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

Sponsored by ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network

In this issue:



By David T. Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, Murdoch University

With the dust now settled on the Australia 2020 Summit, the question remains ‘what next?’

As a participant in the stream on Australia’s future prosperity and security, I was aware of the extraordinarily challenging task our group faced in trying to distil our multitude of conclusions into final form.

We focussed on some confronting issues: terrorism, security treaties, trade pacts, global warming, and migration flows. But running through almost all was the central need for Australia to be able to communicate and cooperate with the countries of our Asian region.

Whether discussing preventative security, sustainability policy or Australia’s economic future in 2020 when 43 per cent of the global GDP will be generated in Asia, one thing was clear. Until our society becomes Asia literate – that is, informed about, able to communicate with, and relate to, Asia – we will be struggling with one hand tied behind our back.

The report handed to the PM in the final session included our stream’s three ambitions for 2020, two of which related directly to Asia. These were the call to ‘reinvigorate and deepen our engagement with Asia and the Pacific’ and to ‘ensure that the major languages and cultures of our region are no longer foreign to Australians but are familiar and mainstreamed into Australian society’.

The priority was for a comprehensive, cross-agency,

national strategic plan for a major reinvigoration of Asia literacy in Australia, to enhance our global engagement in trade, security and people to people exchanges.

The report recommended a more focussed effort to recruit foreign language teachers from local communities and overseas, and to enhance Australia’s foreign language teaching skills.

There was a strong appeal to the spirit of adventure of young Australians, to encourage them in their thousands to link with Asian communities through support for school twinning, exchange programs, mentoring, in-country and community-based learning programs. In drafting the consensus we dubbed it ‘Australia’s 2020 Asia vision’.

I was exhilarated to hear that the previous weekend’s Youth Summit had also called for a ‘national linguistic and cultural platform’ which would ‘enforce mandatory learning of foreign languages in secondary schools and assist businesses with linguistics retraining’.

Since participants were constantly urged to go for ‘big ideas’ we lacked sufficient time to fill in the details.

We talked, for example, about the importance of getting young Australians to study in Asia as part of their education, but left open the precise mechanisms. We exhorted the government to encourage students to study Asian languages at university and mentioned a ‘language bonus’ in the university entrance score and a HECS waiver for languages, but did not have the time to consider other possible stimuli. We recognised the dearth of qualified teachers of Asian languages but did not explore how best to train those required expeditiously.

So there’s much left to do to turn the goals into implementable strategies.

But if the government incorporates Australia’s 2020 Asia Vision into our education system, the prosperous and secure future we glimpsed at the Summit may be ours, and more importantly, our children’s.




by Professor Purnendra Jain, Head of Asian Studies, the University of Adelaide

Australia–Japan relations have entered new diplomatic waters since Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister late last year. Two events in particular have shifted gear in what has been a stable, amicable relationship through most of the post-war period.

The first ‘jolt’ concerns the Rudd government’s declaration on Japan ‘to bring an end to whaling once and for all’, a diplomatically sensitive expectation of a Japanese government in some ways beholden to pro-whaling domestic interests. The second is Rudd’s first official overseas tour in March–April to key countries including the US and China but not to Japan. Australia and Japan have recently formed a trilateral framework with the US to deal with regional security concerns and last year Canberra and Tokyo signed a defence agreement to cooperate closely on wide-ranging security issues. Assuming Tokyo’s importance to Canberra, some in Tokyo felt snubbed by this official exclusion of Japan.

Some observers see these two developments as sources of bilateral tension and division that need to be addressed swiftly. Others recognise the developments as a sign of the maturity and steadiness of the relationship while both nations adjust to rapidly evolving power dynamics across Asia-Pacific.

The security of both nations depends on a peaceful and economically solid Asia-Pacific. Today Japan remains Australia’s largest export destination, although China has replaced Japan as Australia’s largest trading partner. Japan and Australia have cooperated actively to pursue a number of regional and global initiatives including

establishment of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) and reform of the UN. Recently Australian forces protected Japan’s Self Defence Force personnel in southern Iraq. Japan remains a strong supporter of Australia in regional forums and successfully argued for Australia’s inclusion in the East Asian Summit Process.

Given the shared economic and strategic interests of these two nations, why did Rudd as newly elected Prime Minister take these two steps that were potentially harmful of strong bilateral relations in the short term?

On both sides the government’s stance on whaling is driven by domestic politics. Conservation and other civic groups in Australia have long opposed Japan’s whaling, which Tokyo claims is for ‘scientific’ purposes. Rudd’s sensitivity to these groups ensured a stance on this issue tougher than that of his predecessor. But by shunning diplomatic channels, Rudd has angered Tokyo’s political and diplomatic circles that see Japan as an all-weather and trusted friend for Australia.

Rudd’s exclusion of Tokyo on his first major overseas tour appears to be even more damaging. Tokyo was seriously concerned about Rudd’s pro-China stance before he became prime minister and being bypassed on his first official trip confirmed Tokyo’s apprehension.

Japanese trust towards Australia has been tested. Short term, the Australia-Japan Free Trade Agreement negotiations will be delayed, if not derailed. Longer term, Japan may not support Australia’s case in regional and international institutions such as Rudd’s aspirations for Australia’s membership of the UN Security Council.

It is clearly in Australia’s interests to maintain strong relations with Japan. Indeed this understanding may have undergirded Rudd’s recent actions––signalling expectation of shared understanding and maturity of the relationship, especially now while its strategic dimension firms.

Shared interests in peacekeeping, environmental protection, developmental activities and good governance promote partnership in jointly initiating and implementing policies. With the onus on Canberra to extend a firm friendly hand to Tokyo, proposals to establish and fund a Japan Studies Institute and an Australia–Japan Regional Peacekeeping Centre as discussed at the 2020 Ideas Summit in Canberra are positive moves in this direction.



This month we profile Dr George Quinn, Head, Southeast Asia Centre, Faculty of Asian Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University,

Q: When did you become interested in Asia and why?
A: I was born and grew up in New Zealand. In January 1966, aged just 23, I visited Indonesia. The country was in turmoil after an army coup (or in the eyes of some, an attempted communist coup) the previous year. Hundreds of thousands of people had been killed. Inflation was running at around 600% and services were minimal. Government was still nominally in the hands of the incompetent President Soekarno but the country was emerging from the paranoia he had imposed over the previous seven years. For me Indonesia was an exciting world, dramatically different from that of remote, tranquil New Zealand, and I was determined to learn more about it. I returned to Indonesia as a volunteer teacher between 1967 and 1970, and in 1973 completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Indonesian at Gadjah Mada University, Jogjakarta. These years set a kind of career agenda for me that has revolved mainly around the teaching of Indonesian and Javanese. My experience as a student in Indonesia also gave me an abiding interest in the development of in-country study programs and I have remained curious about Indonesia’s literary and religious life.

Q: What are your current preoccupations? And how do these fit into the contemporary scene?
A: Currently I am completing a survey of sacred sites and local pilgrimage on the islands of Java and Madura. Islam in Indonesia is nurtured and transmitted through a number of

powerful institutions, most prominently the family, the state, the mass media, and the hajj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy land in Saudi Arabia. Other key institutions are the mosque, Islamic schools (especially pesantren schools), sufi brotherhoods and local pilgrimage. All of these institutions have been researched to some degree, but the least known among them is the practice of pilgrimage to the local shrines of saints and learned clerics. Pilgrimage places are not only significant as centres of religious practice, but they also have historiographical, political, geographical, economic and conservational functions. In Java and Madura today local pilgrimage is experiencing an extraordinary jump in popularity. I am hoping that my work will help draw greater attention to this important facet of Indonesian Islam and provide a broad-brush context for further studies in the field.

Q: What are your hopes for Asian Studies in Australia?
At the recent 2020 Summit I heard a phrase that still resonates in my mind: “Reverse Colombo Plan”. Devised in 1950, the Colombo Plan was originally intended to kick-start education and development in the newly independent countries of Asia. Over more than five decades it has brought thousands of Asian students to Australia. Now it is time for Australians to reverse the flow. The economies of Asia are awakening in an unprecedented fashion, and Australia is not well prepared to engage creatively with this new regional reality. Our country needs to renew its challenge to the curiosity and adventurousness of its young people and send them to study in Asia in their tens of thousands. Cultural provincialism and arrogance, penny-pinching, fear of the terrorist bogeyman, administrative inertia... these and many more obstacles that weigh heavily on our education system must be put aside. Young Australians must be given incentives and on-the-ground support to help them learn about Asian societies from the inside.

Postgraduate of the month

Nichole Georgeou ( is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong and is affiliated with the Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS). Nichole’s thesis contributes to the “Australian Volunteers Abroad in Communities in the Asia Pacific Region” project, which is funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant and involves a collaborative research team including an industry partnership between volunteer sending organisation Palms Australia and CAPSTRANS researchers.

Nichole’s interest in the relationship between government policy and models of volunteering was first piqued in Japan where she founded and ran a volunteer organisation which raised funds for women’s literacy and income generation projects in Northern Vietnam. Working alongside UNICEF Hanoi and the Vietnam Women’s Union, this experience raised many questions about ‘development’ both as a concept and industry, and in particular the role of volunteers in sustainable development projects. After experiencing first hand the shifts and changes in attitudes to volunteering as well as national policy after the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that hit the city of Kobe in Japan,

the experience also inspired a curiosity about the way in which state-citizen relations impact on notions of volunteering.

These two focuses have converged in Nichole’s current research which is concerned with the subjective experiences of Palms Australia’s cross-national volunteers. The thesis examines the relationship between development theory, policy and practice in order to analyse the ways in which Australian cross-national volunteers think about development throughout their volunteer experience. The research involves case studies of volunteers clustered in East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Nichole has conducted field work in both of these countries visiting, observing and interviewing each of the volunteers in placement.

Nichole also has a Masters of Social Change and Development, (Research) from the University of Wollongong. She has previously presented at several national and international conferences and is currently the student representative for the Asia Pacific Sociological Association.


