people. It is freedom that gives the citizens of this continent confidence in the future of peace for their children and grandchildren. And in the work that lies ahead, the people of this region can know: You have a partner in the American government -- and a friend in the American people." President Bush also sent a carefully couched warning to China's leaders, telling them they will find 'that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed'.

For a transcript of the speech, see

Did you know?

Latrobe University has opened a new Institute for India and South Asia (LIISA). The Institute will consolidate Latrobe's work on India and its neighbours and in teaching Hindi language. It will also initiate and support new programs to deepen the university's connections with the region. The new activities will include an exchange agreement with Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi (named the best college in India in 2005 by India Today magazine), administration of the La Trobe University India Focus Group, the Martell-DK essay Prize, and a project helping digitalise for the world-wide-web rare 19th century Indian reports and documents influential in the formation of nation, state and culture during the colonial period.

Diary dates

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

CHINA SIMULATION NEGOTIATION WORKSHOP, Sydney, 1 December 2005. This workshop is designed to simulate the key areas of conducting business with people and organisations from Chinese culture. It is a highly interactive exercise that guides the participants through the meeting and greeting, presenting, negotiating and socialising phases of a business exchange. 2pm to 5pm, Business Centre, NSW Regional and State Development Level 44, Grosvenor Place, 225 George Street. Contact: Betina Reid, Senior Export Advisor, Austrade, (02) 9390 2008;

EXPORT OPPORTUNITIES TO INDIA SEMINAR SERIES: Sydney (30 November), Adelaide (1 December), Berri (2 December), Dandenong (5 December), Melbourne (6 December), Canberra (7 December), Brisbane (8 December), Perth (9 December). These Austrade seminars will feature an update on Indian business conditions, market trends, sales opportunities in Infrastructure (Resources), Food & Beverage, Services and Consumer products. $50 per person. Call Austrade Direct on 13 28 78 or email

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

10TH ASIAN STUDIES CONFERENCE JAPAN (ASCJ), June 2006, Tokyo. This conference will be held at International Christian University (ICU), Tokyo, on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday June 25 2006. See

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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