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

From the editor

This is the final edition of Asian Currents for 2006. Many thanks to our contributors, to you the readers and to ICEAPS for its support. Best wishes to you all in 2007.



by Larry Marshall Project Officer, Australian Studies, Latrobe University

Last month, a sixth round of peace talks, brokered by Norway, was held in Geneva between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Government. The parties again declared their respect for upholding a ceasefire agreement made in 2002. However, the cruel reality on the ground is that air force bombers roar through the sky, rebels attack navy ships and tens of thousands have fled their homes. Over 3000 people have been killed in the past twelve months and more than 65,000 have died in a war that has lasted more than two decades.

The minority ethnic group, the Tamils, make up 16 per cent of the population. They speak Tamil rather than Sinhalese and are Hindus rather than Buddhists. The Tamils want high autonomy in the north and east of the island, their traditional homelands. They believe they face discrimination and prejudice from the Sinhalese majority (74 per cent) who control the government in the southern capital Colombo. The Tamil-speaking Muslim community (8 per cent) are caught between the protagonists and are beginning to make their own demands.

The issues have grown increasingly complex as the post-independence (1948) ethnic conflict has moved from a demand for equal language rights to include fair access to public service jobs, university places, religious freedom and finally to a separate state of ‘Tamil Eelam’. This all in response to the nationalising Sinhalese governments of the Bandaranaike clan (in the 1950s, 60s and 70s), which made Sinhalese the official language, then Buddhism the state religion and enforced a quota on the Tamil minority’s access to universities and the public service.

The LTTE (branded as terrorists by some governments) has been ruthless and effective in the guerilla war in the north and east, although the equally brutal government forces are not in danger of losing the south. There is no military solution to this war only a political one. Many analysts feel that a move to a federal system with clear power sharing between Colombo and an autonomous Tamil state may be the only viable alternative.

In 2004 the previously monolithic LTTE suffered its first major split when Colonel Karuna from the east of the island challenged the omnipotent leadership of reclusive Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The government has supported this breakaway group, thus driving a wedge deep into the Tamil community.

In December 2004 the tsunami struck Sri Lanka, causing over 35,000 deaths and widespread devastation in the east and the south. For a moment there seemed to be a chance that the billions of dollars promised in aid might be jointly dispersed by the government and the LTTE but this was scuttled by a junior partner in the government coalition.

There are hawkish factions on both sides of this divide who appear to feel that a return to war is the only solution to the ‘no war no peace’ hiatus. Elements in the army and government believe the LTTE is weaker after the split and with its sea forces damaged by the tsunami, is now ripe for attack. Similarly, the LTTE sees war as the way to re-establish its leadership of the whole Tamil community.

One hopeful sign has been a bipartisan pact signed on 26 October by the usually vitriolic Sinhalese parties in Colombo, recognising that the eventual solution to the ethnic issue will not be a military one. Nevertheless, the international community still has a crucial role to play in Sri Lanka.

It must insist on a new ceasefire agreement and assist in constructing a serious long-term peace process which involves the Muslim community and civil society. A political solution can be a win-win for all concerned and allow the people of Sri Lanka to enjoy their island of Serendipity.

Comments on this article may be directed to the editor at




by Simon Butt, Associate Director of Asian Law Group Pty Ltd, who is completing his PhD on Indonesia's Constitutional Court at the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne

In recent times, the imposition of the death penalty by courts in Indonesia (and other parts of Asia) for crimes such as drug trafficking and terrorism has drawn much attention and controversy in Australia. Many of these convictions are likely to be appealed, but they might not be overturned. This article discusses an avenue available in Indonesia to dispute the death penalty – Indonesia’s new Constitutional Court – and the likely outcome of a constitutional challenge.

The Constitutional Court, established in 2003, is the first Indonesian judicial body to be granted power to review whether statutes enacted by the national parliament contradict the Constitution. Using this power, the Court can invalidate statutes that infringe Indonesia’s new constitutional bill of rights, which draws upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Included within this bill of rights is the right to life.

