Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
February 2009 | 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:

Message from the President

Welcome to all Asian Currents readers from me, Kathryn Robinson, the new President of the ASAA. For those of you who don’t know me, I am an anthropologist from the Australian National University and Indonesia is my primary research area. This brief message comes to you from Aceh where I am teaching social science research methods for health research to a group of Aceh researchers. (The Aceh Research Training Institute [ARTI] was featured in Asian Currents last year). ARTI represents the kind of significant links that we can build as teachers and scholars of Asia.

The ASAA is strongly committed to promoting initiatives to maximise Australia’s Asian expertise, the essential underpinning of activities such as ARTI. A particular focus is to argue for a higher level of support for teaching Asian languages. The National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program is a start but we will continue to lobby the Rudd government to think beyond schools when implementing its Asia literacy policies.

Asian Currents readers may wish to attend the biennial conferences of the regional associations affiliated with ASAA —China, Japan and Indonesia—in Sydney in July this year. The association is building the suite of benefits available to members, including publication discounts which are publicised on our web site I invite you all to visit the website and consider the benefits of membership, which include support for Asian Currents. Here I should also acknowledge our sponsor, the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network, which has energetically encouraged the cross-fertilisation of scholarship on all aspects of Asia both within Australia and beyond.

I wish you all a prosperous and eventful year in 2009, and hope to see you at ASAA events.

Kathryn Robinson (


A pyrrhic victory in Sri Lanka bodes ill for an end to the people's pain

by Larry Marshall, Project Manager, Centre for Dialogue, Latrobe University

The bombing of a hospital by the armed forces and the brutal daylight murder of a prominent journalist in Colombo has again thrust Sri Lanka’s 25-year-old civil war into the spotlight. Over the past two years government forces launched an all-out war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting. Sri Lanka’s military has driven the Tamil Tigers from their effective control of a de-facto state in the north and east of the island into an area of less than 200 square kilometres in the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, and a caustic critic of the government was murdered by unknown assailants in December 08 Photograph: Reuters Photographer

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that 250,000 civilians are trapped in the fighting. Objective assessments are impossible as the Sri Lankan government has barred journalists from operating in the area. The United Nations has called on both the government and the LTTE to halt indiscriminate fighting. And US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has called for a ‘temporary no-fire period’ to allow more civilians to leave the combat zone. Meanwhile, Norway, Japan, the United States and the EU, have called on the warring parties to discuss an end to hostilities. But the hardline President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rejected this call for negotiations and for a no-fire period on the grounds that the LTTE uses periods of ceasefire to rearm and attack. He has demanded the unconditional surrender of the LTTE.

What are the origins of this conflict, that has resulted in the deaths of over 80,00

people on the small tear-shaped island of How did the blood of over 80,000 Sri Lankans despoil the small tear-drop shaped island of Sri Lanka, known to many travellers as Serendib or Ceylon – a place where surprising beauty awaits around each corner? The Tamil minority (13%) claims that, since independence in 1948, political, economic and racial discrimination has been commonplace at the hands of the central governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority (74%). It is this that has caused the LTTE to wage war for a separate Tamil state.

There is no doubt it was the failure of the Sinhalese in the 1950s and 60s to include the Tamil people in the nation-building project that sowed the seeds of this intractable conflict. The continuing failure to devolve power within a new federation has only fanned the flames of Tamil nationalism, itself captured by men of appalling violence.

Between 1983 and 2002 the Sri Lankan people were brutalised by the bloody warfare between the forces of a chauvinist State and the increasingly paranoid LTTE. Years of LTTE suicide bombings killed hundreds including the President of Sri Lanka, Premadasa, and Rajiv Gandhi of India as well as many of the Tamil community’s brightest and best who dared to challenge the LTTE’s monolithic control.

Finally, hopes of a political settlement were in sight when Norway brokered a ceasefire in 2002. This tenuous peace was overseen on the ground by unarmed Nordic peace monitors while the warring parties held six rounds of peace talks at international locations.

The LTTE pulled out of these talks in 2003 but the fragile ceasefire effectively ended when the civil war erupted again in 2006 after the election of President Rajapakse of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

As a candidate in 2005 Rajapakse had clearly signalled his intentions when he signed a pact with the small but influential Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist party under the leadership of right-wing Buddhist monks. They describe Sri Lanka as a ‘Sinhala nation’ to the exclusion of Tamils.

The military’s latest victory over the LTTE may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for Sri Lanka’s government. The Tamil population will not live quietly in refugee camps. As in Gaza, the insurgency may well rise again unless the victors are wise enough to craft a just political settlement which respects the rights of the Tamil community and shares power at the centre.



This month we profile Kent Anderson, Director of the Faculty of Asian Studies and Professor, Japan Centre, Australian National University.

Q: When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?
A: I wasn’t originally interested in Asia, per se. I tried to enrol in Russian, but at that stage during the Cold War you could not study economics and politics — my interests — in the Soviet Union. So on a whim, I took Japanese. After studying for three years, I spent a year in Japan and that blew me away. I had always just looked upon the language as a tool in the back pocket, not something of substantive interest. But, living in Japan for the first time presented so many intriguing enigmas that when I returned for my final year of university I suddenly got serious. I then worked for an airline leading their Japanese joint ventures, but when I went to graduate school I also pursued a master's in Asian studies for the pure love of it. Many years later people in my disciplinary context started fingering me as ‘the Japan guy’, so eventually I stopped resisting the pull and let it happen.

Q: What are your current preoccupations?
A: My current preoccupations are taking my son to his various cricket matches and doing enormous amounts of university administration, but I suspect that is not what the question is after. My primary research interest for the past few years has been the Japanese quasi-jury system (saiban-in seido) to be introduced in May 2009. I find this a fascinating experiment and one of my first research projects with which I can actually entertain people with chit-chat at cocktail party (for some reason the intricacies of anti-suit injunctions and cross-border insolvencies never could do that). I am interested as a lawyer about how you involve people in the judicial process and I am interested as someone who worries about human rights about how this might change the hard edges of Japanese criminal justice system. But as an Asian studies person I am also interested in using the experiment to test assumptions about Japanese cultural norms.

There is a lifetime of questions to investigate—I only worry about creating the space to pursue them sufficiently.

Q: What are your hopes for Asian Studies in Australia?
My first hope for Asian studies in Australia is that more of our students will study foreign languages earlier. Beyond the economic imperatives, learning a language is the key to cultural and personal humility which I think is enormously important for a country and its people. NALSSP is a start but the $62 million over three years will not get very far in addressing the fact that only 6% of our Year 12 students are currently studying an Asian language. Despite coming from a Japanese background, I am particularly concerned about the fact that our Indonesian and Hindi studying numbers are so low (not to mention Korean, Pidgin, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, etc).

My second hope is that more students can study overseas. I know of nothing that has greater potential for changing someone’s life positively than the experience of struggling in a new society for an extended period. The chief worry in this regard is DFAT security warnings that have made it extremely difficult for students to study in Indonesia (and Thailand to a lesser extent). Another worry going forward is what the impact of the global financial crisis will have on parents and the government’s ability to support our students going overseas particularly with the weak Aussie dollar.

My third hope is to convince more Australians about the importance of Asia for this country’s economic and security prosperity. This includes parents, politicians, public servants, business people, but also those in trades and other everyday people. The mark of success of these hopes will be when we no longer think of Asia as a foreign place—it’s just there, like New Zealand without the sheep.


Student of the month

Naadir Junaid is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. His thesis will examine how serious filmmakers of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India tried to come to grips with contemporary social and political problems in their films in the past 50 years. Naadir wanted to further develop his critical understanding of film after completing his bachelor's and a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to do an MA in Film Studies at King's College, University of London.

Naadir always found the relationship between film and politics intriguing, and took an avid interest in the politically critical Bengali-language films made in the tumultuous years of social and political unrest in Bangladesh and West Bengal.

He received an Australian Government Endeavour Postgraduate Award in 2008 to do doctoral research on Bengali political cinema.

Bangladesh and West Bengal have witnessed severe political crises in the past 50 years. These have created great anxiety and confusion in the society. The partition of Bengal and resultant mass exodus from one part to the other, communal riots, military dictatorship, government repression, war and insurrection exposed people to appalling conditions, made even more difficult because of rampant corruption, unemployment and abject poverty. Naadir’s thesis will investigate how Bengali filmmakers grapple with the troubles and tensions of contemporary reality and provide scathing indictments of social squalor and political manoeuvring in order to make people aware of the actual causes of social injustice. His study will also compare Bengali consciousness-raising films with overtly political films produced in many other countries to gain a deeper understanding of those components that constitute political cinema, and also to identify the unique characteristics of Bengali radical films.

Naadir teaches Media Studies at the University of Dhaka. He wants to contribute to the development of film education in Bangladesh, where Film Studies is a neglected academic discipline and filmmakers and audiences rarely come across with quality film criticism.

Website of the month

The Asian Studies WWW Monitor: The Monitor started its operations on 21 April 1994. It now has some 7770 subscribers though the Monitor’s founder and coordinator, Matthew Ciolek, wants more readers. So please consider subscribing by following the link: Matthew is also asking for feedback about what Monitor readers find most useful and most reliable. You can email him at:

Recent publication of interest

Democratic Governance in Timor-Leste, Reconciling the local and the national edited by David Mearns, Charles Darwin University Press 2008

This collection of essays surveys the complexities of the much troubled half island of East Timor. A strong message is the disenchantment with the central government in Dili and the difficulties the state must overcome to establish a national identity.

Did you know?

Applications are invited from Dutch and Australian scholars specialising in the study of Southeast Asia to convene an academic workshop in the period 2009 - mid 2012. Workshops may take place in The Netherlands, Australia or Southeast Asia. They must feature collaboration between Australian and Dutch scholars and actively involve scholars/experts from Southeast Asia. See funding guidelines and selection criteria at: Closing date: 3 April 2009.

Diary dates

KOREAN DREAMS: PAINTINGS AND SCREENS OF THE JOSEON DYNASTY, Sydney, 5 March - 8 June 2009. This exhibition is the first showing of traditional Korean painting at the Art Gallery of NSW. It will comprise Korean screens, hanging scrolls and album leaves dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. It will be accompanied by a Korean Dreams study day on 7 March 2009 (12pm - 5pm) in the Centenary Auditorium, Art Gallery of NSW, The Domain, Sydney. See

CICADA FOREST: THE JAPANESE TANKA AND SHAKUHACHI, Canberra, 4 March. The short form lyric called 'tanka' has a history of over 1,300 years in Japan. Amelia Fielden a well-known translator of modern tanka will give a brief explanation of the tanka form and its background. Mariko Kitakubo, a popular contemporary poet, and Amelia will then perform, in Japanese and English, a large selection of poems from Cicada Forest, an anthology of poems, to musical accompaniment by Rupert Summerson playing the shakuhachi. 6.00pm, Asia Bookroom, Lawry Place, Macquarie. Please RSVP to or call 6251 5191 by 3 March 2009.

HONG KONG: Luncheon with Prof KC Chan, Hong Kong Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Sydney, 4 March 2009. How is Hong Kong grappling with the current Global Financial Crisis? And how are investors protected in these tumultuous times? Westpac and Asialink invite you to a luncheon with Prof KC Chan to explore these questions. 12.30pm to 2.30pm Westpac Place, Level 22, 275 Kent Street, Sydney. COST: $80 per head / $70 (Asialink Member) (incl GST) Please complete the registration forms available for download from
Email Ken Lee at or Call: 03 8344 3583.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY luncheon, Canberra, 11 March 2009. Julianne Cowley Australian board member of the Ayui Foundation, a non-denominational, not-for-profit hostel in Chiang Rai Thailand will speak at this luncheon at the Southern Cross Yacht Club, Lotus Bay, Yarralumla, $40 pp. Enquiries to Coral Fleming 6286 5435 or Noelle Leonard 6239 5140.

CONFERENCE ON SECURITY SECTOR REFORM IN INDONESIA, Sydney, 12-13 June. This conference will consider current developments in security sector reform (SSR) and the correlation between SSR and the democratisation process in Indonesia. It is being organised by Indonesian Solidarity (IS) a nonprofit human rights organisation at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street. Contact:

TRANSMISSION OF ACADEMIC VALUES IN ASIAN STUDIES workshop, Canberra, 25- 26 June 2009. Call for papers by 27 February. Proposals are invited for brief presentations (15-20 minutes) on how to transmit valuable features of the Asian studies field to new generations. See Contact:

JIU: COMMEMORATION AND CELEBRATION IN THE CHINESE-SPEAKING WORLD, conference, Sydney, 9-11 July 2009. The biennial China Studies Association of Australia (CSAA) conference will be held at Women's College, University of Sydney. It adopts the theme of ‘jiu’, taking up the challenge of both celebrating and commemorating the achievements and hardships of the past century in the Chinese-speaking world. The call for papers and panels closes in March 2009. See

The China Node of the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network is offering 10 student accommodation scholarships for the conference. The scholarship holders are expected to attend a Postgraduate Workshop on 9 July. Registrants who are enrolled in a PhD at an Australian university and are not based in NSW should send 250 words explaining what they hope to gain from the networking opportunity and from the conference itself. Please send this and a supporting statement from a supervisor to both: and

THE 18TH NEW ZEALAND ASIAN STUDIES SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE 2009, Wellington, 6-8 July, 2009. This will be an open, multidisciplinary conference. Participants are invited to submit panel or paper proposals presenting original research on any Asia-related topic. For more information, please the see conference website: Paper abstracts due by 15 March 2009 to the chair of the organising committee:

JSAA-ICJLE 2009 Conference, Sydney, July 13-16, 2009. The Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA) is delighted to host JSAA-ICJLE2009, a joint conference for the JSAA conference and the International Conference on Japanese Language Education (ICJLE) in Sydney. The conference will feature research and discussion in various disciplines of Japanese language and studies. The main theme of the conference will be "Bridging the gap between the Japanese language and Japanese studies". The conference aims to provide a forum for Japanese language and studies academics and educators from around the world to meet and share ideas beyond and across their disciplines. See

MAJU BERSAMA The Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE)
Biennial Conference, Sydney, 14-15 July, 2009.
ASILE is now calling for expressions of interest for papers and workshops at the 2009 conference. This is an excellent opportunity to contribute to and participate in a conference with a national audience interested in directions for the future of Indonesian language education. Small teams of presenters working together on projects are also encouraged to register. Any queries, please contact: Andrea Corston phone: (08) 8683 4751;

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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 Kathryn Robinson, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

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