Connectivity and Cartographic Anxiety Conference at Kyoto University

On October 1, Edward Boyle and Jabin Thomas Jacob participated in a Workshop organized by Rohan D’Souza at Kyoto University, which brought together 7 speakers for a really focused discussion, primarily on India’s Northeast and the surrounding neighbourhood. With thanks to Rohan for organizing the event, and Kyushu University for Wakaba Challenge grant that facilitated Jabin and my participation.

For some photos of the event and the subsequent dinner, see HERE.

(with thanks to Patrick and Aimee-Linh at Yogascapes) 

Japan Association for South Asian Studies Report

Closely following on the heels of the World Social Science Forum came a panel at the Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for South Asian Studies, held in Kanazawa on 29 and 30 September, 2018. This panel was convened by Edward Boyle, and supported by both a Progress100 grant for the Commemoration of the Completion of Ito Campus, Kyushu University, awarded to Professor Akihiro Iwashita, and a Wakaba Challenge Grant examining “Japan and Northeast India: Development Aid, Connectivity and Reterritorialization”, awarded to Edward Boyle. This support provided through Kyushu University enabled the attendance of both Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and Jabin Thomas Jacob in Kanazawa, and all the participants offer their gratitude to Kyushu University for the opportunity received.

The panel was entitled “The Connectivity Panacea: geopolitical postures and developmental dilemmas in Northeast India” and sought to bring together four scholars working on India’s dynamic Northeast region from a variety of perspectives. Chaired by Edward Boyle, it sought to critically examine the place of the Northeast within India, as well as its role as a theatre for an expanding geopolitical competition involving India, China and Japan, and seek to reflect upon the possible effects of such contestation for the region itself. The first paper, given by Rohan D’Souza (Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University), sought to highlight that “Connectivity has no Pulse: Rivers as a biological challenge to Infrastructure in North East India” in order to emphasize the unintended consequences that could result from the construction of riverine infrastructure, but also the problems of promoting a form of connectivity based upon static, rather than a more natural, dynamic infrastructure.

This attention was built upon by the second paper, from Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman (Visiting Faculty to TISS Guwahati), on “Infrastructure Development in Northeast India: Examining Inequality and Exclusion in the Development Promise of Economic Connectivity”. In it, Mirza focused on the policy of connectivity, and sought to highlight that infrastructure and connectivity development in Northeast India has resulted in the coupling unequal spaces within that region, and, in Mirza’s words, “the path to ‘progress’ and ‘prosperity’ cannot hop, skip and jump such inequality”. Both papers emphasize the lop-sided pattern of development in the region.

The lop-sided nature of development is reflected in the impact of foreign state’s on this borderland space. Security concerns stemming from the territorial dispute with China over Arunachal Pradesh is frequently presented as an impetus for connectivity projects, a factor reviewed by Jabin Jacob (Associate Editor, China Report) in his paper on “The China Factor in Northeast India’s Connectivity Projects”. Tracing the contrast in Indian and Chinese infrastructural projects on both sides of the border, the paper brought into focus the capacity gap that exists between India’s aspirations for the Northeast and what it is able to achieve there.

It is to overcome this gap, indeed, that the Japan International Cooperation Agency has been invited to invest in the region by the Indian government, which is the focus of Edward Boyle’s Wakaba Challenge project and his paper here, which was “Exploring Connections in Connectivity”. Offering some early reflections from what is intended to be a long-running project, it sought to trace out the effects of Japanese investment on how the space of the region is understood. There was finally time for brief questions from a packed audience.

World Social Science Forum 2018

The 2018 World Social Science Forum was held from the 25 – 28 September in Fukuoka, Kyushu. The fourth in a series of regular meetings convened by the International Social Science Council, the Forum was organized by Kyushu University and sought examine questions of “Security and Equality for Sustainable Futures”. Kyushu University Border Studies was fortunate enough to be involved in a number of sessions, and was sponsored in its endeavours through a Progress 100 grant awarded to Professor Akihiro Iwashita by Kyushu University, which enabled us to host a series of events which celebrated the commemoration of the completion of Kyushu University’s new Ito Campus. Both Professor Akihiro Iwashita and myself would like to extend our gratitude to Kyushu University for their generous support, which made our participation in this and other events possible.


The first day of the conference concluded in a Reception attended by the Crown Prince of Japan, whose attendance impressed upon visitor’s the importance of this event and the prestige granted to Kyushu University for winning the opportunity to host it. The first panel in which Kyushu University Border Studies was involved was one on the frontline of questions of security and sustainability in the contemporary world. “Arctic Geopolitics and Climate Change” brought many of the issues central to the conference into sharp focus, offering an examination of the course of Arctic Policy from a series of national perspectives. Minsu Kim, from the Korea Maritime Institute in Pusan, Korea, spoke on the “Development of Korea’s Arctic Policy: the role as a ‘Responsible Arctic Partner’” and traced out the emergence of the Arctic as a focus of policy in the Republic of Korea. Tony Tai-Ting Liu, of the University of Tokyo, Japan, spoke on an “Arctic Policy with Chinese Characteristics: The Polar Silk Road Initiative and Its Geopolitical Implications”, which offered a controversial perspective on power dynamics in the Arctic region. Xu Liu, of the Renmin University of China, similarly examined the questions raised by “The Ice Silk Road Initiative and Its implication for the Arctic Governance”, which are indeed central to the region’s transformation in recent years.

Fujio Ohnishi, of the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan, examined the “Development of Japan’s Arctic Policy: The Third Basic Plan for Ocean Policy”, bringing Japan’s engagement with the region up to date by focussing on the emergence of this new policy document in May this year. The final speaker, Minori Takahashi, from the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University looked at the “The emergence of Cold-War-like power relations in the post-Cold War era and their influence on sub-state actors in the Arctic: Thule Air Base as the study case”, shifting the audience’s attention back from the Arctic as presented in think-tanks and policy-shops of Asian states to its existence as a place, remote from, and frequently hostile to, the designs and practices of states existing at great remove from its borders. The panel’s discussant, Martin van der Velde, from Radboud University in the Netherlands, offered a tremendous number of points for further discussion, many of which were picked up by the presenters in their responses. The panel was co-chaired by Hyunjoo Naomi Chi of Hokkaido University and Akihiro Iwashita of Kyushu University, and the participants were fortunate to be able to continue the discussion long into the evening.

The third day saw Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and Hyunjoo Naomi Chi in action as part of the Ito Commemoration team. The afternoon session, OP6-01 The Politics of Inclusion: Towards a Secure and Sustainable Future, featured Mirza Rahman’s paper on “Infrastructure Development in Northeast India: Examining Inequality and Exclusion in the Development Promise of Progress and Prosperity”, in which he examined some of the issues surrounding the problem of investing in regions, rather than merely constructing concrete corridors through them. A number of the themes introduced here will be later developed in his talk at Ito Campus on October 10. Naomi Chi was part of a Topical Session on T06 Case studies in Migration and Integration, which for practical reasons would ultimately be merged with another session, T07 Sexual Crimes and Violence Against Women and Men, that was impractically scheduled to occur in the same room at the same time. Ultimately, there was enough overlap between each of the papers to make this clash of sessions into a worthwhile exercise. Case studies examining the return of Indonesian nurses from working in Japan, the sexual violence committed against female politicians in Uganda, and the politics of desire experienced by widowed Muslims in India served to ground the topicality of the session in a series of very human stories, which made for a satisfying panel. The day concluded with a banquet, providing the perfect opportunity for participants at the conference to relax with one another in a more social setting.

The final day kicked off in the morning with the main event associated with the Progress100 grant, which was a special session that examined “Border Studies Today: Theoretical Development and Its Role in the Contemporary World”, chaired by Professor Akihiro Iwashita of Kyushu University, and moderated and commented on by both Edward Boyle and Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman. This Roundtable sought to offer a more global perspective, via both the speaker’s backgrounds and the scope of their discussion. The session began with a brief outline of its aims from Edward Boyle, before each of the contributor’s was invited to contribute for about ten minutes, before the discussion was opened up to the floor. The first speaker, Martin van der Velde, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, spoke regarding the development of “European Borders Studies in the past decades”, and sought to trace out a key distinction in the way it was possible to study borders in Europe as opposed to elsewhere in the world. Drawing upon a tripartite typology of methods and approaches, he emphasized how Europe’s commitment to reducing the significance of borders, through a border regions framework that seeks to both increase mobility over the boundary while ameliorating imbalances on either side of it, is fundamentally different to how borders exist in other parts of the world. The second speaker, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, George Mason University, USA, spoke passionately on “Borders in the Americas in the Era of Trump: Walls and Closed Borders”, and brought home the effectiveness of Trump’s policy towards the southern border, as Mexico itself is forced to transform into the United States’ border wall, as a condition for remaining in NAFTA, and thus once again recasting the relationship between the two nations. The role of the border here, indeed, suggested the truth of the comparison that Martin van der Velde had drawn.

The third speaker, Serghei Golunov, now at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russia and a Professor at Kyushu University until March of this year, ambitiously sought to bridge the “Theory-Practice Gap in Contemporary Border Studies” by highlighting some of the reasons for the mutual distrust of academics and policy-makers towards each other’s fields of expertise. The talk highlighted how it would be useful for a more intense dialogue between the two traditions to take place. This perspective was also built upon by Akihiro Iwashita in his look at how we are heading “Back to the Future: A world of “fortresses”?”, in which a cyclical pattern of border transition, constantly shifting from ‘open’ to ‘closed’, is deployed in order to make a case for the potential universalization for the discipline. A unique feature of border studies is its multidisciplinarity and ability to go beyond regionalism, and these strengths were reflected in the panel as a whole, which was mentioned by both commentators in their remarks on the session. Questions from the floor focussed on the question of the universal applicability of the study of borders, as well as an engagement with the balance between data and emotion in how we understand borders in the contemporary world. In so doing, they emphasized the central contribution that could be made towards resolving global issues through the study of borders, edges, and liminal spaces.

The contribution of the Ito Commemoration team to the Forum concluded in an afternoon session, OP1-04 Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific, chaired by Yoichiro Sato, in which Edward Boyle spoke on the question of “Envisioning Island Spaces: Integral territory and national fragments”. An intensely debated session returned the border discussion from the abstracted space of the academia to the policy domain, and highlighted the challenges to the borders of the international system posed by the expansion of China, in particular. It provided a fitting conclusion to an intense engagement of borders with questions of security and sustainability, as the various participants split up and heading off to further engagements in Kanazawa and Tokyo.

Nuclear Weapons and the Future of North Korea

On September 5, the 9th Asia-Pacific Border Studies Seminar on Nuclear Weapons and the Future of North Korea was held by the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies of Kyushu University. Professor Yong-Chool Ha (Washington State University) was the speaker and Professor Akihiro Iwashita was a commentator. The seminar was moderated by Professor Jong Seok Park.

In his presentation, Professor Ha suggested that the current crisis will result to some compromise soon and called for going beyond the issue of denuclearization while discussing the current Korean crisis. He suggested to put the North Korean economic future in the conflict resolution context. While currently Pyongyang prioritizes legitimization of its nuclear status above all, it still should choose an economic development model after the compromise will be achieved.  Thus, North Korean economic future could be discussed during negotiations.

Anyway, current economic and social conditions of North Korea are changing towards greater role of the private market. Among economic options that Pyongyang will have, South Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, East European, and Russian models were mentioned in the presentation (the South Korean model was particularly highlighted as potentially suitable). The choice that North Korea should make likely will not be easy, taking into account unfavorable international environment, scarceness of domestic material resources, and emergence of strong elite groups based on economic power and connections with masses. In particular, one cannot exclude that despite the regime will manage to boost its legitimacy in the short-term run, long-term internal socio-economic challenges could trigger either “palace coup d’etat”, or military coup d’etat, or revolt based on elite-mass coalition.

After making his presentation, Professor Ha responded other participants’ questions. Answering Professor Iwashita’s question about whether the North Korean nuclear strategy is similar to the Pakistani one, Professor Ha highlighted such differences of the North Korean case as Pyongyang’s political isolation and bad relations with the USA and also the multilateral character of the Korean nuclear crisis unlike bilateral character of the Indo-Pakistan crisis. Responding other Professor Iwashita’s question, the presenter also noted that assassination of Kim Jong Un can have potentially dangerous consequences if no evident successor is available: it could lead to serious internal conflict that could involve external powers (such as the USA and China). Answering Professor Iwashita’s and Professor Park’s questions about the agenda of potential negotiations on the current crisis Professor Ha suggested that Pyongyang regime’s security, withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South Korea, economic assistance, and non-proliferation will likely will be the key issues. It will not be easy to achieve a compromise, as some of these potential demands could be unacceptable for the USA and its partners (e.g. the withdrawal of U.S. troops can lead to the annexation of South Korea by the North, as Professor Park suggested) while highly desirable not only for North Korea itself but also by China. At the same time, Pyongyang most likely will not agree to give up its nuclear weapons on any terms.

(Trans) Border Security

On August 14, in the midst of the Obon Holiday break, the KUBS crew were in the office for the 8th Asia-Pacific Border Studies seminar. We were fortunate enough to welcome three speakers to share their thoughts with us on a number of issues relating to regionalism, security architecture, national strategy and popular geopolitics, and were treated to a fascinating discussion regarding the situation in Asia’s North East.

Our first speaker, David Welch (Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo), spoke to us on the topic of “Regional Order in Northeast Asia”. He offered a broad overview of a number of ‘regions’ present in the world today, providing a number of metrics through which to compare them, and spoke about the possibilities for regionalism involving Japan and its continental neighbors through the prism of ‘East Asia’. David was fairly down on the prospects for the emergence of an institutionalized regionalism within East Asia, a conclusion which also tallies with the findings of the NIHU-backed research group into North-East Asia, with which our Center is involved. It was interesting to reflect upon the nested and overlapping character of some of the regions picked out by David, and reflect upon their significance for the international situation in the future.

Our second speaker, Jaroslaw Janczak (European University Viadrina & Adam Mickiewicz University, and currently a research fellow at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University) spoke to us about the “Geopolitical models and Geostrategies of Russia in Eurasia”, focusing in particular on the various conceptions of the border being deployed at Russia’s eastern and western limits. As he noted, Russia’s post-Soviet situation has been characterized by various forms of borders coming into and winking out of existence, and that the structure of the current geopolitical situation has led Russia to behaving far more actively in the West, while appearing to adopt a clear ‘boundarization’ in the East. Appreciating this distinction visible at the extreme edges of the polity is of great value in attempting to analyze it as a single entity.

Our third speaker, Seung Hyok Lee (Department of Asian Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), reflected on the “Challenge of the ‘North Korean factor’ to Japanese-South Korean Relations and Northeast Asia”. The central focus was the question of popular influence on the foreign policy process, and in particular how the images held within Japan and South Korea of the other’s relations with North Korea affected relations between the two in the 2000s. As he noted, it was significant that these seemed predetermined within a structural dynamic that continued to hold into the present.

The topics of the three talks complemented one another nicely, and provided plenty of fodder for the extensive discussion that occurred between the speakers and those in attendance. We thank all those in attendance and look forward to our next event soon.



Report on “China’s New Agenda as a Global Power”

On Monday the 10th of July, KUBS and the Center for Asia-Pacific Future Studies hosted its 7th Asia Pacific Border Studies seminar in partnership with Kyushu University’s Inter-disciplinary Colloquium. The venue was the meeting rooms of the Business Communications Library (BIZCOLI) in downtown Fukuoka, selected as something of an experiment to bridge the divide that exists between Kyushu University’s two campuses, prior to them being reunited later next year. We here at KUBS would like to express our gratitude to Professor Edward Vickers and Aya Yonemitsu for helping us get the event off the ground.

For the event, we were delighted to welcome to Fukuoka Professor Paul Evans of the Institute of Asian Research & Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia. As well as a distinguished China scholar, Professor Evans is a regional specialist in East Asia, where as an advocate of cooperative and human security, he has long been involved in promoting policy-related activity on track-two security processes and the construction of multilateral institutions. 


The event offered an opportunity to hear Professor Evans’ insights into how the multiple dimensions at which China’s growing presence makes itself felt in the world, and the reactions to that presence in a number of countries, focussing particularly on Canada and Singapore. As he noted, while the questions of investment, infrastructural development and possible future military confrontation are much discussed, there are other dimensions to China’s influence that receive less attention. Some of those he highlighted included examples of state-led soft power leveraged through cultural and public diplomacy, the ever-increasing volume of Chinese moving out into the world as students, tourists, business travellers, and temporary workers, and the considerable asset offered by the presence of overseas Chinese in many countries and their better and more regular connections with both each other, and family and organizations back in China. This last factor spoke to the effect of the dramatic change in telecommunications, which has made it possible for those outside the country to remain ‘plugged-in’ to it in a manner simply not feasible even a decade ago, and made the holding of the seminar in a Business Communications Library a particularly apt choice.

Professor Evans made clear that while such dimensions of Chinese influence offered a tremendous opportunity for China, they were the subject of debate in both Beijing and abroad. In Beijing, there remains debate over how best to capitalize on these potential sources of influence, as seen in the recently-concluded debate over whether China would allow dual-nationality or not. Abroad, meanwhile, the key question for foreign governments is whether and how to respond to concerns over growing Chinese influence and the policy challenges of doing so.


Some of the issues with which policymakers in Singapore and Canada were forced to grapple with were also reflected in the other two papers, which sought to flesh out the effects and reaction to China’s growing clout in Indonesia and Russia respectively. Professor Nobuhiro Aizawa examined the recent phenomenon of illegal and temporary Chinese workers being brought to Indonesia, and the reaction this had sparked within the domestic media and political landscape. As something of a contrast, however, in Russia the increasing influence of China appears, at least, to be the cause of much less alarm in the last few years than a decade or so ago, despite the fact that on almost any available metric the Chinese presence has expanded greatly in the time. This of course reflects the wider geopolitical situation in which these countries find themselves, and it would be interesting to see whether this official and media shift is being reflected at the more popular level, an issue with which the presenter, Professor Serghei Golunov, intends to get to grips with in the future.


Following the three papers, an open discussion was held which provided an opportunity for a number of students in attendance, many of them Chinese or of Chinese heritage, to comment on some of the issues that were raised during the course of the seminar. A couple of them pointed to the role of social media and the internet, and noted that even when outside China, there was a strong inertia which kept them anchored to platforms and publications that operated within the country itself. This keeps them very keyed into events going on back home, on the one hand, while serving to maintain a view of the world that is still filtered through the limits of what is considered acceptable discourse in China. The most satisfying takeaway from the seminar, indeed, was the willingness of some of these young scholars to seek to question those very limits.


UBC Workshop on Borderwork in Northeast Asia

On April 12, 2017, ABSj chair and Hokkaido University professor Naomi Chi and KUBS’s Edward Boyle were at the University of British Columbia to promote National Institute for the Humanities (NIHU) Area Studies Project for Northeast Asia being run by Hokkaido University, and explain the role taken by Kyushu University in the project under the aegis of their own Progress100 funding. The Institute for Asian Research provided a collegial atmosphere for setting out the details of the project, the Kyushu University portion of which will be conducted with several UBC colleagues, including Professor Paul Evans, who facilitated this event, and to whom the two presenters offer their gratitude.

Following the project introduction, both speakers were granted the opportunity to introduce their own research and show how it fitted into wider narratives on northeast Asia. Naomi Chi’s presentation examined marriage migration in East Asia, focussing on the structural inhibitions as well as the individual difficulties that affected such unions. The talk made clear that any desire to institutionalize a northeast Asian region would require more than merely the greater circulation of national populations. Similarly, Edward Boyle’s look at “The Changing Shape of Japan: territorial disputes and remapping borders” highlighted how notions of regionalism could be used to highlight converging patterns of disputation as well as cooperation, as regional actors at a variety of levels came to reflect one another in stoking a spiral of conflict over seemingly remote territorial scraps. Again, any efforts at regional cooperation must make use of a security architecture able to incorporate such issues, as otherwise integration takes place even as such disputes continue to fester.

The response to the project introduction was good, and we at KUBS are looking forward to hosting each of Paul Evans, Sara Shneiderman and Stéphanie Martel in Kyushu at various points over the next ten months.

Talk at the Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture, Columbia University

On April 10, 2017, KUBS’s Edward Boyle gave a talk for the Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture, Columbia University, in New York. Entitled “Writing Japan’s Territory into the World: the cartographic creation of the Ezochi”, the talk built on the final chapter of his PhD thesis to examine the mapping of Karafuto into the Japanese state body. The talk focused on the person of the Shogunal Astronomer Takahashi Kageyasu, who in 1809 wrote a treatise on the geography of the area to Japan’s north, in which he sought to confirm the correspondence between an island the Japanese termed Karafuto and one marked as Sakhalin on foreign maps of Japan. Through his investigations, Takahashi was able to confirm that these two islands were indeed the same, and was thus able to represent the southern half of the island as Japanese territory on the “Outline Map of Japan’s Frontiers” that he produced soon afterwards.

The talk looked at the process through which Japanese authority over an amorphous barbarian space came to have demarcated territorial limits, and how this extension of claims was influenced by interaction and cartographic exchange with other polities. The fixing of the territory of the ezochi was made possible through the incorporation of this region to Japan’s north into a wider geographical context, which came to provide Japan with ‘natural’ limits. Takahashi’s finished map suggests a Japanese cognition of the linear borders we associate with the modern nation state, while the subsequent history of Sakhalin, both on the map and as a territorial possession, suggests that an insular understanding of a Karafuto existing as part of a more extensive island continued to exist right into the twentieth century, in a manner that suggests important continuities in the manner islands were envisaged within Japan’s political imagination.

Some astute questions from the audience focussed on the value of notions of territoriality to the analysis and the importance of Karafuto at the time, which drove the process of mapping that Takahashi represented. The beautiful furnishings of the Donald Keene Center provided the perfect surrounding for a talk focused on the place of Japan in the world, and the presenter would like to offer a hearty thanks to the organizer, Dr. Max Moerman, for putting it together.

Centre for Strategic Studies Roundtable, Victoria University of Wellington

A Roundtable on Russo-Japanese relations was held in the New Zealand capital of Wellington on March 30. It was hosted by the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, regularly ranked among the top 50 in the world in the social sciences and humanities. The twenty-five or so people in attendance included members of the Japanese Embassy, the Mexican Ambassador, ex-Foreign Ministry officials, and members of the Centre, guaranteeing a lively session. The main presentation by Professor Akihiro Iwashita was a version of an off-the-record talk he had given at Sasakawa USA’s offices in Washington DC at the end of February, analyzing the results of the Abe-Putin summit that had occurred in December of 2016. The talk argued that as it was to be held in the Prime Minister’s Residence, expectations for the Summit had been fanned by the media ahead of time, with little attention paid to Russia’s position going into the talks. Consequently, the results of Abe’s diplomacy have appeared relatively paltry in comparison to the optimism felt prior to Putin’s arrival.


The Roundtable was moderated by Alexander Bukh, an expert on both the Russo-Japanese and Japan-Korean territorial issues, and a regular visitor to our Center. It is anticipated that this roundtable will provide an opportunity for increased cooperation with colleagues in New Zealand, including among the policy world as well as across academia.