Undoubtedly, some of those sentenced to death for involvement in terrorism (such as the Bali, Marriot or Australian Embassy bombings) or drug-trafficking (such as some of the so-called Bali 9), will object to the validity of the death penalty. They are likely to argue that the death penalty violates citizens’ constitutional right to life. The Court has, in many of the cases heard since its establishment, been concerned to uphold the bill of rights, so it is likely to at least closely consider such an argument.

However, it is unlikely that the Court can help those already sentenced to death. For the Bali 9, the Court’s standing rules appear to allow only Indonesian citizens to bring a claim before the Court. And for Indonesian citizens, the Court’s approach in a case it decided in 2003, offers little hope.

In that 2003 case, one of those convicted for being involved in the 2002 Bali bombings claimed that the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Law under which he was investigated, prosecuted and convicted was unconstitutional. He argued that the statute attempted to authorise police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute him using an Anti-Terrorism Law that was passed after the bombings took place. A bare majority of the Court invalidated the law, deciding that the law infringed the defendant’s constitutional right to not be prosecuted under retrospective laws.

Some of the Bali bombers were also convicted under criminal laws that existed before the bombings took place. The Court did not invalidate these laws, so their convictions stand. But what of defendants who were convicted only under the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Law? If they were convicted under an unconstitutional law, then why are they still in jail – and some on death row?

The answer seems to be: because the Court has declared that its decisions operate only prospectively. That is, statutes that the Court declares unconstitutional are invalid only from the time the court declares them unconstitutional, not from the time they were passed.

The net result is that the convictions of the Bali bombers were not ‘undone’ after the Constitutional Court’s decision. Only people tried and convicted under the anti-terrorism laws for a crime committed before those retrospective laws were passed but after the Constitutional Court’s decision in the Bali bombing case could have their convictions overturned. The ramifications of this seem clear for the Bali 9 and other people currently on death row in Indonesia. Even if they could convince the Court to grant them standing and to accept that the death penalty is unconstitutional, the Court is unlikely to invalidate their convictions.


  • Asian law group website –

  • Constitutional court website –

  • provides online services which help English-speaking professionals to work more effectively with Indonesian business legislation. The site includes an overview of the Indonesian legal system.

  • The Centre for International and Public Law at ANU is holding an event on 'Australia and the death penalty' on Monday 27 November 2006 from 9am to 12.30pm at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It will bring together politicians, academics and NGO representatives to consider how Australia can best advance its argument against the death penalty in the wake of cases such as the Bali Nine and Van Nguyen. See


This month we profile Sandra Wilson, Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Murdoch University.

Q: When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?
A: In secondary school I studied Japanese language. It’s not an easy thing to give up once you’ve started, and I just kept going when I enrolled at the University of Western Australia. Meanwhile I had fallen in love with the study of history. I didn’t do much Asian History in secondary school - it was there in the curriculum but I never took much notice of it because of lack of time – and I didn’t choose any as an undergraduate either. So I was studying Australian and European History, and at the same time continuing with the Japanese language. My interests in History and Japanese didn’t come together until I decided I wanted to go to Japan for an extended period. I enrolled in UWA’s Masters of Japanese Studies degree, which required a year of research at a Japanese university for the dissertation. Eventually I wrote my dissertation on post-war history. Two years later I decided I wanted to go to Europe, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Oxford to do my PhD. I wanted to work on an earlier period of history, and chose the 1930s, which I still believe to be a fascinating and crucial decade, in Japan and throughout the world for that matter. So, the short version is that I took up studying Asian History in order to travel!

Q: What are your current preoccupations?
A: I have been working for some time on Japanese nationalism from the early nineteenth century to the present. Nationalism is one of the themes that had been running through my earlier work on Japan

during the Manchurian crisis of 1931-33 and on the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and I wanted to know more about it: in particular, how Japanese nationalism has changed over time. But right now, my biggest preoccupation is writing a new undergraduate unit for next year on the Pacific War.

Q: How do these fit into the contemporary scene?
A: Some people argue that nationalism is diminishing as a force around the world, but it doesn’t look like it to me. In lots of ways it still has enormous impact on people’s lives, and not only in periods of turbulence. People tend to think of nationalism only as a right-wing or conservative phenomenon, but I think it’s much broader - the idea of nation is common to a very wide range of political, economic, social and cultural discourses, and all countries have nationalisms. In Japan, the topic is more sensitive than in most other places, and people worry about it a great deal. Issues surrounding patriotism and identity in Japan have been prominent topics in recent years. One of the aims of my current research is to set these issues into historical perspective.

Q: What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?
A: That it survives, and thrives, and that some of those who study Asia go on to do serious research on topics in humanities and social sciences, especially History! At base, though, my hopes for Asian Studies are the same as for any other area of academic work in Australia - that universities will receive enough resources to enable academics to get on with their research and with teaching students without constant upheaval and threats of cut-backs.

Researcher of the month

Dr Li Narangoa was born in Inner Mongolia in the People's Republic of China. She came to specialise on Japan almost by accident while studying chemistry at the university in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. There she had an inspiring and demanding Japanese language teacher whose example encouraged her to take a closer interest in Japan. She continued her studies in Japan, decided that history was the most interesting discipline and took her PhD at the University of Bonn in Germany. This was in the time of the old-style, intensive German PhD programs. She had to learn German from scratch, study Classical Chinese and Japanese and complete a thesis.

She wrote on Japanese religious policy in Mongolia and became fascinated by the clashes and intersections of interest between the Mongols and the Japanese.

In 1998 Nara joined the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen, which turned out to have a more wide-ranging and interactive academic culture than anything she had previously encountered. She was happy though when a job came up at the Australian National University because of its strong Asian Studies reputation. She now teaches Japanese history and language, as well as general thematic courses on Asia. Her students are most excited by the dramatic--war and conspiracies--and by topics relevant to contemporary society. Nara’s own research field covers Japan and broader Northeast Asia. She is particularly interested in Japan's relations to other Asian countries. In 2003 she and Robert Cribb edited Imperial Japan and National Identities in Asia, 1895-1945, see

Website of the month New Mandala offers analysis of current issues in mainland Southeast Asia and aims to stimulate broader discussion of Southeast Asia's many social, political, environmental and economic issues. Reader comments and interaction are encouraged.

Recent article of interest

Garry Rodan from the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University wrote recently in the Far Eastern Economic Review that the Singapore government hoped for significant returns when it invested approximately $85 million to host the September 2006 meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The 16,000 delegates represented a captive audience to promote the Singapore’s finance and tourism industries. What transpired, he argues was a public-relations disaster for the ruling People’s Action Party. See Singapore's founding myths vs freedom

Are you over the age of 55??

Joanne Tan, a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, School of Psychology is conducting a research about what Chinese- Australians and Anglo-Australians (from SA, NSW, WA and Vic) over 55 think about ageing well, what expectations of older adults exist in society and what responsibilities towards older adults should prevail. If you are interested in participating in this research and are prepared to fill out a questionnaire, please contact:

Diary dates

GODDESS: DIVINE ENERGY Exhibition, 13 October 2006 – 28 January 2007, Sydney. This is the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ major summer exhibition, which surveys the countless imaginative expressions of the divine female found in the Hindu and Buddhist art of India, Tibet and Nepal. See

THE JADE GATE AND THE SILK ROAD, 26 November, Sydney. Jocelyn Chey, Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney, will talk about the strategic Jade Pass on the ancient Silk Road, one of the world's oldest and most historically important trade routes. This talk is one of the events accompanying the The Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which runs until 25 February 2007. Infoline: (02) 9217 0444;

A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA? 30 November, Canberra. Dr Rod Lyon, Program Director for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, will discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions at the Australian Institute of International Affairs’ headquarters, 32 Thesiger Court, Deakin at 6pm. RSVP by 28 November by email or phone: 02-6232 4978

CONTEMPLATING VIOLENCE IN INDONESIA, Herb Feith Memorial Lecture by Ruth McVey, 30 November 2006, Melbourne. McVey is Emeritus Reader in Southeast Asian Politics at the University of London. 6.00pm refreshments for 7.00pm start at the Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Corner Sturt Street and Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne

BOUNDARIES AND SHIFTING SOVEREIGNTIES: MIGRATION, SECURITY ISSUES AND REGIONAL COOPERATION 30 November-1 December 2006, Armidale. The 14th Malaysia and Singapore Society Colloquium will be held at the University of New England. See

