APSS - Past Seminars

Monday, August 12, 2013

The economic determinant of Vietnam's South China Sea disputes with China

Hiep Hong Le (HASS, UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Professor Carl Thayer


Despite significant developments in bilateral relations since normalization, a number of problems still threaten to unsettle Vietnam’s relations with China in the long term. The South China Sea (SCS) disputes stand out as the single most challenging one. Contributing to the dynamics of the disputes is a wide range of drivers, in which geo-strategic and economic ones are the most important. While both factors driving China’s moves in the SCS have been extensively studied, they have not been equally examined on the part of Vietnam. This literature gap makes it difficult to fully appreciate the dynamics of Vietnam’s SCS disputes with China at a time when economic considerations, following its launch of Doi Moi, have been playing an increasingly important role in shaping the country’s foreign policy in general and SCS strategy in particular. The seminar therefore seeks to address this gap. The seminar will start by offering an overview of the disputes and how they have presented themselves as the most serious irritant to bilateral relations. It will then comparatively analyze the role of geo-strategic versus economic drivers of the disputes on the part of Vietnam. Finally, it will examine the role of economic factors, especially the development of Vietnam's maritime industries as well as the growing bilateral economic interdependence, in the shaping of Vietnam’s SCS strategy and their implications for the disputes’ evolution.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Faith Communities, Resource Mobilization, and Environmental Conservation in Indonesia: Cases from Five Districts, Indonesia

Ulil Amri (LIPI, Indonesia)

Chair: Dr Warouw


Currently, government, donors, and faith communities are working together in making environmental conservation works for Indonesia. The faith communities especially have mobilized their resources through enhancing the capacity of preachers to disseminate information about environmental change, combating deforestation and conducting reforestation, and providing alternative livelihood for many people living in rural areas through the introduction of new technology and sustainable natural resource management. Here, I argue that, environmental conservation constitutes relatively new social practice for faith communities. I try to present this by means of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama’s environmental conservation programs. I propose illustrations on how donors and government environmental agenda approach both communities, how the environmental agenda becomes both Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama’s main priority and how both communities mobilize all their resources to make environmental conservation work. This article is based on a year of fieldwork in 2010 covering five districts in Indonesia: Jakarta, Bogor, Garut, Yogyakarta, and Bantul using methods of interview and study of primary documents. There are about 30 informants interviewed including kyai, santri, and Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama officials. Analysis consisted of a coding technique that facilitated interpretation of informants’ responses.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Seeking access to the state: Industrial workers in community-based activism in central Java, Indonesia

Dr Nicolaas Warouw (UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Dr Zhang


The scholarship of contemporary Indonesian labour studies has been largely dominated by themes on impact of global neo-liberal policies, labour control and conflict, working conditions, reasons for the absence (or presence) of class consciousness, as well as antagonistic relations between labour and capital/state. In addition, the existing scholarship is so much centred on the conditions of production and industrial relations. Nonetheless, the changing circumstances in post-Suharto’s Indonesian politics (e.g. decentralization and local politics) may have created a rather different view in thinking labour studies beyond the conventional domain of labour politics. Urban neighbourhood where most industrial working class live provide an off-work background for the industrial workers to stretch their political activism beyond the point of production. The activism engages a semi-formal alliance with broader social elements to make claims over access to urban resources. The paper, based on a field research in an industrial town of light manufacturing in Central Java, Indonesia, focuses on the hardship of urban residents to access basic welfare rights and on the leading role of factory workers in community-based activism.

Monday, May 27, 2013

China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea: a strategic shift?

Dr. Jian Zhang (UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Prof. David Lovell (UNSW Canberra)


The renewed tension between China and some other claimant states over the disputed territories in the South China Sea in recent years has triggered widespread concerns about growing Chinese assertiveness in bolstering its claims. In contrast to its relatively conciliatory approach to the South China Sea Dispute in the early to mid-2000s, Beijing has appeared to become increasingly uncompromising when handling the dispute. Does recent Chinese assertiveness represent a new shift in China’s South China Sea policy driven by the country’s rapidly growing economic and military clout? This presentation seeks to analyze the causes and nature of China’s recent actions in the South China Sea and the implications for regional security.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Political gangsters: Citizen Militia Groups and Popular Representation in Indonesia

Dr Lee Wilson (School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland)

Chair: Dr Sakai


Citizen militia groups organised around ethnic or religious identity today proliferate through out Indonesia. Much maligned in public discourse, analysts have tended to view these groups as serving to attenuate democratic process and undermine more inclusive citizenship at a national level. Yet such a view is based upon a particular conception of nationalism as an 'unbound seriality of subjects', and neglects the heterogeneous politics 'spawned bygovernmentality' (Chatterjee 2004) from whence these groups sprang, and which shape the forms they take in Indonesian society. This paper takes a different tack, arguing that these groups are better understood as a collective response to inequality, marginalisation and labour migration as a consequence of urbanisation and political and economic transformation. As such, they constitute a public claim to collective representation and social justice, and a response to the inadequacies of the state in providing for the security and wellbeing of its citizenry. Part social movement, part gang, these groups provide a social network and articulate demands for citizenship for their members. Yet at the same time they often control urban space for the purposes of racketeering. It is argued that attempts to control these organisations through rule of law aremisguided. These groups are important political and social actors in their own right, and should be recognised assuch in order to bring them more formally into the realms of democratic governance.

Monday, April 22, 2013

“Put three Indians together, and they will break up into four”: Unity and Division within the Hindu Indian Diaspora in Malaysia

Kimberley Layton (HASS, UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Dr Mount


This presentation examines the Hindu Indian diaspora in former British Malaya and modern Malaysia, investigating the refashioning of religious identities, communities and boundaries that occurred as a result of movement from the Indian homeland to a new locality. It diverges from traditionalist views of identity as a primordial ‘idée fixe’, instead underscoring its fluidity by reviewing the way the Hindu Indian diasporic community has renegotiated categories of inclusion and exclusion within Malaysian society. By first looking at the British defeat of Singapore in 1942, Japanese ascent in the region and the naissance of the Indian National Army (INA), this study shows how these events helped develop pan-Indian nationalist consciousness. Second, the rise of extremist Islamist groups in the late 1970s and attacks on Hindu shrines during the 1990s are considered to demonstrate how the diaspora has responded to the challenge of being a religious minority. Third, the Malaysian Indian Congress, a member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, is examined in order to discover how the diaspora articulates its modern political identity. This study contributes to wider scholarship on the Indian diaspora but challenges assumptions about the homogeneity of this diaspora. It is located within my larger thesis, which examines the influence of religion, specifically Hindu nationalism, on India’s international relations and addresses a key issue that is shaping the face of the religious, social and political landscape of Southeast Asia.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Effectiveness of top down approach in knowledge transfer and capacity building of government officials in a developing country: The case of Bangladesh

Dr Ahmed Imran (SEIT, UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Dr Sakai


Adoption of eGovernment has become critical for the least developed countries to address some of their deep rooted problems in public sector organisation such as lack of efficiency, transparency and corruption (Imran, 2010). With the deceasing price of ICT infrastructure coupled with modern innovations in information systems, eGovernment offers an opportunity for these countries to tackle these problems and thus be benefitted in terms of increased productivity, accountability and competiveness. It is also important for international community to help these countries to overcome digital divide and make them compatible for 21st century’s business, transaction and knowledge based society. International organisation as well as donor organisation such as United Nations, World Bank, European Union are also emphasizing this in the form of Digital opportunity Task Force, Millennium Development Goal and so on. However, in practice the LDCs are still struggling to have a workable solution as the instances of success and sustainability are not many in comparison to increasing initiatives in this area both at international and national levels.

ICT adoption and implementation is a complex issue. Because, it involves not only transfer of machines, hardware, software, and skills, but also demands the transfer of attitudes and values of the system (Heeks, 2002). Further, a dearth of study in the LDCs environment and only techno-centric approaches contributed to many failed attempts to introduce ICT, particularly when solutions designed for the West were applied to non-Western nations and often in wrong places without the consideration of its outcome and sustainability.

The critical questions that ponder today are, how can one actually build eGovernment capacity? What are the approaches and in what direction?

Innovative and tested approaches to deal with the problem under a different context are in scarcity , where need for new approaches are being felt that try to understand key institutionalisation process over time. Our experience in Bangladesh show how a top down capacity building intervention and approach is taking initial steps towards successful eGovernment adoption in Bangladesh. The activity began early in 2008 and a considerable amount of progress had been made within last four year years through a especially designed program (Imran et al., 2009). The paper proceeds by first describing the intervention approach adopted in the study. The project is then described in terms of change agents’ intervention to the process and the merits of top down approach in this particular context.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Locating the Causes of Religious Intolerance in Indonesia:State Policies, Faith-based Organisations and Islamic Educational Institutions

Dr Minako Sakai and M. Falikul Isbah (HASS, UNSW Canberra)

Chair: Dr Zhang


Because of the state policies of Pancasila, Indonesian citizens are expected to practice one of the state-acknowledged religions. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world with more than 85 per cent of the population being practising Muslims. Following a recent decline in general support for Islamic expression through politics, the majority of Muslims have chosen to express their faith through their religious obligations in their daily life. Consequently, religious symbols, such as Islamic clothing and greetings, are now commonplace in the public sphere. However, thriving religious activities have also led to increased numbers of religious intolerance cases in contemporary Indonesia. This paper will examine theological, institutional and political factors affecting religious intolerance. Firstly, it will examine political factors affecting religious intolerance incidents in Indonesia. We will highlight unintended results of state policies on religions and recent politics concerning religions. Secondly, we will examine the role of faith-based organisations offering social services for the disadvantaged, including natural disaster victims, and the poor. We will show that the theological framework for this work along with a lack of operational links between denominations are preventing inter-faith collaboration and thus contributing to a lack of trust and communication between faith communities. Thirdly, we will examine the challenges modernity poses for Islamic educational institutions (pesantren). In order to oppose secularism, salaf (traditional) pesantren are promoting more theologically conservative Islamic beliefs. Finally, we will provide some policy recommendations for curtailing religious intolerance at the grassroots level in our conclusions.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kembali ke Gampong: The revivalism of traditional institutions in post tsunami Aceh and its encounters with disaster resilience program

Dr Muhammad Adlin Sila (ANU)

Chair: Minako Sakai


This article explores the dynamics of reinforcing the traditional institutions of governance in Aceh after this region received its especial autonomy in 1999. Following the inception of Law No.44 1999 (Aceh Autonomy) and more particularly bay-laws (qanun) No. 4 and 5 2003, kembali ke gampong has become the most popular jargon widely addressed to the need of going back to the traditional institutions. This article argues the significance of these traditional institutions in the eyes of the people of Aceh. It explores the dynamics of the issue over reinforcing the traditional institutions of governance in terms of their symbols, meanings, functions and implementation in light of local values and Islamic principles of the people of Aceh leading up to self-reliance based economic development for the people. There is, however, increasing noisy about the declining role of these traditional authorities in modern lives of the Aceh people. Some people are pessimistic and regard the idea as utopian due to the long unjust policy of the New Order and severe disruption of 2004 tsunami. To what extent the Aceh people regard the issue of kembali ke gampong as a significant aspect for disaster resilience especially within the implementation of Aceh especial autonomy?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ghosts of the Past in Southern Thailand: on the Importance of an Historical Understanding of Violent Conflict

Dr Patrick Jory

The University of Queensland

Chair: Paul Tickell (UNSW)


Since 2004 an insurgency in the southern border provinces of Thailand has killed over 5000 people and injured many more. Bombings and other violent incidents continue almost daily. It is currently the deadliest such conflict in the Southeast Asian region. Although the leadership and aims of the militants are murky the violence is often attributed to radical Islamist ideology. Yet at the heart of the on-going armed conflict in southern Thailand is a fundamental disagreement about the history of relations between the Patani Malays and the Thai kingdom. The Thai royalist-nationalist version of history regards Patani as part of that kingdom "since time immemorial," while Patani Malay nationalists look back to a golden age when the Sultanate of Patani was an independent, prosperous trading state and a renowned centre for Islamic education and scholarship in Southeast Asia - a time before it was defeated, broken up, and fell under the oppressive control of the Thai state. In this presentation I will argue that a resolution to this conflict ultimately depends upon the different parties to the conflict coming to terms with this problematic history.

Patrick Jory is Senior Lecturer in Southeast Asian History at the University of Queensland. Between 2001 and 2009 he was coordinator of the Regional Studies Program (Southeast Asia) at Walailak University in southern Thailand. He has recently published on the subject of Islam, ethnicity and history in southern Thailand and Southeast Asia.