Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
February 2006 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <> for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

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

From the President

Welcome to the new-look Asian Currents! This issue heralds the consolidation of the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s cooperation with the International Centre of Excellence in Asia Pacific Studies ( ), which is lending generous support to Asian Currents. Many thanks to the Director, John Fitzgerald, and his colleagues, Richard Thomson and Valerie Shavgarova, for their enthusiasm about the ebulletin. We look forward to working with ICEAPS, a Federal Government initiative which aims to raise the profile of Asia-Pacific studies in Australia. The Centre draws upon the Asia-Pacific expertise of key research and teaching centres throughout Australia and in Asia, Europe and North America, as well as several national professional networks. ICEAPS’s goals make it an entirely compatible partner for the ASAA, whose main aim is to promote the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures in Australia. Together, through Asian Currents and other initiatives, we will strive to increase Australians’ understanding of Asia and of the Asia expertise that already exists around the country.



by Raghbendra Jha, Australian National University,

Prime Minister Howard’s visit to New Delhi next month promises to be a milestone in Australia-India relations. Accompanying Howard will be a delegation of business leaders keen to expand and invigorate their engagement in India.

There are good reasons for deepening economic ties with India, with its huge market. A whopping 95.1 percent of India’s billion plus population is below the age of 65; and almost a third is younger than 14. By the time these people enter the labour force India is expected to have a US$ trillion economy. Its middle class (those earning between US$2000 and US$22,000 a year) is currently? estimated at 300 million.

Economic growth has been buoyant in the past few years: 8.5 percent in 2003-04, 6.9 percent in 2004-05 and is expected to top 8 percent in 2005-06. And because it does not rely excessively on manufacturing exports, any downturn in the global economy is likely to have less impact on Indian growth than on other Asian economies. This increases India’s attractiveness to Australia as an economic partner.

Two-way trade in goods has risen sharply, totalling A$7.3 billion in 2004-05. For the past five years India has been Australia’s fastest growing export destination and is now Australia's sixth largest merchandise export market. In 2005 Australia and India began negotiations for a Trade and Economic Framework.

Relations are expanding in other areas. In 2003 Australia and India signed an agreement on cooperating to fight terrorism. This is central to maintaining security in the Indian Ocean through which almost half of Australian merchandise trade passes.

Education has high potential for growth. In 2004, India was the fourth highest source of international students in Australia,with around 21,000 students, a number expected to rise. Further, Indians are likely to be a significant proportion of the increased intake of “skilled worker” migrants.

India needs to import nearly 70 percent of its energy requirements, making its energy diplomacy crucial. Australia is well positioned to partner India in this area, particularly as both are members of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Moreover, the US agreement to help India acquire the same benefits as other nuclear states implies that energy cooperation could extend beyond mineral resources.s

India’s increasing expertise in information and communication technology, biotechnology and health tourism offers further opportunities to Australian business. Direct foreign investment (in both directions) is likely to rise signficantly as India relaxes foreign investment rules in key areas such as retail, airports and infrastructure.

All this potential has led India to turn its attention decisively towards Australia and the Asia Pacific region. India-China trade is poised to rise sharply and India has vigorously engaged South Asian countries and ASEAN. In December 2005, India joined Australia and ASEAN at the first East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Thus, the Australia-India relationship is poised to expand well beyond traditional areas of engagement. Howard’s visit may well act as catalyst for this blossoming of relations.

More on the subject:


by Robert Cribb, Australian National University,

One of the less expected consequences of the end of President Suharto’s military-backed rule has been the re-emergence of Indonesia’s old aristocracies. A decade ago, few observers were even aware of more than one or two royal families in the archipelago; now they have become important local power brokers in many regions.

Before the arrival of the Dutch, Indonesian societies were fluid. Ambitious men (occasionally women, too) could come to power by supplanting the former ruler of a polity or by carving their own, new kingdom out of the bodies of declining principalities. This meant there were hundreds of monarchical leaders dotted about the archipelago.

Under Dutch rule, some of these monarchies were abolished but the majority were kept on as agents of colonial rule. In some cases they were formally preserved as subordinate states; in others the ruling aristocracy was incorporated into the ‘Native Administration’, to which only nobles were admitted. Despite removing much of their power, the Dutch encouraged the aristocrats’ pretensions by means of titles, costumes and ceremonies.

Aristocrats were largely immune from the legal system; many exploited their status, while also working for the Dutch. As a result, they were widely hated.

The outbreak of the national revolution in 1945 was marked by a series of social upheavals in Java and Sumatra which swept out traditional rulers.Their powers were whittled away and by the beginning of the 1960s all but the sultanate of Yogyakarta, whose leader had unambiguously chosen the nationalist Republic, had had been formally abolished. That seemed to be that, until the New Order came to an end in 1997.The return of the sultans was first marked by their appearance in the gossip pages where,in true aristocratic style,their multiple liaisons and complicated succession issues provided wonderful copy for a newly free press.

Soon, however, there were reports of young men who turned out to be the heirs to long-defunct sultanates being plucked from obscurity and installed on ancestral thrones. These restorations were driven partly by the reassertion of local identities after the insistent centralisation of the Suharto era. Distant corners of Kalimantan could reclaim respect—and aim for an extra share of the tourist industry—by playing the royalty card. Some sultans have become important patrons of local arts and traditional culture. The unofficial council of rulers now recognises 34 monarchs across Indonesia.

There has been a dark side, however, to the restoration of the sultans. Although they have no formal power, some of them have put together irregular armed forces which are a significant element in local politics. For example, the sultan of Ternate in North Maluku tried to become provincial governor but his forces were defeated in a civil war with troops backing the rival sultan of Tidore. Elsewhere there are signs of shady coalitions between sultans, local businessmen, military commanders and gangsters.

The return of the aristocracy marks a step towards restoring some of the rich cultural diversity of Indonesia which the New Order worked hard to homogenise. Yet the re-emergence of powerholders qualified only by aristocratic birth is a discouraging development in a country which came into being to restore to all its citizens the opportunities that had been stifled under colonial rule.

Robert Cribb is the author of the Historical Atlas of Indonesia, which traces the history of the region that became Indonesia from early times to the present day in over three hundred maps, accompanied by detailed text.

For an intriguing celebration of royalty in Indonesia and other parts of the non-Western world, see


Louise WilliamsThis month we profile, Louise Williams, leader writer/columnist (international) for the Sydney Morning Herald. She spent more than a decade as a foreign correspondent based in Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta.

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

A. At 22 I'd broken up with my first love and knew I had to get really, really busy or keep feeling sorry for myself. I was already working at the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) after graduating with a BA Communications from UTS. (By the way, I think studying how to be a journalist without knowing anything about the world is ridiculous!). I'd been to high school in the late 1970s before the coming of Asian studies—we learnt how to speak French or German and all about British and European history. Asia was somewhere you refuelled on the way to London. So my stunning ignorance of all things Asian suggested I would be busiest if I studied some aspect of the region. I enrolled in a Master of Arts at the University of Sydney and studied Indonesia and Malaysia. I then applied for one of the first Department of Foreign Affairs ASEAN media fellowships. I won the award just as the SMH was banned from Indonesia in 1986. My application had been based on Indonesia but the Department, wanting to make a point about press freedom, expanded the fellowship to take in the rest of the (then) five ASEAN countries. My first trip to Asia started in Brunei, then took me to to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. I found myself in the midst of the hanging of drug traffickers Barlow and Chambers in Penang and the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. I was 24 and absolutely unprepared! I came back to Sydney and my editor asked me what I'd do differently about our foreign coverage. I said we needed a bureau in the Philippines: Marcos may have fallen but there were many stories to come. He said "Okay, go tomorrow…opportunities like this only come around once in your lifetime". I begged for an extra day to get ready and headed off to Manila for "three weeks, three months, three years…whatever it takes," my editor had said. I saw my first corpse a few hours after landing but was soon hooked. I stayed more than three years, met the father of my kids, then moved to Bangkok for another three years. After a couple of years back in Sydney as Foreign Editor my career turned full circle.

I negotiated the re-opening of the Sydney Morning Herald bureau in Jakarta in 1996, and was the first Herald reporter to get residency—a decade after I'd first been turned away. I saw the New Order regime, and the economy, collapse,and later Xanana Gusmao walk out of jail and East Timor get its independence. To witness history is a rare privilege!

Q. What are your current preoccupations?

My main interests are the democratisation of Asia and the relationship between political change and information technology. In all the popular uprisings I witnessed—the Philippines (86), South Korea (87), Thailand (92) Indonesia (98), information technology played a pivotal role. Radio Veritas called the Filipinos into the streets; the distribution of thousands of videos of the military massacre of students in Bangkok undermined the censors; and in Indonesia the internet and mobile phones got around strict information controls. Cyber-politics is especially fascinating in China right now. I think the question of whether the technology can be harnessed to support a single-party state will be answered there—although there are similar questions arising in Vietnam and Singapore.

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

My 10-year-old daughter wants to continue studying Indonesian. In our entire district in Sydney there are no schools teaching the language, so we have a tutor on Saturday mornings. My hopes for Asian studies are that such arrangements will soon be unnecessary, that studying Asia will no longer be considered "foreign". Every single student should be learning about Asia, including learning an Asian language (though this is a big ask as most do not take any foreign language). We live in this region and need to know it intimately, whether we always get on or not.

Researcher of the month

Dr Elizabeth Thurbon is a senior lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of NSW. Liz specialises in the international political economy of industrial development and change, and has a long-standing research interest in the East Asian region.Her doctoral dissertation examined the politics of financial liberalisation in South Korea and Taiwan, and she continues to research and publish on this topic. She is currently working on an ARC Discovery project examining the impact of

globalisation on government-business relations in a variety of national settings, including Northeast Asia, Australia and the United States.Liz is co-founder of The Australian Interest, a public forum dedicated to informed, non-partisan debate on all aspects of Australian foreign economic policy (see for details). She is also one of the authors of How to Kill A Country: Australia's Devastating Trade Deal with the United States (with Linda Weiss and John Mathews, published by Allen & Unwin). The book, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Advancing Public Debate, has been praised for its forthrightness, rigour and readability (see (

Website of the month

(This section is edited by Dr T. Matthew Ciolek, Head, Internet Publications Bureau, the National Institute for Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University) is the website of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), founded in 1968. It offers resources on Asia for researchers, journalists, business and governments. NIAS has strong networks across Europe and supports initiatives such as the Conflict Transformation Group which is interested in the relationship between development and economic structures and conflict potential (

Recent article of interest

articleThe Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has released a report, Unlocking China’s Services Sector. The report warns that further reforms to China’s services sector are needed to alleviate burdensome licensing and operating requirements and make China’s regulatory and legal processes more transparent. The report also concludes that 92 per cent of the software used in China is pirated. The report can be ordered at or by phoning (02) 6261 3114.

Did you know?

According to the Association of Indonesian Internet Service Providers (APJII), in 1996 only 31,000 people subscribed to Internet providers while approximately 110,000 people used the Internet. Within eight years, the number of Internet subscribers increased 40 times to 1.3 million while the number of Internet users rose by 120 times—about 12 million. You can read more in The Internet in Indonesia's New Democracy by David Hill and Krishna Sen, whose study charts the growth and specific political uses of the Internet across the Indonesian archipelago since the early 1990s. See

Diary dates

Exhibitions and other events


10 February - 26 March
Asian gallery, Ground Level Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Leading Japanese contemporary artist Yukinori Yanagi uses two national symbols—the chrysanthemum crest, emblem of the imperial family, and the hinomaru, the rising sun of the Japanese flag—to question the politics and ideology of contemporary Japan.