YOUTH, MEDIA AND CULTURE IN THE ASIA PACIFIC REGION, 30 November to 1 December, Melbourne. This symposium will explore themes such as youth consumption and production of media, the role of commercial media, public service broadcasting and community media. Monash University, Caulfield Campus. See

ASIA-PACIFIC TRIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART, December 2006-May 2007, 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. See

WORLD WITHOUT WALLS: 21st Century Perspectives on East and West, 3-7 December 2006, Sydney. The Oriental Society of Australia (OSA) is holding a fiftieth anniversary, international conference from 3-7 December. The conference title ‘World Without Walls’ reflects the belief of the conference organisers that the study of humanities, the arts and social sciences without Asia is incomplete. The conference is designed to break down traditional geographic country-based studies by organising panel discussions thematically, and bringing together scholars from different backgrounds to discuss common problems. University of Sydney; COST: $380 per person ($300 Early Bird Registration) ENQUIRIES: OSA2006 Conference Committee, See

CROSSING BORDERS, conference, 4-5 February 2007, Sarawak. The Research Unit for Study of Societies in Change (RUSSIC), Curtin University, with the support of Curtin University, Sarawak campus, is holding a two-day conference at Curtin’s Sarawak campus in Miri. The focus of the conference is on border issues relating to Borneo and the neighbouring region. If you are interested in attending or presenting, please contact: Anne-Marie Hilsdon

ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS HISTORY CONFERENCE (APEBH), 12-14 February 2007 Sydney. Call for papers on the theme of the ‘Business of the Chinese Diaspora’ for this conference and the later Chinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA) Biennial Conference (Brisbane, 27-29 June 2007. See

The APEBH Conference theme is “Varieties of Capitalist Development and Corporate Governance”, with keynote speaker Professor Doug Irwin, a US-based leading authority on the history of international trade policy.

Proposals for either or both conferences are welcome on any topic related to the business organisation and practices of the Chinese diaspora, from the 19th century to the present Proposals for the APEBH Conference are due by 25 November 2006 and the CSAA 1 March 2007. Contact Dr Stephen L. Morgan, Co-Editor, Australian Economic History Review, University of Melbourne

FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF ACEH AND INDIAN OCEAN STUDIES, 23-26 February 2007, Banda Aceh. The Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Executing Agency for Aceh and Nias (BRR) are sponsoring a conference which will cover topics as diverse as seismology, geology and environmental impact; the history of Aceh and the Indian Ocean world; post-tsunami relief, reconstruction and disaster mitigation; conflict resolution, peace-making and democratisation;and Islam, law and society. See

SOUTH ASIA ENGAGED, 27-29 April 2007, Los Angeles. The South Asian Studies Alliance is hosting its foundation conference with a focus on how South Asia is being integrated into the world. The proposal deadline is 18 February 2007. See

CHINESE STUDIES ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA, 10th Biennial Conference, 27-29 June 2007, Brisbane. Griffith University, will be hosting the conference at Southbank in Brisbane. Watch the website for details:

2ND ASIAN AUSTRALIAN IDENTITIES conference, 28-30 June 2007, Melbourne. Call for Papers: deadline 30 November 2006. The organisers welcome papers and presentations exploring Asian Australian identities, histories, cultures and politics. All presentations should be of 20 minutes duration. Abstracts (max 200 words) and a short bio (max 200 words) should be sent to or contact the convenors, or

IN SEARCH OF RECONCILIATION AND PEACE IN INDONESIA, workshop 19 and 20 July 2007, Singapore. The Indonesia Study Group, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore is holding an interdisciplinary workshop to examine approaches to reconciliation and peace in Indonesia. Its aim is to provide insights into ways forward not only for Indonesia, but for conflict situations much more broadly. Call for Papers: deadline 15 December 2006. See or contact the convenor, Dr Birgit Bräuchler

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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 Asian Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference. ASAA and the Centre for Language Studies at National University of Singapore also co-publish an annual supplementary issue of the Centre's fully peer-reviewed electronic Foreign Language Teaching Journal (e-FLT). See

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 International Centre of Excellence for Asia Pacific Studies (ICEAPS) It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President, Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary, Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer, Tamara Jacka, ASAA Council member, and Ann Kumar, Director, ICEAPS.

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