As mentioned in my last news item on the London Book Fair, what was fascinating to see was how much the LBF is becoming a venue for authors. Sure, it has always been a place for selected authors to strut their stuff, usually in promotion of a new book – as for instance this Turkish author mobbed by his fans after doing a book reading last Tuesday afternoon.
But, much more so than in the past, there are seminars aimed squarely at authors. An example can be seen in the scene below, from a session discussing the usefulness (or otherwise) of literary agents.
It was in fact such an author event that was easily the best LBF seminar that I attended. And I did so by accident, thinking it was a seminar for publishers (the session being called called ‘How to Build Social and Brand Equity on a Shoestring’). What each of the panelists discussed was how they used social media to promote themselves and reach out to (often huge) readerships. Their actual comments and advice are described elsewhere but the essence of what each of them said was:
If you want to be published today, you have to use social media. Don’t want to go near Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., then you don’t want to get published.
Initially, I thought this judgement was extreme and did not apply to the academic world. For instance, some of our authors won’t even be photographed let alone appear in an interview on YouTube to promote their books. This is a nuisance in marketing terms but doesn’t effect the quality of their scholarship. But after listening to the panelists’ arguments and thinking about the issue, now I am not so sure. How many more readers would our shy authors reach if they pushed themselves forward a little more?
Something to ponder.
The first review of our recently published study of Japan after the 2011 triple disaster, After the Great East Japan Earthquake: Political and Policy Change in Post-Fukushima Japan, edited by Dominic Al-Badri and Gijs Berends, has appeared. Frankly, we thought that one of the Japanese news media would be first but quicker off the mark was Acumen, the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
In its latest (April) issue, the reviewer recalls how some commentators suggested the impact of the triple disaster was so enormous that it might lead to ‘the third opening of Japan, following the Meiji Restoration (1868–1912) and the post World War II occupation.’ Clearly, this did not happen (or not yet) but the reviewer sees that a better evaluation is now possible two years after the disaster.
Perhaps it is too early to really understand the long-term effects, but it is surely time to consider such things as energy policy, agricultural implications and food safety, aside from the economic impact.
Here is a book that does just that. It is academic in its approach but is no less readable because of this. Indeed, the way it looks at the impact that the disaster had on Japanese politics on a broader level is very entertaining.
In short, concludes the review, the study ‘highlights important considerations that Japan must address.’
Finally, after years of dispute and even some fighting between Thailand and Cambodia, clarification of the vexed issue of ownership of the historic Preah Vihear temple and its surroundings is to go before the International Court of Justice in the Hague this week. Perhaps recognising the passions generated by the issue among both Thai and Cambodians, the hearings will be broadcast live and in full by the Court. And, since the first days of the hearings coincide with Buddhist New Year (Songkran in Thailand, Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia), a lot of people perhaps will tune into what is broadcast.
Much of the proceedings will comprise two rounds of oral argument, first by Cambodia and then by Thailand, after which the judges will retire; a verdict is expected by October. If all goes as planned, the judges will hear legal arguments backed up by historical evidence. Use of magic is not expected.
Strange though it may sound, magic has played a part in the Preah Vihear dispute and, more than anything else, its use shows a different face of Buddhism than the peaceful, meditative image usually associated with that faith. (That said, ‘peaceful’ is hardly the word to describe the actions of some Burmese monks recently in nearby Myanmar.)
Preah Vihear has a spectacular setting on a cliff top in the Dângrêk Mountains (the natural border between Thailand and Cambodia), looking out on the plains of Cambodia to the south. Construction of the first temple on the site began in the early 9th century but much of the present temple dates from the 11th and 12th centuries. In its time, Preah Vihear not only had the most spectacular setting of all the temples built in the six centuries during which the Khmer empire flourished but also it was a key edifice of the empire’s spiritual life, hence supported and modified by successive kings.
With the fall of the empire, however, much of Cambodia including this region fell under Thai suzerainty. Only in the early 20th century, as the French extended their Indochinese colony, were the Thais pushed back. In 1907, the French delineated a border that followed the watershed line of the Dângrêk Mountains – except, that is, at Preah Vihear where the border was nudged further north so that the temple could be included in French territory. For a few years during World War II, the temple and many other ‘lost territories’ were reclaimed by the Thais but these gains were again lost in 1945. After Cambodian independence in 1953, the border issue flared up again with the Thais claiming they had never accepted the French deviation; Thai troops then occupied the temple. In 1962, the International Court of Justice narrowly decided in Cambodia’s favour, judging that the temple belonged to Cambodia but failed to be clear where the actual border was.
Although legal ownership of the temple passed to Cambodia, in practice for many decades access to the site was mainly from Thailand due to the physical terrain. However, the decades of civil war, genocide and chaos in Cambodia following 1970 meant that few visited the site until the last remaining Khmer Rouge guerrillas surrendered there in 1998. Visits from the Thai side then resumed immediately but it was not until 2003 that an access road up the cliff was completed from the Cambodian side.
What sparked the current conflict, however, was the listing of Preah Vihear as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. This proclamation was made despite Thai objections, earlier Thai cooperation in the process being undermined by the domestic political situation (the Yellow Shirt insurgency). Attempts by Thai nationalists to plant the Thai flag at the temple quickly led to a build up of military forces by both countries in the area. Eventually, this would lead to armed clashes and soldiers being killed on both sides.
Adding to the tensions in August 2008 was the arrival at the site of Bun Rany, wife of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen; here she conducted a Buddhist ritual joined by thousands of Cambodians. Many Thais accused Bun Rany of conducting black magic aimed to weaken Thailand (not the first such accusation). In response, across the border in Thailand there was a mass wearing of yellow to protect the country against this magic. In addition, the Yellow Shirts organised big public counter-rituals.
To dismiss these actions as superstition and indeed reject the notion that magic could be a weapon in international disputes is to miss the point. Thailand and Cambodia are not alone in having a long history of engagement in spiritualist and animistic magical practices. In their case, this originates from the time when Hinduism and Buddhism first arrived in the region; here they encountered and absorbed indigenous traditions in which spirits and magic played important roles. The result was development of a multi-facetted Buddhism. In the upper reaches of society a more ‘pure’ form of Buddhism was practised while among the broad populace a more syncretic, popular faith was celebrated. In this setting, then, such a belief in and use of magic is not surprising.
Such beliefs are explored by Trudy Jacobsen in her Lost Goddesses, published by NIAS Press in 2007. In a cogent deconstruction of ‘traditional’ Cambodian society, she recounts:
According to popular legend, the monastery of Vihear Thom in Kratie province was built on the bodies of one hundred virgins who were crushed to death in the foundations to accompany the spirit of Princess Krapum Chhouk, who was killed by a crocodile nearby. The resulting brai kramom [ghostly virgins] protected the monastery.
At the same time, she describes how King Ang Duong – influenced by his 30-year upbringing at the Thai court – brought a more austere form of Buddhism into Cambodia from Siam from the mid-19th century. In time this Thai import became identified with traditional Khmer values, first by the ruling elite and ultimately by most educated Cambodians.
A similar duality is evident in Thai Buddhism, with again (put simplistically) there being a more ‘refined’ Buddhism followed by educated Thais and much more of a folk religion practiced by the mass of Thais, especially in the countryside. Our understanding of Thai beliefs in spirits and magic owes much to the pioneering work undertaken by T.J. (Baas) Terwiel, whose groundbreaking Monks and Magic was first published more than three decades ago. The fourth (and most comprehensively revised) edition of this study was published by NIAS Press last year.
So what does this mean for the deliberations undertaken at the International Court of Justice in the Hague next week? Probably nothing. But for ordinary Thais and Cambodians, taking time off from their New Year celebrations to watch the Court’s proceedings live on TV, Preah Vihear continues to exert a power (if not magic) coming worlds away from a courtroom in Holland.
As for relations between Cambodia and Thailand, these could always do with a magical improvement, especially over the Preah Vihear issue.
As part of the new LDP government’s strategy to shock (re)start the Japanese economy, it was reported yesterday that Japan had reached a deal with the U.S. on bilateral trade issues that clears the way for the world’s third-largest economy to join talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as soon as July.
There is a stumbling block, however, as noted by today’s Economist: agriculture. Not only are there a lot of Japanese farmers – about 1.5 million of them (electorally they are a significant voting bloc) – but also historically the powerful agricultural lobby has been a big player within the LDP. Although there is bound to be a backlash to the TPP move, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be calculating that, during the period of his post-election honeymoon and enjoying as he does sky-high approval ratings in the polls, now is the time to make hard decisions on agriculture.
Certainly, there has long been general agreement in Japan (at least among policymakers) that something must be done. For instance, a tariff of nearly 800% on imported rice may help keep Japanese rice growers in business but the economic distortion and cost to consumers also need to be considered. A sense of urgency was heightened on the agricultural issue after the Fukushima disaster two years ago when concerns about food safety came to the fore. In the end, the DPJ government of the time was unable to force through major changes; today’s LDP government may do better.
Moreover, the agriculture issue is not just about consumer prices, protectionist tariffs and Japan’s desire to join the TPP and other free-trade agreements. With an average age of 70 years and average farm sizes outside of Hokkaido of less than one hectare, the situation of Japanese farmers is also difficult. The situation of this farming couple pictured below, still struggling to farm their land while in their eighties, is not at all uncommon.
While the Economist and other news media have covered the TPP news and its implications quite adequately, a lengthier more nuanced treatment of both the free trade and agricultural issues (including food safety) is to be found in a book recently published by NIAS Press: After the Great East Japan Earthquake: Political and Policy Change in Post-Fukushima Japan, edited by Dominic Al-Badri and Gijs Berends. The book argues that TPP entry would also have an adverse effect on reconstruction after the 2011 disaster. Wider issues like energy and climate policies are also examined.
Copies of the book are available in Asia and Europe (even finally at NIAS Press!) and any day now will arrive at our North American warehouse in Pennsylvania.
Forget about the fireworks featuring in the celebrations of Chinese New Year and when 31 December turns to January 1st. It’s now the turn of water as the New Year is celebrated in Buddhist Southeast Asia – Songkran in Thailand, Thingyan in Burma and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, for instance – and beyond.
Although the new year is marked in many Buddhist households and communities with reverence, prayer and memory, there is also a more irreverent side to the festivities. Indeed, right now the internet is awash with images from the start of Songkran earlier today.
There is a sizeable Thai community here in Copenhagen but somehow we suspect there will be little throwing of water, at least outside.
Happy New Year!
For weeks now I have complained that copies of our latest titles – After the Great East Japan Earthquake: Political and Policy Change in Post-Fukushima Japan, edited by Dominic Al-Badri and Gijs Berends, and Dialogue with North Korea? Preconditions for Talking Human Rights With a Hermit Kingdom, Geir Helgesen and Hatla Thelle – could be found (say) in London and Tokyo but not at NIAS itself.
It was thus a pleasant surprise to be told a few minutes ago (by Per, our librarian, who had stolen copies for the library) that a carton of copies had been delivered this morning. Of course, as soon as I picked it up, the carton collapsed cascading copies all over the reception floor but no matter. At least they are here.
A shipping advice yesterday told me that copies for the American market will soon be arriving in our warehouse in Pennsylvania, too.
The New York Times has just published a very good article by Keith Bradsher on how more and more companies are diversifying their production out of China to Southeast Asia, looking to cut costs and reduce their reliance on a single manufacturing source. There is also the issue of avoiding labour shortages as the demographic consequences of China’s one-child policy begin to bite.
Boom-time Cambodia (picture courtesy Kheang Un)
The focus of the article is on Cambodia where last year the amount of foreign direct investment per head overtook that for China. That statistic sounds impressive until one hears that foreign investment in Cambodia rose to $1.5 billion but that for China was $119.7 billion.
Moreover, as Keith Bradsher notes:
But multinational companies are finding that they can run from China’s rising wages but cannot truly hide. The populations, economies and even electricity output of most Southeast Asian countries are smaller than in many Chinese provinces, and sometimes smaller than a single Chinese city. As companies shift south, they quickly use up local labor supplies and push wages up sharply.
There are other issues. For instance, as a publisher printing in Asia, the actual printing price may not be the issue. Sophistication of machinery and labour conditions will trouble some but the big killer is shipping. Try moving a tonne of books in a hurry from Phnom Penh versus Hong Kong or Singapore and you will see a huge difference in price and even feasibility.
Logistics is only one issue with doing business (and general economic growth) in Cambodia – governance concerns, corruption, land alienation, deforestation; these are just as few of the negatives.
For a detailed analysis of Cambodia’s economic transformation in recent years, we we refer you to the book of that name edited by Caroline Hughes and Kheang Un. This is an excellent resource that not only explores the impact of the boom on governance, economic structure, and opportunities for the poor but also provides new insights into the relationship between economic growth and political stability in post-conflict societies.
Meantime, scholars may also be interested to hear of a new blog just launched – East by Southeast – looking at the connections between China and Southeast Asia. With the rise of China and its opening up to the world, there has been a revival of movement across borders that for decades had been closed. Indeed, previously difficult or impossible communication is now commonplace – for instance, write the authors, ‘you can now drive a container truck from Kunming to Bangkok in less than a day on what was once previous non-navigable terrain’. At the same time they warn of fisheries depletion in the Mekong watershed. All in all, this is a good initiative that we hope to contribute to.
Recent events in Myanmar/Burma have raised some concerns that the West is getting the situation as wrong there as it did in the ‘Arab Spring’. Even so, Western attitudes towards the country are largely positive. For instance, the other day much was made of the government cutting the price of SIM cards by 99%, making mobile phones affordable for the general population for the very first time. As such, there is a perception that a land of opportunity has opened up in Myanmar/Burma for Western businesses, NGOs and diplomats, and generally there is a thirst for hard information on the country. (Not for nothing are we looking to publish a new book precisely meeting this need in the near future.)
As for China, this hardly figures in discussions on the latest news from Yangon. However, this ‘China blindness’ is a mistake, as can be seen in a few recent, seemingly unrelated events reported in the last week or so.
For months now, there have been widespread Buddhist attacks in Rakhine State on the Muslim minority Rohingya. On 1 April, however, claims were made that a motive for the ethnic cleansing was land clearances (marked “R” on the map below) near the southern terminal of the Shwe oil and gas pipelines, via which fuel is expected to be pumped to China by this coming June.
More anti-Muslim violence took place in central Burma in late March, in Meiktila (“M” on the map) to the south of Mandalay. Again, claims are now being made about the proximity of the town to the pipelines.
Following the pipelines further north, on 2 April The Irrawaddy quoted the Russian Interfax news agency as reporting that the security of the pipelines cannot be guaranteed because of renewed fighting in Kachin State (“K” on the map). All it would take is a stray bullet. (Strange, we thought the pipelines were underground.)
Meanwhile, on 4 March it was reported that the Indian Navy has strong indications that a fleet of Chinese nuclear submarines is making frequent forays into the Indian Ocean (22 such incidents in the past year).
What links these events (and others) is a key Chinese concern – energy security. At present, China is largely dependent on imported oil and gas, much of it transported via the Strait of Malacca. This natural choke-point could easily be closed in a conflict with (say) the United States but also it has long been recognised that the waterway is vulnerable to a terrorist attack (as pointed out years ago by this NIAS book that first raised the issues of modern piracy and terrorism in Southeast Asian waters).
To this end, China has sought to reduce its energy supply vulnerability by construction of overland oil and gas pipelines via Central Asia, skirting Russia (see map from our last post) – hence perhaps the above Interfax scare-mongering) – or up through Myanmar. To safeguard its sea route from the Persian Gulf to Myanmar, China has secured naval facilities in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar (its so-called ‘string of pearls’).
This situation is discussed in far greater detail in two recent NIAS Press books.
Focusing almost exclusively on the Sino-Burmese relationship but very much aware of the recent US ‘tilt to Asia’ is Modern China-Myanmar Relations: Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence by David I. Steinberg and Hongwei Fan. What makes this study especially interesting is its strategic analysis (see for instance the map above) and that it draws on hitherto unavailable Chinese sources.
Looking at the situation from Central Asia (indeed with a wider Eurasian perspective), The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian Geopolitics: New Directions, Perspectives, and Challenges, edited by Michael Fredholm, brings together a whole range of continent-wide issues – not just energy security but also border disputes, inter-state rivalry, economic cooperation, infrastructural development, Islamist dissent, terrorism and separatism, the Afghanistan war, other military threats and much more – and weaves them into an interesting geopolitical picture.
Aside from the present North Korean sideshow (where another NIAS book is helpful), much can be learned about current international relations in the greater Asian region – and especially about some of the factors driving Chinese foreign policy – by reading these two books. (All we need now are the scholarly reviews confirming that opinion. Sadly, academic journals seem to move at quite a different pace than international events.)
Reviewing the recent escalation of tension in the Korean peninsula and beyond, the latest Economist argues that ‘Kim Jong Un has raised the stakes; it is time to get tougher with the nastiest regime on the planet’.
At the same time that we hear of U.S. military preparedness being beefed up in the region, the internet is full of jokes and images that lampoon the DPRK’s young leader.
But there is another way, argue the authors of a new NIAS Press book just out this week in Europe and coming soon to other regions. Writing in Dialogue with North Korea? Preconditions for Talking Human Rights With a Hermit Kingdom, Geir Helgesen and Hatla Thelle dissect the dismal history of relations between North Korea and the outside world. From this examination, and adding to their analysis an account of the more positive international negotiations with China on the human rights issue, the authors urge a more ‘realistic’ approach.
To continue waiting for regime collapse in North Korea is not only unrealistic; from a humanistic point of view it is also irresponsible. This is what we have sought to convey with this book, which could be seen as ‘a user’s manual’ to North Korea. …
Why has the leadership in North Korea resisted change for so long? Isolation, self-made as well as imposed, is part of the answer. A long and very strong tradition with a patriarchal and hierarchical social fabric, which interacts with and guides the formation and realization of authority, is another. Then come the division of the country, an all-encompassing war and, in its aftermath, the establishment of two competing regimes, each of whom has used the other to preserve its own authority and power. …
North Korea’s dictatorship has benefited from isolation, making self-sufficiency their all-encompassing state ideology and keeping foes as well as friends at a distance. The recent UN-sanctioned tightening of the embargo against North Korea due to its nuclear and missile tests, no matter the intention of this punishment, basically only assists the forces within the regime that reject an opening to the world, thus preserving its isolated status and preventing change from affecting North Korean society and its political regime.
How, then, to start a process of change in an area suffering double isolation, self-imposed as well as externally supported? It goes without saying that a precondition is to end this isolation and promote the establishment of relations that make possible the positive impacts of external forces. …
A condition for anything positive to come out of a relationship initially characterized by mutual distrust is to accept that the given conditions are simply the only possible point of departure. In relation to North Korea, this means that the present authorities must be acknowledged as those with whom one has to negotiate. Between parties where trust is lacking, formal, mutual respect has to be the point of departure. There can be no exception for international affairs. Regardless of differences in basic values, norms, ideological outlooks and political opinions, the expressed concerns of both sides must be taken seriously.
The authors make an eloquent and convincing case. The problem is if the key players in the escalating crisis in East Asia care to listen.
It is not often that NIAS Press ventures as far west as Turkey (though in the 1990s NIAS did publish a very interesting study of the veiling issue there via Curzon Press). However, Turkey does play a role in Central Asia – something analysed in a recent NIAS Press book (see below) – and I was reminded of this issue a few days ago when Dr Doga Ulas Eralp at Georgetown University published an interesting commentary asking if the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could be for Turkey an alternative to the EU.
Noting that earlier public support in Turkey for EU accession is dwindling, he concludes:
It is high time for EU leaders to revise their negative stances on Turkey’s membership prospects as the country and its leadership seriously start assessing authoritarian alternatives. The Obama administration should also continue pressuring its European allies to unlock Turkey’s accession process. An increasingly authoritarian Turkey that is economically and strategically aligned with the SCO will not work in favour of the EU’s future economic and political stability.
These (and other things mentioned by Dr Eralp) are very good points. However, for a far lengthier and arguably more complex analysis of Turkey’s relationship with both Central Asia and the SCO, we recommend the chapter by Anita Sengupta included in our recently published book, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasian Geopolitics: New Directions, Perspectives, and Challenges, edited by Michael Fredholm.
In her chapter, Dr Sengupta agrees with Dr Eralp that Turkish membership of Nato and the SCO are not incompatible. Indeed, she concludes:
… given the fact that the SCO was conceived as a mechanism that would eventually be built on a diverse network of relationships and linkages, the inclusion of other states like Turkey within the organization seems logical. Similarly the holistic view of stability that the organization espouses means that a significant cultural and educational linkage between the Central Asian region and Turkey cannot be denied. The issue of the expansion of membership, however, remains a debated one within the SCO.
And arguably that is the key problem: not all SCO members (and especially not China) are keen on expanding the organization. At the same time, quite a few neighbouring countries (like India and Pakistan, for instance) are clamouring for entry and already have observer status. Geopolitical instability in the region (not least the approaching endgame in Afghanistan) and a desire for energy security are two factors driving this interest. Hence although (as Dr Sengupta notes) at the 2012 SCO summit in Beijing, no new members were admitted, Turkey was granted Dialogue Partner status; this could be a first step in this direction.
Of course, the Turkish issue is just one facet of a complex picture presented by the volume, its main emphasis being on the geopolitical situation in Central Asia (especially Sino-Russian rivalry), military tensions, jihadi movements and terrorism, separatism, infrastructural developments and (not least) energy security.
In other words, this is a highly recommended book and one we are pleased to note is selling well.
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