Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
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Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
February 2008 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <> for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

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In this issue:



by Dennis Shoesmith, Associate Professor of Political Science at Charles Darwin University,

At 6.15am Monday morning, 11 February, armed rebels attack the home of President José Ramos-Horta. Within minutes, Alfredo Reinado, the leader of the attackers, was shot dead by a presidential guard. Forty minutes later, when he returned to his house, President Ramos-Horta was seriously wounded. By that time, another group of Reinado’s men had attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, who escaped uninjured.

Whether the intention of Reinado’s men was to assassinate or to kidnap the President and the Prime Minister, attempted murder of the head of state and the head of government is now part of East Timor’s political landscape. All the nation’s leaders who claim they are committed to East Timor’s future must act to reverse this growing culture of violence.

The tragic events of that Monday morning could represent an opportunity for East Timor to reverse its apparent slide into anarchy. The opportunity is for East Timor’s fractured political elite to realise that unless they overcome their deep rivalries, they will commit East Timor to a bleak future as at best a fragile and at worst a failed state.

Fretilin, the party formerly in power and now in opposition, immediately condemned the attacks, saying the shooting of President Ramos-Horta was ‘a total surprise’, given Ramos-Horta’s ‘tireless efforts to find a mechanism of national political consensus to find solutions to the critical issues that are faced by our country’. Fretilin promised ‘full support to cooperate with the security authorities in any way it can to maintain peace and stability’.

It is imperative that former Prime Minister and Fretilin Secretary-General Marí Alkatiri and Prime Minister Gusmão’s Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) Government do now work together not only to calm the present crisis but also to rebuild a seriously damaged political system.

Sadly, this seems unlikely to happen. The divisions between the Fretilin leadership, which lost government in the June 2007 elections, and the leaders of the coalition government, run very deep. They go back to the civil war of 1975. Fretilin has denounced the AMP Government as illegal, a ‘de facto’ government wrongly appointed by the President. Not long before the attacks on Monday morning, Alkatiri had again demanded early elections and the resignation of Prime Minister Gusmão. In doing so, he used a DVD released by Reinado a few weeks before his death on 11 February, in which Reinado calls Gusmão a ‘liar’ and the ‘mastermind’ behind the crisis of April-May 2006 which finally forced Alkatiri to resign as head of government. (In 2006, Reinado was aligned with then President Gusmão against then Prime Minister Alkatiri.)

Now Dili is full of rumours including that Fretilin had courted Reinado and that Monday’s attacks were part of a ‘wider political conspiracy’. Gusmão himself has been reported as accusing Fretilin of making overtures to Reinado. Alkatiri denies this. Such talk does nothing to encourage these political enemies to set aside their differences and work together to address East Timor’s debilitating problems.

Instead, what is needed is some agreement to enable Fretilin and the AMP Government to work within a more inclusive political system, in a consociational parliamentary democracy where the opposition of the day is offered and accepts a genuine if subsidiary role in national affairs. This should include the AMP Government offering (as it did after the June 2006 elections) cabinet positions to the Fretilin opposition and Fretilin accepting the offer.

East Timor’s problems as a post-conflict state will remain intractable while the national elite remains bitterly divided. Unless those divisions are overcome, East Timor cannot be viable.


For a further discussion on consociational democracy, that is a political arrangement in which various groups, such as ethnic or racial populations within a country or region, share power according to an agreed formula or mechanism, see Consociational Democracy and Post conflict Peace. Will Power-Sharing Institutions Increase the Probability of Lasting Peace after Civil War? By Helga Malmin Binningsbø International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, 2005


by Richard Tanter, Director, Nautilus Institute at RMIT This is an edited extract from a longer piece on the coup originally published in the Nautilus Institute Austral Policy Forum , which also examines the domestic implications of the present crisis. See East Timor: the crisis beyond the coup attempt

The violence of the attempted coup in Dili, while shocking, should not be a surprise. East Timor has been moving into a multi-dimensional crisis for several years. Yet, for the most part, foreign media attention fell away from East Timor once the moment of drama and crisis in mid-2006 appeared to pass. Some foreign observers acted as if the three decades of independence struggle were still ongoing, with the same cast of villains and heroes centred on Indonesia and the Fretilin movement of 1975. Others looked only at the enclave of Dili and spoke only to the internationally and politically literate elite, ignoring the growing poverty and alienation of both the rural poor and the urban underemployed.

This erratic attention both from foreign observers and those directly involved in East Timor’s nation-building must be remedied, particularly as East Timor is not a fully autonomous state. In relative terms the foreign organisational and personnel presence is enormous. The United Nations mission continues; security is essentially maintained by foreign forces; and the government budget (hydrocarbon revenues excepted) is largely dependent on foreign aid.

A week before the coup attempt, Jose Ramos Horta’s son, Loro, published a careful review of the Australian military presence in East Timor titled “Aussies Outstay Their East Timor Welcome”. In it he spelled out what many Timorese had been saying privately for some time: that the Australians were being seen as high-handed and bullying. Nor have their recent military and policing efforts been nearly as successful as those of the earlier International Force for East Timor (Interfet). This has been politically costly for Australia within East Timor, and has failed to deliver on its security objectives.

Despite these complex sentiments, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd responded to the attempted coup by sending another company of Australian troops, including SAS, and seventy more police to East Timor.

This will further test an overstretched Australian military, particularly in the sensitive areas of intelligence and command. Australia’s military intelligence organisations have vastly more on their plate compared to the 1998-99 period of the lead-up to Interfet. This restricts their ability to analyse the politics of East Timor and increases the burden on those charged with carrying out the military mission. More troops may be temporarily needed and deployable, but that is neither politically (in either East Timor or Australia) nor militarily feasible in the long-term.

In fact, Australia faces a profound dilemma. It must avoid both a turn to de facto colonial takeover as well as delusional hopes that with enough troops and money East Timor will right itself. The democratically elected government must be supported but increases in the aid and military budget will not in themselves solve the problem.

Perhaps the greatest threat from the continuing crisis in East Timor arises not for Australia but for the United Nations. Its operation in the tiny new state was to have been, more than any other post-cold-war UN-led peace-building effort, a model of global stewardship. A new state form was invented for the UN-supervised transition to democratic independence.

The UN is back, though with less hope than eight years ago. Much is riding on the survival of East Timor as a civil polity for there is no operative alternative model of global stewardship out of genocidal conflict waiting in the wings.


See also:


This month we profile Tim Colebatch, economics editor, The Age,

Q:When did you become interested in Asia and why?
Asia first invaded my mind in the mid-60s. It was an age when the world was discovering Asia; as a teenager, I came under the spell of Indian art, and then Indian music. Entrepreneurs like Clifford Hocking made it accessible by bringing out Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee and Ravi Shankar to tour Australia. The Beatles made it socially acceptable among one's peers. And Melbourne University made it possible, by establishing an Indian Studies department under intellectual maverick Sibnarayan Ray. I was looking for a second discipline to combine with my English honours degree, and keen to study a culture in its entirety rather than a history of wars. The department had never had an honours student before, so we were a natural fit. Later I was followed by Meredith Borthwick, who became a creative force at DFAT before being claimed by cancer in her 40s, and by Hilary Charlesworth, now a professor at the ANU specialising in international and human rights law.

I became a journalist, with the aim of heading overseas and establishing myself as a stringer in some distant Asian capital, writing for the world. But when my career at The Age took off, I decided to postpone that dream until things went wrong. Fortunately, they never did; my only stint as a foreign correspondent has been in Washington. I picked up an economics degree along the way, and later, when I decided to aim for a posting in Indonesia, I did a third degree in Asian Studies at the ANU, focussing on Indonesia and Malaysia. For family reasons, that dream too has had to wait.

Q: What are your current preoccupations?
Since 1993 I have been the economics editor of The Age, and hence my focus has been on economic issues - which in Asia tend to grow into broader issues of development. To me, there is no issue more important than ending extreme poverty: yet how do you lift people out of debilitating poverty, other than by the slow drip of trickle-down growth? Classical economics is based on the assumption that economies grow best when governments mostly get out of the way; yet the reality is that in virtually every Asian country which has enjoyed rapid growth, from Japan and Korea to Singapore and China, government intervention has played a dominant role in creating and sustaining the momentum of growth. And now that Asia's giants, China and India, have shown they are powerful enough to play major roles in the world economy on their own terms, what should be the strategy of smaller countries trying to compete with them?

Q: What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?
Australia's universities, and its economics faculties, should have a role in exploring these issues frankly and openly. Unfortunately, an iron curtain of intellectual conformity appears to have fallen over the economics discipline here, coupled with the enforcement of specialisation in mathematical economics at the expense of historical understanding. Virtually every university has closed down its economic history department, and downgraded the empirical study of specific economics in favour of theoretical and mathematical approaches. (In fairness, one should add that one factor in this has been the lack of interest in history by Asian students, who are now crucial to faculty revenues, and focussed more on accounting and econometrics.)

Traditionally, Australian universities have played an important role in promoting ideologically free, intellectually rigorous study of Asia (offset only by their propensity to grant honorary degrees to Asian rulers who trample on intellectual freedom at home). In Asia's slow, uneven transition to democracy, that role will remain crucial, as a beacon of genuine intellectual freedom, in a region where that is likely to remain elusive.

Student of the month

As a first year undergraduate studying German and Linguistics at the University of York, UK-born Kate Sullivan [] found herself in a beginners’ Hindi class, in awe of the elaborate strokes of the devanagari script and learning the Hindi words for things she’d never heard of in English. This linguistic window into a spectacular culture rapidly led to an all-consuming passion for India, fuelled in the initial phases by some enthusiastic but frequently disastrous attempts at homemade curries, a diet of whatever Bollywood films were available, and an unfathomable attraction to sequins.

An eight-month exchange at Delhi University added fuel to the fire. When not working on her Hindi, Kate was captivated by the complex dynamics of political and social life in the world’s largest democracy. Later winning a national Hindi competition hosted by the UK Hindi Samiti,

she returned to India on an educational tour, appearing briefly on Zee TV, shaking hands with Bollywood star Sunil Shetty, and hearing Italian-born Sonja Gandhi speak in flawless Hindi. It was there, in the electric atmosphere of the Indian Parliament, that Kate decided she had to find out more about Indian politics.

A Masters degree in the Politics of South Asia at the University of Heidelberg was made possible by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service. Kate focussed on Gandhi’s political theory in her dissertation, and grew more and more interested in India’s place in the world. She won a scholarship to the Australian National University in mid-2007 and is now pursuing her doctoral research at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, focusing on the challenges facing Indian foreign policy in the 21st century.

Keenly preparing for her forthcoming fieldwork in Delhi, Kate runs a Hindi conversation group at the ANU, has recently published in India’s Economic and Political Weekly (, remains an avid follower of Bollywood and is proud to say that she can nowadays not only cook an aloo gobhi that Madhur Jaffrey would be proud of, but has finally got a firm grip on her addiction to sequins.

Website of the month

Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures group on Facebook

Newly established on Facebook is the Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures group, which is primarily interested in news, essays, working papers, scholarships and fellowships, research collaboration on the intersection of media and contemporary cultures in Asia. Academics, students, journalists and practitioners in the relevant professions are particularly welcome. Postings in any Asian languages are welcome, but a brief summary in English would be appreciated for a longer text.

Recent publication of interest

Professor Fred Halliday, Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, has responded to the recent controversy about sharia law sparked by comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine published on openDemocracy, Halliday argues that ‘“Islamic" law - or more properly, legal practice in the fifty-seven Muslim countries - is, like any other system, plural and multivocal: the result of centuries of inherited practice and precedent, allowing of many different interpretations. There is no fixed legal code, and never has been.’ See

Did you know?

Bob McMullan, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, has announced a three-year Development Research Strategy to assist in improving the quality and effectiveness of Australia's overseas aid. In the inaugural round, the Australian Government is providing $8.8 million for 27 Australian Development Research Awards. This research will be aimed at providing decision-makers with practical solutions to the most difficult development challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy will also strengthen important research partnerships across the Australian Government and with major donors in the region. See Full list of Australian Development Research Award recipients [PDF 37KB]

Diary dates

INTIMATE ENCOUNTERS INDIAN PAINTINGS FROM AUSTRALIAN COLLECTIONS, 22 February to 4 May, Sydney. The Art Gallery of NSW is hosting an exhibition drawing from collections throughout Australia, to survey the major schools of Indian painting, highlighting the rich interactions that inspired each tradition.

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP IN THE MONASH UNIVERSITY CENTRE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES, applications close 29 February 2008. The Centre of Southeast Asian Studies seeks a Postdoctoral Research Fellow to conduct research on Southeast Asia from a humanities or social science perspective, prepare their research for publication and apply for an Australian Research Council grant to continue their career at Monash University. This is a fixed-term, 12-month contract. Relevant PhD and languages are essential, while Southeast Asian field experience, a record of publication and grant success are desirable. See

SRI LANKAN/UK NOVELIST AND ARTIST, ROMA TEARNE, 6 March 2008, Canberra. Roma Tearne’s first novel Mosquito was short listed for the Costa Book Awards (formerly known as the Whitbreads). 6pm Thursday 6 March Asia Bookroom, Lawry Place, Macquarie. RSVP: By March 5. Phone: 6251 5191 Email:


Applications close 14 March 2008. The ANRC invites applications from Dutch and Australian scholars specialising in the study of Southeast Asia to convene academic workshops in the period 2008 – 2012. The workshops must feature collaboration between Australian and Dutch scholars, and must actively involve scholars/experts from Southeast Asia. Workshops may take place in The Netherlands, Australia or Southeast Asia. See or contact, tel 02 6125 0693.

'SHANGHAI ARCHITECTURE', 18 March, Canberra. Anne Warr, author of Shanghai Architecture will give an illustrated talk at the Asia Bookroom on Tuesday 18 March 18 at 6pm. Lawry Place, Macquarie. RSVP: By March 17. Phone: 6251 5191 Email:

KRISHNA - LOVE AND DEVOTION EXHIBITION, 6 October - 16 March, Melbourne. Krishna is one of the most popular of the Hindu gods worshipped throughout Asia and in particular India. The exhibition will explore Krishna iconography, through approximately 70 works including paintings, sculpture, textiles, photography, and jewellery. Asian Tempore Exhibition Space, Level 1, National Gallery Victoria International, 180 St Kilda Road

THE COLD WAR IN ASIA: THE CULTURAL DIMENSION, 24 - 25 March 2008, Singapore. This conference will investigate how Asian actors in the Cold War adhered to certain Cold War doctrines or ideologies and how their cultural perceptions predisposed them towards certain policies or to the political engagement between states and social forces on the cultural front. Venue: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Those interested in participating should submit a 300-word abstract and 100-word autobiographical note by 31 October 2007 to Ms Valerie Yeo at


THE FUTURE OF THE MULTILATERAL TRADE SYSTEM – 7 April, 2008, Melbourne. The Centre For Public Policy is holding a symposium to reflect on the key challenges facing the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and discuss the findings and recommendations of the Warwick Commission report on the Future of the Multilateral Trade System, which can be downloaded from This event will be held at the Melbourne Business School, 200 Leicester Street, Carlton. Registration is $275. For more information

CRITICAL HAN STUDIES SYMPOSIUM & WORKSHOP, 24-27 April 2008, Stanford University. Call for Papers. Han is a colossal category of identity that encompasses ninety-four percent of the population of mainland China, making it the largest ethnic group on earth. Participants in the first-ever Critical Han Studies Symposium & Workshop will help develop materials to be published in two path-breaking volumes: Critical Han Studies, an edited volume, and the Critical Han Studies Reader, a collection of primary source materials in translation. The deadline for paper and panel proposals is 3 December 2007. For more information contact Professor Thomas S. Mullaney at or James Leibold at Latrobe University: leibold.html

INTERNATIONAL COLLOQUIUM ON ASIAN BUSINESS (ICAB), 30 June to 3 July 2008 Bangkok, Thailand. The colloquium invites abstracts and papers concerned with Asian business and management issues. Topics to be discussed include intellectual property, brands and branding, finance, managing risk, corporate social responsibility, disaster management, market entry, leadership, and a host of others. The conference particularly welcomes papers that employ novel or interdisciplinary approaches, perhaps drawing from areas of sociology, economics, psychology, cultural studies, history, gender studies or politics. See or email

IS THIS THE ASIAN CENTURY? 17th Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference, 1-3 July 2008, Melbourne. The biennial Asian Studies Association of Australia conference is the largest gathering of expertise on Asia in the southern hemisphere. The theme for 2008 invites you to assess how the regions and issues on which you are interested are faring. The ASAA conference is multi-disciplinary and covers Central, South, South-East and North East Asia and the relationship of all of these with the rest of the world. See Early bird registrations close 1 March.


TRANSITION AND INTERCHANGE Ninth Women in Asia Conference, 29 September-1 October 2008, Brisbane. The University of Queensland is hosting the ninth Women in Asia (WIA) Conference, to be held from 29 September-1 October, 2008. Call for Papers: Contributions are invited from various disciplines on a large number of themes concerning the lives of women in Asia. Participants are encouraged to submit proposals for panels (with 3-4 papers per panel). Individual proposals are also welcome. Enquiries can be addressed to

ARTSingapore, 9-13 October 2008, Singapore. This contemporary visual art fair is both a trade and consumer fair, and thus a platform for art dealers and galleries to network and foster business relationships, and for art collectors to acquire new works

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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). It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

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