Report on the CAFS Spring Seminar: A Fresh Glance at Asian Borders

The Centre for Asia-Pacific Future Studies at Kyushu University held its spring seminar over the spring vacation, welcoming four local researchers and guest lecturers from across Japan.

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The first session of the afternoon, ‘Processing Mobile Populations,’ began with a presentation by Dr. Naomi Chi, Assistant Professor at the Public Policy School, Hokkaido University. Entitled “For Whom the Bells Toll? Migration, Diaspora and Border Crossing in East Asia”, her discussion provided a brief overview of the socio-demographic characteristics and legal situation of migrants in Japan and South Korea before delving into a more specific account of the migrant communities of Oizumi, Japan and Ansan, South Korea, both small cities located a train ride away from their respective capitals. Dr. Chi, who is interested in the untold tales of ethnic minorities in East Asia, talked about how local dynamics shape the response migrant communities receive from the local population, as well as the future possibilities and tensions awaiting such diverse towns. In her opinion, the story of these mobile populations is only just now beginning to be told.

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Dr. Aizawa Nobuhiro, Associate Professor with the Faculty of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University spoke on the topic of “Political Borders in an International Airport”, the airport in question being Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. This topic was inspired by the presenter’s own experience of being stranded there during political protests in 2008. He believes political activists, who had previously failed to make an impact by disrupting traditional political centers, were onto something important when they decide to occupy the airport. Airports, especially those located in countries dependent on the global economy and tourist industry, are an example of how the periphery can turn into a political center, and how borders and border flows are reimagined with different, both domestic and external, functions in mind.

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Session 2 addressed the issue of ‘Fencing Flows,’ rather literally in the case of the final presentation. But, firstly, Dr. Kawakubo Fuminori, Associate Professor with the Law Faculty, Chuo Gakuin University discussed the broader discourses that enable fencing to take place. In particular, he addressed the juxtaposition of the opening of borders for economic opportunities and the emergence of global security issues that promote a new isolationism. His presentation, entitled “Border Walls and the Global War on Terror,” highlighted the ways in which the threat of terrorism differs from classic geopolitical discourse and the kind of phenomena it legitimates, such as how it has become permissible to establish mutually agreed line of defense between democratic countries.

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India too is fencing its borders with friendly neighboring countries. In “Fencing the Indian Northwest,” Dr. Edward Boyle, Assistant Professor affiliated with the Faculty of Law and the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies (CAFS) at Kyushu University, shared preliminary findings from his recent fieldwork trip to five Northwest Indian states. He was struck by the contradictory aspects of national political rhetoric which envisages economic corridors and opportunities for greater linkage within the regions while at the same time promoting the securitization and fencing of the area. Although the fencing has largely not materialized on the ground, he found it interesting to explore the motivations driving actors at different levels and how official rhetoric is contextualized, adapted, or simply ignored lower down the political structure.

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Lively discussions followed both sessions, and speakers and participants alike had a chance to address a number of topical issues through the prism of the research shared during the afternoon. CAFS is grateful for the opportunity to hold such events that allow for stimulating academic discussion and enable the latest research to reach a broader audience.

Cristina Paca (Comparative Studies of Politics and Administration in Asia, Kyushu University)