Website of the month

The ARC Asia Pacific Futures Network has a new look website: The Network’s broad goals are to provide stimulus for innovative research that makes links across disciplinary and area boundaries to enhance Australia's interactions with and knowledge of the Asia Pacific region.

Recent publication of interest

In ‘Facing Up to Our Responsibilities’, an article in The Guardian, published on 12 May, Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, has posed the question whether ‘what the [Burmese] generals are now doing, in effectively denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death, can itself be characterised as a crime against humanity’. If it can, he asks, whether in the name of humanity some international action should be taken, even against the regime’s will – like military air drops, or supplies being landed from ships offshore. Is this the international community’s ‘responsibility to protect’, in accordance to the principle endorsed at the 2005 UN World Summit? Evans’s article can be found at

Did you know?

Applications are open for the 2008 Australia Indonesia Governance Research Partnership (AIGRP) Young Scholars Workshop. The Young Scholars Workshop is designed to encourage a new generation of prospective researchers (Honours and post-graduate students) from Indonesia and Australia who are working on contemporary governance issues in Indonesia (politics, economy, law, environment, society). Funding is available on a competitive basis to bring scholars together with senior academics to Jakarta in December. Successful candidates will have the chance to showcase their research, develop presentation skills and forge links with key research institutions. They will also receive mentoring from leading academics and attend the AIGRP Policy Research Forum. See website for more details and how to apply:

Diary dates

IDIOSYNCRATIC VISIONS by three Kobe Artists 19 May to 24 May, Canberra. Exhibition at the School of Arts Gallery, Australian National University.

TAISHO- CHIC: JAPANESE MODERNITY, NOSTALGIA AND DECO 22 May to 3 August, Sydney. Featuring about 70 paintings, prints, textile and decorative arts, the exhibition encapsulates the clash and embrace of Western modernity and traditional Japan in this transitional period (the greater Taisho- period 1910–1930). On Saturday 24 May 2008 a series of lectures will consider modernity and Japanese-ness. 9.30am – 4.30pm, Domain Theatre, Lower level 3, Art Gallery of New South Wales

SADANAND DHUME IN CONVERSATION WITH LINDA LOPRESTI 26 May, Melbourne. Sadanand Dhume is the author of My Friend the Fanatic - an original and thought-provoking analysis of transnational Islam. Linda Lopresti of ABC Radio National will introduce and join Sadanand Dhume in conversation at 6.30 pm in the 1st Floor Executive Lounge, Alan Gilbert Building - 161 Barry Street, The University of Melbourne
RSVP: Essential, email with 'Sadanand' in the subject line.

AN UNIMAGINABLE TALK BY IMRAN AHMAND, 27 May, Canberra. Imran Ahmad’s autobiography traces Imran's life from his birth in Pakistan to the end of his university education in Scotland. 6 - 8pm at the Asia Bookroom, Lawry Place, Macquarie (adjacent to the Jamison Centre) RSVP: 26 May to 6251 5191 or

A NEW ERA FOR GLOBAL BUSINESS: SUSTAINABLE GROWTH FOR CHINA AND THE WORLD, 28-30 May, Tianjin, China. Business figures and government leaders from around the world will explore Asia's economic future in the context of China's growing stature to examine strategic models of sustainable development. How are China and other Asian nations integrating with global markets while maintaining a focus on sustainable development? What will be the impact of Asia's rapid capital growth in bolstering world financial markets? How can Asia collaborate in seeking green solutions to address heightening environmental concerns? For more information about the 2008 Asia Society conference, email or see

ASIA SOCIETY AUSTRALASIA CENTRE, Annual Dinner 2008, 4 June, Sydney. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is the guest speaker at this event. For more details please contact Daphanie Teo, Programme Officer. Media Enquiries: Please contact Fiona Wallace-Smith.

SECURING HEALTH IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC, 5 June, Melbourne. SARS, Bird Flu and other regional pandemics have highlighted that infectious disease and health issues for Australia has to be seen in the broader context of a healthy and prosperous region. This event will be chaired by Associate Professor Peter Deutschmann, Director of the Nossal Institute for Global Health at The University of Melbourne and will feature Mr Murray Proctor and Reverend Tim Costello - CEO of World Vision Australia. 6.30pm Carrillo Gantner Basement Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, The University of Melbourne. To reserve a seat, please send an email to Asialink Events at with "JUNE: Asia Pacific Health" in the subject line.

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 in 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

THE POLITICS OF ISLAM IN OUTER INDONESIA, 22-26 July, Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, Indonesia. This is the 5th International Symposium sponsored by Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia. These symposia are now among the world's largest gatherings of Indonesianists, primarily but not exclusively anthropologists. Ian Chalmers and Greg Acciaioli are calling for papers to be submitted to the panel: 'The politics of Islam in Outer Indonesia' This panel will explore the political, social and cultural dynamics of Islamic revitalisation today. To express your interest in presenting at this panel, please contact Greg Acciaioli, Anthropology, University of Western Australia or Ian Chalmers, Indonesian Studies, Humanities, Curtin University of Technology (

For an overview of the conference theme see:


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. See

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


You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to:


What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Send your ideas to

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.

Return to Asian Currents home page

(formerly at, now at