Report on Contesting territory – sovereignty, tourism and aesthetics: some reflections


23rd November 2015 marked a significant milestone achieved by the newly- established Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies of Kyushu University. Following the success of the first symposium on border studies in Asia and the Pacific in March 2015, the Center held its second international symposium entitled ‘Contesting territory – sovereignty, tourism and aesthetics’. It played host to numerous scholars, practitioners and artists from Japan, the UK, US, France, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, and was well-attended by academics and students alike. The one-day symposium challenged participants to rethink and contest concepts and perceptions of border, territory and sovereignty, and contemplate on the future of border studies in general.


Professor John Agnew from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) set the agenda going in his plenary lecture on ‘Geopolitics in the age of globalization’. The talk focused on the differentiated workings of sovereignty in a globalized world. He pointed to the shift away from totally state-centric narratives in politicalthought that has dominated scholarship for the past two decades, and charted the latest developments in the field of border studies. The talk ended with a series of thought-provoking issues related to the Syrian crisis, the refugees in Europe, and the power of passports, thus highlighting the everyday nature of geopolitics experienced by ordinary people, and setting the tone for the subsequent sessions.


The second session served to ground the earlier discussion with empirical examples from East Asia. The papers were presented by Professor Akihiro Iwashita of the Slavic-Eurasia Research Center in Hokkaido University and President of the Association of Borderlands Studies (ABS), and Professor Sangjin Shim of Kyonggi University. Professor Iwashita’s piece served as a very useful entry point, and point of departure when debating about issues of territory, territoriality and sovereignty. The paper covered two fascinating examples of Nemuro City next to the Northern Territories, and the Okinawa US military base. The first revealed the fuzziness of bordering the frontier regions through Japan’s claim’s for ‘nominal’ sovereignty over the Northern Territories, and the implications on the livelihood of people in Nemuro City. This was then contrasted with the case of the US military base in Okinawa, where Japan’s legitimate sovereignty does not seem to be applicable to the base, while ironically, US ‘sovereign rights’ often overflows the limits of the base. The dilemma of territoriality and dealing with sovereignty issues was discussed, thus highlighting the shifting and slippery notions of sovereignty. Furthermore, we are not only looking at the macro-political aspects of the border areas/frontier, but also that of bordering practices and everyday geopolitics, people-to-people interactions; or what Professor Iwashita puts it: ‘the realities of people living in bordered spaces’. Lastly, the paper encouraged the audience to shed a more positive light when seeing the border, and to treat border tourism as a possible avenue for generating opportunities.


Professor Shim’s paper on the Mt Geumgang Project gave a very good example of border tourism that was mentioned in Professor Iwashita’s paper. Discussion on the rise and fall and other complexities of the Mt Geumgang Project revealed how changing regimes of power affects tourism development and its implications on sovereignty and territoriality. Prof Shim reported on the prediction of an unprecedented increase in tourists numbers forecast for Northeast Asia, and the potential of geopolitical border landscape in providing a unique place identity and experience for the increasingly sophisticated tourists. He suggested that the border landscape is a potential draw for the new tourists who seek not merely to buy things, but importantly, experiences as well. However, in order for the Mt Geumgang Project to be a success, there needs to be strategic alliances of the public and private sectors.



While the second session provided the empirics to the first, the third and final session of the symposium shed light on new ways to perceive and research the border. The combination of academic – Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary of the Université Grenoble-Alpes, and artists – Mahsa Mergenthaler-Shamsaei (Young Persian Artists blogger and curator), and Abdalla Omari (a Syrian visual and performance artist now based in Belgium) provided a refreshing and important synergy in re-thinking and re-shaping how one understands and represents the border in and through the aesthetics of art. Collectively, the presenters in this session dealt with issues of imagined borders, highlighting the roles art plays in telling stories of and from the borderlands, and in becoming ‘borders’ themselves by evoking sentiments and emotions.


Overall, the symposium alluded that issues of sovereignty and territory are very much alive. Contrary to the idea of a global village, borderless world that promises seamless travel, or a post-national community, we are still encountering resistance to mobility and cross-border interactions, be it the ‘invisible wall’ at the Northern Territories between Japan and Russia, or the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea. Secondly, the continued relevance of the ‘nation’ and ‘sovereign state’ helps to reiterate the importance of border studies to understand the different practices of territoriality. However, there are possibilities of viewing the borderlands as ‘more vivid and lively’. In other words, we need to recognise the border areas as lived environments, rather than representations of sovereignty. Furthermore, new developments in border studies tend to shift their focus from the physical border itself. However, discussions in the symposium revealed that border areas or places that are in-between are furnished with emotions, identity negotiation and performances. Finally, and promisingly, as we now witness a shift from the traditional approach that focuses on macro-political issues, to micro-political ones, the symposium pointed to new forays in border studies and gave a glimpse of innovative analytical tools, and the potential to engage communities beyond the academia in the common pursuit of a better understanding of borders and borderlands. The successful hosting of such an international symposium sets a strong foundation for the ABS Japan Chapter, and indicates the growing maturation of the field of border studies in Japan and its continued commitment to become an important center for borderlands research in Asia.

J.J. Zhang (University of Hong Kong)

Report on the 3rd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar


The seminar consisted of two sessions devoted to two topics that superficially appeared to be largely unrelated, with one on “Geopolitical Realities for the European Union: Views from Finland” and the other on “Cooperation and Conflict? Trans-boundary issues in the Aral Sea”. Actually, both topics had some very important features in common as they were devoted to major cross-border conflict and cooperation issues crucial for the EU’s borderland and for post-Soviet Central Asia.

The first of the two mentioned sessions focused on the ideational dimension of conflict: viz. on the conflict between post-modern representations of the EU’s borderland as fuzzy space for transnational regional cooperation and traditional representation of rigid divide between alliances of nation-states trying to enlarge or to protect their spheres of influence. Until recently it was quite fashionable to proclaim traditional the geopolitical imaginary inadequate, largely on the grounds of its alleged obsolescence. Now, in the course of Russian-Ukrainian conflict with Russian efforts to reshape its Western borders in accordance with traditional geopolitical views, there is already some doubt about the adequacy of post-modernist interpretations of the EU’s borderlands. Indeed, a cross-border regionalist order shaped by fuzzy and overlapping borders looks vulnerable in the face of consistent and vigorous effort to establish traditional geopolitical borders supported by hard power. Should we proclaim post-modern representation of the EU’s borders outdated and return to looking at these borders through the lens of the traditional geopolitical approach?


Both presenters from the University of Eastern Finland, Ilkka Liikanen and James Scott, were reluctant either to proclaim the superiority of this approach or to insist on its outdatedness in comparison with post-Westphalian cross-border regionalism. Ilkka Liikanen argued that the EU’s neighborhood policy itself contains features of both approaches (supporting cross-border cooperation and, at the same time, maintaining hard external borders and resorting to NATO) and that one should speak rather about the ongoing competition between the two imaginaries than about changing eras when traditional and post-modern visions dominated. James Scott focused on the need to overcome weaknesses in European cross-border regionalism by reinforcing it through working “ideational principles based on political, functional, cultural, and everyday relationships”.


While for post-Soviet Central Asia, geopolitical imaginaries also matter to some extent, the second session focused on another kind of issue which often impacts on regional cross-border conflict and cooperation agendas. Indeed, the scarcity of water resources that has led to the depletion of Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers and especially of the Aral Sea is both a very serious source of tension and a driver for cross-border cooperation involving not only states of the region themselves but also even some other countries adjacent to it. Above all, transborder water issues in Central Asia also illustrate aberrations in the territorial imaginaries promoted by many widely-issued maps (such as those shown to passengers on international flights) which still depict Amu Darya and Syr Darya as affluent rivers and the now virtually non-existent Aral Sea as large as it was in the 1970s. Both presentations of the session, by Nikolai Aladin (Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg) and by Yekaterina Borisova (Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences) focused on various issues of the Aral Basin.

Nikolay Aladin’s presentation “The Partial Restoration of the Aral Sea and the Biological, Socio-Economic, and Health Conditions of the Region” focused on the corresponding issues of the Aral Sea itself while Yekaterina Borisova’s presentation “The Trans-boundary Water Problems of the Aral Sea Basin” had a much broader geographical focus while prioritizing political relations between Central Asian countries. Both presenters stressed that solving such acute transboundary water problems cannot be achieved by any on country in the region, and that a more cooperative approach is required between not only the Central Asian countries but also with their neighbours and the relevant international organisations. It seems that both cases, of the EU’s Eastern borderland and of Central Asian transborder issues, can potentially have important conceptual implications for conceptualizing cross-border conflict and cooperation issues in the Asia-Pacific region. First, the way in which the East China Sea and South China Sea disputes can be dealt with seriously depend on what type of territorial imaginary prevail in heads of decision-makers who can choose between insisting on hard geopolitical divides or prioritizing cross-border regional cooperation. Second, Central Asian transborder water issues can be compared with similar issues of the Mekong Basin where riparian countries achieved more success in cooperating and mitigating contradictions. Currently Border Studies needs more comparative research and the topics considered during this seminar look potentially important for it.

Serghei Golunov (Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies)

Report on the 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar


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.


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)

Special Summer Seminar in Fukuoka: Lessons from European and Central Asian borders for Asia-Pacific Future Studies

Special Summer Seminar in Fukuoka: Lessons from European and Central Asian borders for Asia-Pacific Future Studies Events-August9The3rdAsia-Pacific   Principle Organizers: CAFS & UBRJ In cooperation with EUIJ Date: August 9, 2015 14:00-18:00 Place: Kyushu University   14:00-14:10 Opening Remarks (Kaoru Izumi and Akihiro Iwashita)   14:10-15:50 Session I: Geopolitical realities for the European Union: Views from Finland Moderator: Machiko Hachiya (EUIJ) Ilkka Liikanen (University of Eastern Finland) “EU Neighborhood Policies and Visions of the post-Cold War International Order” James W. Scott (University of Eastern Finland) “The Renaissance of Geopolitical Realism: Repercussions for the Reconceptualization of European Neighborhood” Discussant: Paul Richardson (University of Manchester) Discussant: Edward Boyle (CAFS)   1610:-17:50 Session II: Cooperation or Conflict? Trans-boundary Water Issues in the Aral Sea Basin Moderator: Serghei Golunov (CAFS) Nikolai Aladin (Zoological Institute, RAS) “The Partial Restoration of the Aral Sea and the Biological, Socio-Economic and Health Conditions in the Region” Ekaterina Borisova (Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS) “The Trans-boundary Water Problems in the Aral Sea Basin” Discussant: Tetsuro Chida (Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University)   17:50-18:00 Closing Remarks (Machiko Hachiya)   18:30- Reception

  →Report on the 3rd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar

The 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar

The 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar : Spaces of Everyday Life and Exception along the Thai Borderlands

Events-July17Poster_The 2nd Asia-Pacific

Date: July 17, 2015 15:00-17:00 Room: Kyushu University Nishijin Plaza 14:00-15:00 Research Meeting 15:00-15:05 Introductory Remarks -Professor Sergei Golunov (CAFS, Kyushu University) 15:05-15:10 Setting the Scene Introduction to School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University Public Lectures by MFU’s staff -Assoc. Prof. Dr. Siriporn Wajjwalku (Mae Fah Luang University) 15:10-15:30 Lecture 1 National perspective of transnational integrated water management: Thailand and Mekong’s tributaries -Assoc. Prof. Dr. Siriporn Wajjwalku (Mae Fah Luang University) 15:30-15:50 Lecture 2 An Efficiency of Local Administrative Organization in Chiang Rai Province Toward a Mitigation of Earthquake Disaster -Dr. Wanwalee Inpin (Mae Fah Luang University) 15:50-16:10 Lecture 3 Footloose Gem Traders and The Grey-shaded Border Space of Mae Sai Border Town -Asst. Prof. Dr. Yuthpong Chantrawarin (Mae Fah Luang University) 16:10-16:20 Break 16:20-16:30 Comments Discussants: Osamu Yoshida (Hiroshima University) Edward Boyle (Kyushu University) 16:30-17:00 Roundtable

  →Report on the 2nd Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar

Border Studies symposium


Date: 14:30~17:30 – March 30, 2015 (Saturday) Place: IP CITY HOTEL(Nakasu, Hakata ward, Fukuoka) Fee: Free ※Please register in advance Language: Japanese Hosted by: Center for Asia Pacific Future Studies, Kyushu University Co-hosts: Eurasia Unit for Border Research (Japan), Slav-Eurasia Research Center, Hokkaido University With the Cooperation of: Japan Center for Borderlands Studies (NPO), Japan International Border Studies Network Supported by: ANA Sales Co, Ltd. and JR Kyushu Jet Ferry Inc. Fukuoka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Kyushu Economic Research Center Schedule: 14:30 Introductory Remarks 14:40 “An invitation to border tourism” session “Going to Tsushima and Pusan with ANA and the Beetle” Yasunori HANAMATSU (Kyushu University) “Going to Wakkanai and Sakhalin with ANA and the ferry” Akihiro IWASHITA (Hokkaido University) 16:20 Roundtable and Discussion 17:00 Special Lecture “Connecting Japan’s Borderlands” Koji FURUKAWA (Deputy Director, JIBSN) 17:30 Closing Remarks