11 February to 29 April
Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery, 141 Queen Street, Melbourne

Enquiries: (03) 9642 2388
Venerable Won Sung is a self-taught artist and Korean monk, whose work depicts young monks at work and play. Won Sung has shown in over 30 solo exhibitions in Korea, New York, Milan, Germany, Tokyo and Sydney.

24 February to 28 May 2006
The exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia is explores the Islamic heritage of Australia’s neighbours. It shows developments in the arts of Islamic Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as the Muslim communities of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam.

9-14 March
Ridley Centre, Royal Adelaide Showground, Adelaide
The world premiere of a production about the life of Imelda Marcos, as well as the life of Estrella Cumpas, the woman who raised her. Songs written by David Byrne with musical contributions by Fatboy Slim, and incorporating video sequences and archival footage.

6.30pm to 8.00pm, 14 March 2006
Carrillo Gartner Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, The University of Melbourne (corner of Swanson Street and Monish Road), Melbourne
To reserve a seat, please send an email to: with "Vikram Seth" in the subject line or call Asialink on (03) 8344 4800
Hear Vikram Seth discuss his new book, Two Lives with Hamish McDonald, international editor for the Sydney Morning Herald.

13 April-28 May
Asian gallery, Ground Level, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
This exhibition presents examples of lavish court textiles from Java, boldly designed warrior cloths from Sumba, narrative paintings of the Ramayana epic from Bali and ship cloths from Sumatra. It is arranged thematically into groups relating to life-cycle ceremonies, temple rituals, and court occasions, providing insights into the cultures that produced these magnificent textiles.

27 May to 31 May 2006
Hong Kong
The fair will be held at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre, China Resources Building, 26 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

15 June – 13 August
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Japanese ink painting from the Gitter—Yelen Collection.

1 November-1 December 2006
Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane
The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) will be the opening exhibition at the new Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. APT 2006 will present the work of over 30 artists from Asia, Australia and the Pacific. It will feature a performance and cinema program, as well as a children’s festival.

27-28 February 2006
The conference, organized by the Asian Development Bank and German Technical Cooperation, will discuss and agree on approaches to support sustainable urban development and continue addressing poverty in many Asian cities.

Brisbane (27 February), Newcastle (28 February), Sydney (1 March), Hobart (3 March), Melbourne (6 March), Geelong (7 March), Ballarat (7 March), Adelaide (8 March), Perth (10 March),,0_S1-1_CORPXID0040-2_-3_-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html
James Wise, Australia's High Commissioner to Malaysia and Peter Kane, Senior Trade Commissioner, Malaysia will talk about exporting products and services to Malaysia.

University of Wollongong

The deadline for the call for papers has been extended until Wednesday 1 March 2006. Please email abstracts and brief profile information to Margaret Hanlon at Themes of the conference include: the critique of development; governance and citizenship; labour and social Transformation; the clash of fundamentalisms; national and transnational legal issues; the role of technology; new and old Arts; Asia and world history; post-colonialism; Australia-South Asia links. The program will be posted on the ASAA conference web site by March 2006.

30-31 March
A conference about early historical contacts with Australia and indigenous Australians, including the Macassans, National Museum of Australia.

14-16 April, 2006
Contact the convenor, Dr Ian Welch,
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.

24-25 June 2006
This conference will be held at International Christian University (ICU), Tokyo, on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday June 25, 2006.

31 July and 1 August 2006
Kuching Sarawak
Papers are invited for the Eighth Biennial Conference of the Borneo Research Council (BRC). These should present original research in any field relating to Sabah, Brunei, Sarawak, Kalimantan and its surrounding region. Abstracts, no longer than 100 words, must be submitted by email before 1 May to: or

2nd Biennial conference
25-27 August 2006

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 asia-knowledge-book-v70.pdf

Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) thanks to a grant from the International Centre of Excellence for Asia Pacific Studies (ICEAPS) It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President, John Fitzgerald, Director, ICEAPS, Keith Foulcher, ASAA Secretary, Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer, Tamara Jacka, ASAA Council member.

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