Press news

The missing link
from Press News, posted 04/08/2013 - 06:00

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.)


North Korea from another angle
from Press News, posted 04/05/2013 - 21:12

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.


The view (not just) from Turkey
from Press News, posted 04/06/2013 - 16:06

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.


Another AAS
from Press News, posted 03/25/2013 - 18:06

So another annual conference of the (American) Association for Asian Studies has ended. Many of us who attended (about 3,000 this year) are now heading back home from beautiful sunny weather in San Diego to snowstorms and other wintery attractions.

As usual, the AAS is a good venue to link up with old friends, colleagues and authors as well as look for new authors/manuscripts, sell books and generally promote the Press. The same is true for all the publishers attending (of which there were several hundred).

Of course, it is especially pleasing when a cherished author turns up with a new book proposal and/or with another prospective author in tow, likewise when an acquisitions librarian reminds us that she has a standing order to buy all of our new titles on Southeast Asia.

Speaking of librarians, we were lucky to have NIAS LINC’s Inga-Lill Blomkvist (above left) attending the conference. She was a huge help “minding the store” while I dashed off to panels or meetings.

Despite the ridiculously short (15-minute) breaks between sessions, a steady trickle of attendees found the book exhibit hall and reserved our books for collection towards the end of the conference (note the green dots on some of our books). By Sunday lunchtime, there were few books remaining and as usual it was surprising what had been snapped up in the first hour and what languished till the end.

Next year’s AAS is in Philadelphia – no summery weather there next March but there’s the possibility of an intensive workshop on getting published. That could be very interesting.


First review
from Press News, posted 03/19/2013 - 11:34

Congratulations to Eva-Maria Knoll of the Austrian Academy of Sciences for writing the first published review of Folk Tales of the Maldives by Xavier Romero-Frias. This was recently posted for the Journal of Folklore Research with the full review here but an abridged version follows.

Dr Knoll writes:

There is little that compares with how oral tradition is able to reveal linkages between past and present and between a culture’s knowledge and its environment. The volume discussed here can be seen as a particularly fine piece in this regard. …

The strength of [t]his publication lies in a comprehensive introduction into Maldivian literary genres, oral traditions, and lifestyles that allows the reader to put the following folktales into a broader cultural context. … Beyond this valuable background information Folk Tales of the Maldives is of particular significance in three regards. First, it is the first comprehensive collection of Maldivian short stories and legends. Second, this treasure of a centuries-old tradition of storytelling is made accessible to a wider audience in English. Third, Romero-Frias provides a first attempt at classifying Maldivian folktales by suggesting six categories. …

[T]he collection of well written folktales accompanied by the author’s charming illustrations is generally convincing and a pleasurable and profitable read. … Together with the comprehensive introduction, the illustrative footnotes and the useful glossary and index make this volume highly recommendable for scholarly work.

Of course, as an anthropologist (and writing for a scholarly journal), Dr Knoll focuses on the volume’s academic value rather than its more general appeal. For instance, the book will also be of interest to tourists attracted by images like this.

Huvadu Atoll © Nils Finn Munch-Pedersen

However, she adds:

The author dedicates the book both to travelers who would like to gain insights into Maldivian culture and history and to scholars such as folklorists, anthropologists, linguists, and Islamic scholars. I would further recommend this publication to scholars with research interests in South Asia, the Indian Ocean, island and maritime studies, and—since the Maldivian art of storytelling is on the decline—the volume might also be of value to the inhabitants of the archipelago.



Intersecting circles
from Press News, posted 03/16/2013 - 19:27

 Globally renowned figures and NIAS Press don’t often move in the same circles but sometimes our worlds do intersect. Last week, for a while, we engaged the attention of Madeleine Albright. This was only achieved with a fair degree of effort – and Boris coming to the rescue.

The occasion was the lead-up to publication of of our latest new title – Dialogue with North Korea? Preconditions for Talking Human Rights With a Hermit Kingdom by Geir Helgesen and Hatla Thelle – and a visit to NIAS some days earlier of the outgoing Secretary-General of the Nordic Council of Ministers (and ex-Prime Minister of Iceland), Halldór Ásgrímsson.

The book examines the mainly dismal record of North Korea’s engagement with the outside world and argues quite strongly for a new approach to the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ by the international community. Here, U.S. relations with North Korea are especially analysed and, in this respect, the visit to Pyongyang by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000 is portrayed as something of a breakthrough that soon (during the second Bush presidency) became a lost opportunity.

Madeleine Albright? Oh, I’m meeting her in Morocco next Wednesday, said the Secretary-General. Thus began a mad scramble to finish laying out the book in just a few days, indexing it over the weekend and delivering PDFs to Boris Pedersen, the university printer, by Monday morning. As usual, Boris delivered the goods so that on Tuesday evening last week two pre-print copies of the book were delivered to the private residence of Mr Ásgrímsson. Next day he flew to Morocco where, during a meeting with Mrs Albright, he presented her with one of those copies.

Very interesting, was the lady’s response. Clearly, she also read inside the book because later she responded with a suggestion for moving the North Korean situation forward that in its details was much in line with the arguments advanced by the authors. This could be said to be quite a feather in the caps of the authors.

That said, we hope that the former Secretary of State didn’t leave her copy of the book lying round in the Moroccan sun. It was, after all, only a pre-print copy. Boris achieves excellent results and his print jobs are always of the highest quality. Even so, the covers of such pre-prints aren’t laminated and they curl after a while if left in the sun.

It was thus a big relief this morning to see last night’s sales reports from our UK warehouse. These stated that real copies of the book had arrived from our printer near Oxford and were being sent out to customers. Copies are also on their way to our other warehouses round the world. And one thing is for sure: the covers of these books shouldn’t curl.

Unfortunately, already on Tuesday I’ll be off to San Diego to attend this year’s conference of the Association of Asian Studies. It is most unlikely that real copies of the book will arrive from Britain before I leave but that is not a problem. I have a remaining Boris copy on hand – that will do us proud.


Two years on
from Press News, posted 03/11/2013 - 08:40

Today we remember the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan two years ago and led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. No doubt most of us have seen the horror images (especially the video record) from that time. These are unforgetable but distance and the passing of time leaches away their impact. It is another matter for the people on the ground, actually having to cope with the aftermath, even now.

The latest Economist notes that today (Monday, 11 March):

... marks the second anniversary of the tsunami that killed 18,500 people in Japan. Good news is scant. Almost 315,000 evacuees still live in cramped temporary housing, and need new homes.

That assessment perhaps is a little unfair. In the last two years, the Japanese authorities have had to cope with the immediate aftermath of an immense catastrophe. If that weren’t enough, also the country’s leadership has had to rethink huge swathes of public policy – not least for energy, climate change, food security, agriculture and the economy – amidst political turmoil at home and with a roller-coaster economic crisis and a deteriorating international security situation impacting from abroad.

PM Kan visits JSDF and service members at Ishanomaki High School

The magnitude of this situation is captured in a new book just 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. This book is a little unusual, being written (rather carefully, let’s be frank) by diplomats and policy experts at European embassies to Japan. Rather than simply chronicle the triple disaster, it also explores subsequent shifts in Japanese politics and policy-making to see if the disaster has led to a transformation of the country, a shift in how Japan functions.

The book is now available in Europe and Japan, with copies arriving elsewhere soon.


from Press News, posted 03/05/2013 - 10:45

We have just heard from Sean Turnell that an old NIAS friend, Melanie Beresford, died last week (of what causes is uncertain). She was only in her early sixties.

Melanie had a long association with NIAS from at least the 1990s when she collaborated with Irene Nørlund on various projects relating to Vietnam. Through this connection, she came to publish her first work with NIAS. This was a small but important study of the evolution of state institutions since 1945 in Vietnam with regard to economic power structures and decision-making. The study was especially important as it drew on the insider knowledge of her co-author, Dang Phong. Fifteen years later, we are still occasionally selling copies of Authority Relations and Economic Decision-Making in Vietnam.

A few years later, we were pleased to publish another book by Melanie (co-edited with Angie Ngoc Tran), Reaching for the Dream. The cover said it all about Vietnamese aspirations, optimism and pride in the economic transformation of their country. Melanie wrote:

It is of our landlady in Hanoi posing with her Dream II. The title ‘Reaching for the Dream’ contains a pun you see. I really like this photo: it reminds me of one of those very formal victorian married couple poses and … I'm sure she loves her Dream more than [her husband] ... It also happens to depict the Vietnamese idea of the bourgeois life (just as those victorian photos did).

Of course, she was more than a good friend of NIAS. Melanie Beresford was also a leading scholar on the political economy of Vietnam, one whose area of expertise also extended to gender and development, agrarian change and rural development, and network analysis. She conducted consultancies in Vietnam for various UN agencies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Oxfam Quebec, and numerous Vietnamese ministries and committees. Apart from at NIAS itself, she also held visiting fellowships at numerous locations worldwide, including at the ANU’s Department of Political and Social Change, the Institute of World Economy in Hanoi and the Swedish Centre for Working Life in Stockholm.

These are just the bare bones from a long and varied career. What is not clear here is that Melanie was also a lovely person. It is frankly unbelievable that she is gone.

We’ll miss you, Melanie.


Richly deserved
from Press News, posted 02/23/2013 - 16:37

It was with great pleasure to be informed late on Friday that Jessica Harriden’s The Authority of Influence: Women and Power in Burmese History had been nominated for the Asia Society’s 2013 Bernard Schwartz Book Award.

The award (as the email stated) recognizes nonfiction books that:

  • Provide special insights and new perspectives into understanding contemporary Asia and/or U.S.-Asia relations.
  • Describe and explain changes taking place in Asia and/or in U.S.-Asia relations and the implications for the wider world to a general audience.
  • Bring forth ideas that offer potential policy impacts relating to the region.

For the 2013 award, the first English edition of the book must have been published between 1 January and 31 December 2012. The winner, chosen by an independent jury comprised of experts in the fields of policy, media, academia, cultural, and business, will receive a $20,000 prize and be honored at a special event at Asia Society’s New York headquarters. Additionally, two honorable mentions will be selected to receive a $2,000 prize. More information on the award, eligibility and rules, and previous winners can be found here.

We are no strangers to this prestigious prize, one of our authors – Duncan McCargo – winning the 2009 prize for his Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand. Sadly, Duncan did not offer that book to NIAS Press though (in a recent review) his Mapping National Anxieties: Thailand’s Southern Conflict – published by NIAS Press in 2011 – was judged to be the natural companion volume.

Jessica Harriden

Meantime, our fingers are crossed for Jessica. More detailed information about her book than found on our website is available here.


Welcome home
from Press News, posted 02/18/2013 - 13:31

The other day a prospective NIAS author wrote of his lengthy period of fieldwork in a Thai village, recounting that his host family wryly mentioned earlier researchers who had come and gone without a trace.

Such is not the case with Oluf Schönbeck and Peter Andersen, whose book All Religions Merge in Tranquebar. Religious Coexistence and Social Cohesion in South India was recently published by NIAS Press. No doubt the fact that Tranquebar (modern Tharangambadi) in Tamil Nadu was once an old Danish colony has attracted the interest and enthusiasm of many Danes, including Oluf and Peter. But the town is also an oasis of relative social cohesion and religious coexistence in a country often noted for being otherwise. It was in part this exceptionalism of Tharangambadi that attracted the authors to undertake their study.

Also included in the book is a discussion of the town’s status as a world heritage site and the work being undertaken to restore much of the old town. One of the organisations involved in this work has been the Danish Tranquebar Association, which has especially been involved in the restoration of Fort Dansborg. As a result, members of the association of often found visiting the town.

Recently, a library was opened in connection with the Tranquebar Maritime Museum. At its inauguration, the vice-chairman of the association, Mr Poul Petersen, presented a copy of All Religions Merge in Tranquebar to the library.

The celebration was attended by a number of journalists from the local press and we understand the book was well received. The book will be more generally available in India in the near future.

Certainly, this is one study that will not come and go without a trace.


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