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From SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU Sun Oct 22 07:41:13 2000
Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2000 17:24:54 +0800
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From: Victor Yue <yuess@SINGNET.COM.SG>
Subject: Book: The Quest for Identity: International Relations of South-east Asia
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S-E Asia's identity long in existence

By Shefali Rekhi, The Straits Times,
12 September 2000 [?]

THE debate on South-east Asia's identity had a fresh boost with the launch of a book by Professor Amitav Acharya, which documented evidence to show that the region had its own identity even before World War II.

The book, titled The Quest for Identity: International Relations of South-east Asia, challenged the notion that South-east Asia was a cultural extension of two neighbouring civilisations, India and China.

The author, a visiting associate professor at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, quoted various research reports to show that similarities in the region existed in the pre-colonial era as well.

He quoted authors who found common ancestry in many of the region's mainland languages.

Other researchers noticed that folklore, traditional architectural styles, methods of cultivation, and social and political organisation across the region had similarities.

Going beyond the evidence, Prof Acharya attempted to bind together the various historical conflicts and cooperation efforts as part of a regional identity building process.

He believed that this creates the basis for developing a new framework for understanding regionalism and the idea of region.

The book was launched officially yesterday by President S.R. Nathan at a ceremony here organised by the institute and the Oxford University Press.

Expressing his views at the launch, Professor Tommy Koh, executive director of the Asia-Europe Foundation, termed the book pathbreaking.

The author shows that South-east Asia existed, and inter-state relations with South-east Asia existed before colonialism.

The book shows that the region wasn't merely a pawn that the great powers played with.

Arguing for strengthening the identity and region further, he noted with concern that foreign investment in the region had not recovered to pre-crisis levels.

As a way to compete, he suggested that countries should concentrate on their own competitive advantages.

Prof Koh felt that the region also needed a cultural change to prosper.

We tend to emphasise hierarchy. This needs to be flattened. We need to move also from banking on relationships to believing firmly in rule of law.

Sharing his views, Prof Acharya believed it was time to end the complacency.

He said that though the region had developed its identity, it could not be said with certainty that this is a permanent reality.

He believed that changes were needed to allow countries to respond to the external forces.

For the region to remain an imagined community, he said, there must be collective political will.

The author is working on two other books. The first analyses the Asean process, while the second debates the concept of regions and regionalism.

Things that are similar

RESEARCH reports quoted in the book suggest similarities in the South-east Asian region. They are: