Report on the 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar

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For the 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar, we were treated to the visit of three guests from beyond Japan’s shores. Having already packed in visits to Hokkaido and Hiroshima into their short trip to Japan, we were privileged to welcome to Kyushu University three professors from the School of Social Innovation at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. All three were good enough to agree to speak at a little seminar that we were able to organize, which provided a good opportunity for a wider audience to hear about some of the more prominent border and boundary issues facing Southeast Asian states. Their presentations ranged from issues of transnational water management, disaster relief and cross-border smuggling networks, and while Japan is very familiar with the second of these, the first and third are ones perhaps felt by most Japanese ears to be of less relevance for Japan itself. As was clarified by the presentations, however, this does not mean that Japan is uninvolved in some of these issues, given its influence in promoting the development of the Mekong’s riparian countries.
 

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It was interesting to hear Professor Siriporn explain how the perception from Thailand is of Japan’s support for those countries downstream, due to the prioritization of
economic investment in these states. It was interesting to think about this in the context of China’s growing influence and infrastructural investment in the region.
The analysis of earthquake disaster response by Professor Wanwalee similarly made apparent the different patterns of central and local administration that exist between Japan and Thailand, ones which have very real effects in both how the state’s center interacts with its own localities, particularly when such regions are situated at the vulnerable borders of the state. While the structure of administration certainly differs between the two states, it was also noted how the feeling of marginalization in these border areas and their perception of remoteness from the center was an issue in Japan and Thailand both. Finally, while the sort of cross-border smuggling brought out in the third presentation on the largely small-scale gem trade existing between Myanmar and Thailand, it provided an insight into the type of issues that are particularly prominent in a Southeast Asian context, in which the writ of the state, as Thongchai Winichakul so comprehensively demonstrated in his Siam Mapped, did not necessarily perceive itself in linear terms. Given the ever-present specter of ‘foreign migration’ in Japan, it was as well to be reminded of how much more fluid borders can be elsewhere in the world.

The connections and contrasts potentially offered in a comparative study of borders that would take in both Japan and Thailand was excellently highlighted by Professor Golunov of CAFS, who introduced the discussion with a comprehensive five-minute summary of potential avenues for future discussion between us. This introduction served as an excellent summary for the guests who had not been present in the meeting that was held between the staff of Mae Fah Lung University and CAFS here at Kyushu University, on the possibility of future collaboration between our centers. The School of Social Innovation and the Chiang Rai university from which all the participant’s hail, and to which Professor Siriporn provided a brief introduction at the beginning of her presentation, are both comparatively new institutions, with the university having been founded 16 years ago, while the School for Social Innovation is, like CAFS itself, barely a year old. As the meeting made clear, there are extensive avenues for potential collaboration that exist between us, both in terms of more narrowly-focused endeavors between the two institutions and more widely as part of a network of centers that will seek to come together to develop border studies within an Asian context. The former promises to provide opportunities for the establishment of short-term exchange programs and, within the next couple of years, the development of some sort of ‘summer school’ incorporating both of our institutions. It is the latter, however, that offers the most promise for both of our centers to really drive forward the process of placing the field of border studies in Asia on the map.

Since the meeting, both institutions have been cooperating on ways to do exactly that. We are currently exploring the possibility of both a bilateral exchange supported by JSPS and the possibility of incorporating the School for Social Innovation within a multi-institutional Core-to-Core network that we wish to establish either this or next year, partially embedded within a larger Canadian project known as Borders in Globalization. Despite its name, this project’s institutional partners are so far either European or North American, and the prospects for the development of a specifically Asian strand of this project would provide an excellent opportunity to examine both the convergences and comparisons that exist within border studies worldwide today. While the School of Social Innovation is pursuing contacts with programs in Malaysia and Indonesia, we are looking at partners in India, Central Asia and the Far East, in order to provide a coverage of Asia that is as comprehensive as possible. It is this exciting project that promises to provide the most important outcome of our seminar, benefitting not only the two institutions but the development of the field of border studies in Asia as a whole. Here at CAFS, we would like to offer our gratitude to our guests, those who came along for the seminar, and the financial support that makes such vital events worthwhile.

Edward Boyle (Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies)