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York Centre for Asian Research Update            Issue 1, January 10, 2005

To YCAR members and YCAR Update subscribers:


This YCAR Update is the first of what we hope will become a weekly feature for YCAR.  In this update we intend to consolidate news and information about YCAR events and activities into one weekly mini-newsletter, and present brief profiles of research and other activities by YCAR members.  The launch of the update coincides with the tsunami disaster in Asia.  This update will be thus be longer than what we anticipate will become the norm, so that we can include items that may be of interest on the larger context of the disaster, and its aftermath. 


Peter Vandergeest

Director, YCAR


Asian Tsunami Disaster: York University held a special memorial service for the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster on Thursday, January 6 at the Burton Auditorium. The service was attended by York university faculty, students and staff who offered their sympathy and support for the survivors of the tsunami disaster. For its part, YCAR held a meeting with York faculty, staff and student organizations to discuss and solicit ideas on how YCAR and the York Community can continue its support. One of the activities proposed is to hold a fundraising concert given that York University has a pool of gifted people who are willing to perform and share their talents for the tsunami cause. The event can be dubbed “A Concert of Hope” or “A Night of Healing” featuring an eclectic ensemble of music with an Asian focus and other forms of artistic expression with the participation of York faculty members, students and alumni. A photo exhibit, silent auction, symposium or a series of small concerts during the International Development Week in February may also be initiated. As an educational institution, York University is faced with the challenge of contributing to the cause in a unique but sustainable way and as such the money raised may be used in the following ways:  


·     “Adopt a School, University or Village” – money raised will be used in the rebuilding efforts that would provide   textbooks and other educational materials to local schools and educational facilities that have been destroyed by the flood;

·     Money raised be used for educational purposes that may be coursed through a partnership with a local school/university, NGO networks or religious groups with whom a system can be set up to monitor the developments in the use of fund;

·     Scholarship funding for a local student in one of the affected areas who may wish to pursue higher education.


Two committees were formed: (1) Planning Committee to look into the potential alternative organizations with whom the funds raised may be coursed through and (2) Organizing Committee to prepare the logistics for the proposed activities. There will be a follow-up meeting of the Organizing Committee on Tuesday, January 11 at 3:30 pm onwards at 270B York Lanes. YCAR welcomes others who are interested in participating in these committees.


In light of the tsunami, YCAR, the Faculty of Environment Studies (FES) and the University Consortium on Global South are holding a panel discussion entitled: Environmental Vulnerabilities, Disaster Relief and Reconstruction on January 19, 2:30 pm at the HNES Room 140. The panel discussion will be an opportunity to deepen and broader understanding of the social and environmental background to the recent disaster in Asia, and link these to how relief and reconstruction might address socio-environmental vulnerabilities and north-south inequities.  Panelists doing research in sites in each of the four countries most affected by the Tsunami will address various socio-natural, political, economic and environmental themes revolving around the tsunami disaster and the relief and reconstruction efforts in the region.


Aside from mainstream international development agencies, contributions may be sent to the following Indonesian organizations:



      Via Campesina ( - the global alliance of peasant, family farmer, farm worker, indigenous and landless peoples organizations, and other rural movements - calls for solidarity with the millions of people affected by the tsunami disaster and is launching a global fundraising campaign to channel assistance to affected communities of fisherfolk and peasants, for their own relief and reconstruction efforts, through grassroots organizations.  If you want to make a bank wire transfer for relief specifically in Indonesia, funds can be wired to:

Bank: Standard Chartered Bank
Swift Bank Code: SCB LIDJ XAXXX                                                     

      Address of Bank:  Jl. Imam Bonjol No. 17 North Sumatera, Indonesia.

      Account number :  047-1-005467-2                                                              

      Name of Payee : Sintesa (Yayasan Sinar Tani Indonesia)     


      Please send an email to alert the organization of your donation to:


Brown Bag Seminar Series: For the month of January, YCAR is sponsoring the following seminar series to be conducted by York faculty and graduate students:


Topic: 'Fixing' the Forest: Social-ecological change in the Thai highlands

Speaker: Dr. Robin Roth (YorkU Faculty of Geography)

Date & Time: Monday, January 17, 2005, 12:00-1:30 pm

Location: 270B York Lanes, Keele Campus, York University


Topic: Participatory Action Research and the Ecosystem Approach: Managing environment and health slums in Chennai, India

Speaker: Dr. Martin Bunch (YorkU Faculty of Environment Studies)

Date & Time: Monday, January 24, 2005, 12:00-1:30 pm

Location: 270B York Lanes, Keele Campus, York University


Topic: The Political Participation and Ideological Orientation of Canadian Citizens and Immigrants from PRC

Speaker: Tony Zeng (YorkU Political Science)

Topic: Maxine Hong Kingston's Memoir Warrior Women

Speaker: Tak Uesegi (YorkU Anthropology)

Date & Time: Monday, January 31, 2:30-4:30 pm

Location: 270B York Lanes, Keele Campus,York University



Asia Business Management Program/China Training Project: In Fall 2004, YCAR accommodated 5 groups of Chinese Officials in a series of English, financial and management training.

 In Winter 2005, YCAR is expecting a steady flow of delegations commencing late February/early March after the Chinese New Year.


Diploma Program in Asian Studies: YCAR has submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) its proposal for a Graduate Diploma in Asian Studies. The diploma program is designed to strengthen the community of Asian scholars at York University. The YCAR diploma responds to an identified need among students who are looking for more Asian content in their studies, and among prospective employers who are looking for graduates with certifiable expertise in Asian Studies. It is expected that the program will become operational in September 2005.

Membership, Visiting Scholars and Staff Update:  In Fall 2004, YCAR accepted 8 new member applications. They include:


Faculty Members: Robin Roth (Geography) and Wendy Wong (Design/Fine Arts)

Graduate Students: Nur Intan Murtadza (Music), Hironori Onuki (Pol. Science), Bruce Phillips (Economics), Tak Uesegi (Anthropology), Junjia Ye (Arts).

Research Associate: Mohammad Rahman (Management and Public Administration).

Visiting Scholars: Yan Yuemei, Associate Professor from the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, and Xiadong Nie, VP of The Federation of Industry and Commerce, Haidan District, Beijing China.

Staff: YCAR Research Officer, Maire O’Brien is now the Director of the China Training Project while Rhoda Reyes is the new Centre Coordinator.



Funding Opportunities:


The Office of Research Services (ORS) has recently received information regarding an invitation of Letter of Intents from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network.  A summary is provided below.  Complete details may be obtained by contacting ORS at ext. 55055 (


To improve the language and literacy skills of Canadian children.

To assist in identifying suitable projects, the Network invites Letters of Intent outlining possible new research projects. Projects which address the following groups of vulnerable children are of particular interest:

1. Minority language children
2. Children in immigrant families
3. Children who require more effective instruction
4. Aboriginal children

VALUE: Up to $50,000

DURATION: Not stated

January 20, 2005 - Deadline for submission of Letters of Intent
January 31, 2005 - Invitation for detailed Research Project Proposals
March 4, 2005 - Full proposal due

York University researchers are reminded that all applications for external research funding, including Letters of Intent, must be reviewed and approved by the Office of Research Services before they are submitted to the granting agency.  For internal approval, the application must be accompanied by a completed ORS Application Checklist, which requires the Chair’s and Dean’s signatures.  To ensure that the approved application is ready by the agency deadline, a complete application folder must be submitted to the ORS ten (10) working days prior to final submission date. Contact Address:
Office of Research Services, 214 York Lanes, York University, 4700 Keele Street Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Tel: (416) 736-5055 Fax: (416) 736-5512. 


Research Project Profile: YCAR was informed on December 17 that a research program put together by a network of institutions in Canada, Asia, and elsewhere to study the agrarian transition in Southeast Asia, has been funded.  The project will be led by Rodolphe de Koninck of the University of Montreal with the involvement of Peter Vandergeest and Philip Kelly of York University as co-researchers.  It is expected that most of the funds will go toward supporting graduate student research in Southeast Asia.


The news that we will be participating in this research endeavor comes just as the recent disaster in Asia has reminded us all again of why it is important for Canada to have a vibrant academic community producing and disseminating knowledge about Asia.  Once the immediate response to the horrors of loss of life and livelihood has passed, there will be many questions about the reasons why this event took the course that it did.  Already within a few days of the catastrophe, environmentalists were arguing that the sheer scale of the loss of life was due to rapid coastal development, especially tourist development and shrimp farming.  According to these arguments, tourist facilities, shrimp farming and other developments have drawn large populations to coastal areas which have destroyed natural buffers such as mangroves and coral, which might have broken the force of the tsunami.  While we do not have enough information to assess these claims in relation to the areas affected by the tsunami, they do raise significant questions about how coastal zones have been transformed in the past 20 or 30 years, and how these transformations have affected vulnerabilities to socio-natural events like tsunamis.  How have the economies of coastal zones been transformed by integration into new commodity networks based in tourism, fishing, and aquaculture, among other activities, and how have these developments affected the distribution of people and coastal ecologies?  What is the role of migration: has there been substantial migration to coastal areas, and if so, why?  How have these processes created not only new economic opportunities, but also new vulnerabilities, including vulnerability to socio-natural events?  How are these risks distributed in relation to class, ethnicity, age, gender, and so on? 


Although the world’s attention has been captured by the sheer scale of the December 26 tsunami, it was not an isolated event.  Earlier the same month, an estimated 2000 coastal villagers were killed by flooding and landslides due to a typhoon.  In 1991, some 135,000 people were killed when a tsunami hit Bangladesh.  The 1989 ban on logging in Thailand was imposed after hundreds of villagers were killed by landslides in logged-over hillsides caused by El Niño-associated rains. All of these events point to the importance of understanding how changes in the landscape and social and economic transformations may have produced new socio-environmental vulnerabilities.


What has been happening in coastal zones, moreover, is one expression of a larger process that has been happening throughout Southeast Asia.  Similar questions can be posed in relation to upland areas, and even core agricultural areas and Southeast Asia’s expanding urban zones.  How is economic development in these areas transforming landscapes and integrating people into local, regional, and global migration and commodity networks?  How does this affect livelihoods, equity, and vulnerability to socio-natural events? In addition to explaining current processes of social and environmental change in Southeast Asia, a further series of difficult questions can be asked that are more normative and policy-oriented.  These turn around what should have been done, and what should be done in the future.  Strong environmental arguments criticizing all coastal development are not likely to receive a very receptive audience in Southeast Asia.  A more useful approach might be to ask how development might be shaped so as to minimize these new vulnerabilities.  Who is best situated to assess these risks, and how might these risk assessments be translated into appropriate policy? 


The purpose of the research to be funded through the MCRI is to investigate precisely these sorts of questions.  For more information contact Peter Vandergeest at the York Centre for Asian Research, 270York Lanes, 4700 Keele St., Toronto ON Canada M3J1P3.


Acehnese Deserve Better:  After more than a century of misery,

it is time to make amends in Aceh, by Anthony Reid, The Straits Times, Singapore,

04 January 2005

THE magnitude of the devastation visited on Aceh on Dec 26 is almost beyond comprehension. No natural disaster in Indonesian, or indeed South-east Asian, history comes close to the mounting toll of death and destruction of this undersea earthquake and tsunamis. The whole thickly populated coastal strip from Lhokseumawe in the east to Meulaboh in the west appears to have been devastated.

In the district of West Aceh, where communication is very difficult at the best of times, life appears to have almost vanished from all the coastal towns and villages, normally home to about 200,000 people. Only 200 living people were found by the first relief unit to be able to land in Meulaboh, its capital, from a pre-tsunami population of about 60,000. While one hopes that many were able to flee inland, they will face mounting difficulties to stay alive as unwanted guests of the scattered hill villages.

The provincial capital, Banda Aceh, normally home to 200,000 people and to most of the military and civilian infrastructure, has been devastated. The Indonesian disaster response has been tragically slow, but little more could be expected given the disruption to military and civilian facilities. Although the military has 30,000 men on a war footing in Aceh, it appears to have been largely incapacitated by the disaster. Reportedly, only one of its helicopters in the province survived. Even worse is likely to come, as the lack of clean water and adequate food and shelter takes its toll on the survivors. Those bringing international aid encounter disorganisation, demoralisation and distrust between the military and people. They need clarity as to who is in charge.

This appalling disaster comes after more than a century of misery for the stoic people of this richly endowed region. Aceh has had only a few decades of peace since being invaded by the Dutch in 1873 with very little warning. Forty years of bitter resistance to Dutch occupation lost Aceh perhaps a fifth of its population and transformed it from one of South-east Asia's more prosperous and strategically important centres to an embittered backwater.

Aceh was effectively under military occupation by the Dutch until 1942 and the Japanese until 1945. After a brief experience of running its own show in 1945 to 1951, it was again under military occupation in 1953 to 1962, during the Daud Beureu'eh rebellion, and in 1989 to 1998, when then president Suharto's army sought to suppress the Aceh independence movement (GAM) of Hasan di Tiro. Still, GAM became very popular under democratic conditions after Suharto's fall.

Finally, since May 2003, a military solution has again been attempted, and thousands more people have been killed in military offensives and punitive actions, without notably removing the core of resistance. Throughout this emergency period, foreign journalists, aid workers and others have been excluded from the province, as the government sought to remove Aceh from international headlines. Having suffered the brutal militarisation of its institutions and its society for over a century, now Aceh has been hit by a colossal natural disaster, the losses of which on a single day dwarf even the tens of thousands that the region has lost to warfare.

To its credit, the international community has also responded in an unprecedented way. The military forces of Singapore, the United States and Australia are already in Aceh dispensing desperately needed supplies, and US$2 billion (S$3.3 billion) has been pledged in aid to the affected regions, of which at least half should in fairness be destined for Aceh. The aid givers have their first chance at the Jakarta summit on Thursday to try to ensure that Aceh's poisonous politics do not again negate all efforts for assistance. In catastrophes such as this, military forces are best able to deliver aid quickly, and the foreign military units naturally look to their local counterparts to guide and direct. But in Aceh, the military has been the major part of the problem, not the solution.

Over the past 50 years it has killed and rendered homeless too many Acehnese for there to be trust between people and army. The carefully constructed reform legislation to give the widest possible autonomy to Aceh (the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam or NAD law of 2001) has been completely vitiated by military control of all the levers of power since May 2003. The need for the underfunded military to raise money from various business and protection rackets has ensured that little of Aceh's wealth has yet benefited its people.

The foreign aid, in other words, must be delivered to the people who need it as directly as possible, without the mediation of the Indonesian military. The best way to ensure this would be for the summit meeting to endorse and carry forward the ceasefire that both GAM and President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono have said they favour. TNI units on the ground in Aceh have been quoted as ignoring this ceasefire, and the higher command needs encouragement in its resolve to bring them into line. Both TNI and GAM need to be disarmed during the long process of reconstruction, with law enforcement becoming the responsibility of Aceh police stiffened by international police units under United Nations' responsibility. Both TNI and GAM forces may be able to assist in the reconstruction of areas where they are strong, but only if they are disarmed while doing so, and thereby unable to continue the division and brutalisation of the populace.

The Yudhoyono government has, to its credit, declared open access to Aceh for international aid givers. This runs counter to the instincts of the local military, and again the international community will need to be clear about permanently full access, not just for aid givers, but for the journalists who will sustain global interest in the problem. The government of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, in which Mr Yudhoyono was largely responsible for Aceh policy, had allowed international peace monitors (from Thailand and the Philippines) during the peace agreement of 2002 to 2003.

This crisis demands an even more generous response towards accepting the internationalisation of Aceh's reconstruction. The UN needs to assume authority for the international aid effort, in cooperation with Mr Alwi Shihab, the civilian minister President Yudhoyono has placed in charge. Only the demilitarisation of Aceh under some form of international guarantee can make possible the full implementation of the NAD autonomy law and the emergence through elections of a leadership Acehnese can trust. Acehnese have suffered enough. They deserve this.

Anthony Reid is the Director of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore and the author of three books on Aceh's history.


York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR). For further information, contact Ste. 270 York Lanes, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON  M3J 1P3. URL: