Professor Amitav Acharya, friend of South-east Asia


Professor Amitav Acharya, friend of South-east Asia
by Asad Latif
(This article appeared in the Straits Times, 3 September 2000)

Professor Amitav Acharya is an Indian-born Canadian scholar who fell in love with South-east Asia. The result is a book which he describes as his tribute to a region which contains the finest mosaic of societies. He tells ASAD LATIF his thoughts on the region.

When I first ran into Professor Amitav Acharya years ago, I realised that, in the young scholar of international relations, South-east Asia had found a friend from South Asia.

Though technically an outsider, he thought and spoke like an insider, one to whom the rhythms and patterns of South-east Asian life were not alien at all.

Over the years, familiarity with this region has turned, not into contempt, but love.

Born in India in 1962, he was educated there and in Australia. He spent two years in Singapore, from 1987 to 1989, as a fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies. Since then, he has traveled extensively in the region and has held research and teaching positions at several universities.

Now a Canadian citizen, he is an associate professor at Canada’s York University and a fellow of Harvard University’s Asia Centre.

Currently, the bachelor is a visiting associate professor at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

In an interview before the release of his book, The Quest For Identity: International Relations Of South-east Asia, published by Oxford University Press, he said that his love affair with the region was one reason for writing it.

“”I have traveled extensively throughout the region, trekked in some of its remotest corners, climbed its highest mountain, sailed in its mightiest rivers, and relaxed on its finest beaches. I have made friends with people of all cultures and have been amazed by their receptiveness towards outsiders like myself,” he said.

“”I have a deep feel for the region’s tremendous diversity, cultural, political and human. It is a diversity which I find profoundly enriching and immensely alluring.

“”This book is my way of paying tribute to a region which contains the finest mosaic of societies and cultures, many of which, in spite of being unique, are always open to ideas and influences from outside.”

The book was launched by President S.R. Nathan on Friday.

There were two other reasons why he wrote the book. First, he wanted to provide an alternative to “”event-driven narratives” of South-east Asia’s international relations that focus on short-term and narrow policy debates and issues, ignoring the long-term historical context of events and actors.

Second, event-driven studies are not taken seriously by other South-east Asian specialists, such as historians, sociologists and anthropologists.

“”As a result, there is a gap in understanding between the various disciplinary approaches to South-east Asia. Many of them talk past, rather than talk to, each other. My book is intended to bridge this gap to some extent,” said Prof Acharya.

His own achievements in the field of international relations help to strengthen the bridge.

Not only has he co-taught a project on new institutionalism in Asia with the renowned American scholar Ezra Vogel, but also, he has served on a number of international panels concerned with global and regional security.

They include the Japan Forum on International Relations’ project on Asia-Pacific security cooperation, the American Council on Foreign Relations’ study group on China, Harvard’s Vision Asia 21 project and its project on regional governance in Asia

Imagined Community

IN THAT spirit of cross-disciplinary fraternising, he invoked the historian Benedict Anderson’s concept of a nation as an “”imagined community”.

“”Regions, like nation-states, are imagined, nurtured and defended. Just as the nation-state cannot be viable without a sense of nationalism, regions cannot be viable without a sense of regionalism,” explained the international relations scholar.

While his approach is similar to the other scholar’s work, a crucial difference is that Prof Acharya is writing about regions, not nations.

Also, the historian thought of “”imagining” in terms of a local elite learning an alien concept — nationalism — while training in the West, a concept which had been propagated through the print media.

“”My book develops a more indigenous take on “imagining’, based on local historical, cultural and normative traditions, and indigenous patterns of statecraft and diplomacy. “”In this way, I believe that this book creates the basis for developing a new framework for understanding regionalism and the idea of region,” he added.

Elaborating on the theme of indigenous forces, he referred to the pre-colonial pattern of international relations in South-east Asia.

The pattern, he recalled, had been described as a patchwork of overlapping mandalas, rather than “”a configuration in which a strong centre, a local hegemon, dominates its peripheries, as in the Chinese world order”.

A mandala is a sacred diagram that resembles a wheel which turns forever and is supposed to represent the universe.

Colonialism disrupted the traditional pattern, but regionalism had gone a long way in re-establishing it, he added.

It is easier to understand now why his book is entitled The Quest For Identity.

Too Diverse To Be Distinctive

TO PROF ACHARYA, South-east Asia’s international relations could be best understood as a process of identity-building.

He noted that there had been no notion of South-east Asia before the South-east Asia Command, the seat of the Allied effort in the region during World War II. Before then, the region was seen as a cultural extension of two neighbouring civilisations, India and China.

Even today, South-east Asia remained too diverse to stake a genuine claim to be a distinctive region.

But the answer, Prof Acharya reiterated, was to study the region from the perspective that it is an imagined community.

“”It is imagined and constructed both from without (by outsiders, including colonial powers, and Western scholars on the region) as well as from within, by leaders, peoples and scholars.

“”Crucially, there has been a gradual shift from the importance of external actors in imagining the region to local actors,” he added.

Hence, he pays tribute to local regionalists, who tried to develop regional cooperation both before and since Asean’s formation, in making the notion of South-east Asia a reality.

An entire chapter of the book is devoted to early regionalist efforts by the Myanmar nationalist leader Aung San, the Vietnamese hero Ho Chi Minh and the Indonesian leader Sukarno.

Their vision of South-east Asia after the departure of colonialism was that of a region free of foreign domination and one in which countries themselves determined the nature of the regional order.

The book goes on to examine how different forms of nationalism — especially the divide between the moderate version preferred by Malaysian founding father Tunku Abdul Rahman and the radical versions desired by Ho and Sukarno — led to different approaches to constructing regional identity, and why the moderate version prevailed.

The South-east Asia that came into being after colonialism was certainly anti-imperialist, but the break with the past in non-revolutionary countries did not take the form envisaged by revolutionaries such as Ho, who foresaw a radical break with the political institutions inherited from the colonial period.

Asked whether he was optimistic about the future, the professor responded with a note of warning.

“”Since South-east Asia was and remains an imagined or constructed notion, there is also a possibility for it to unravel if those involved in the act of imagining and constructing it, like the current Asean leaders, lose their political will to do so,” he said.

“”I am worried that this may have been happening since the Asian economic crisis,” he added, noting however: “”My point is that in spite of adverse material circumstances, regionalism can be made to work if there is political will and if actors continue to imagine themselves and socialise themselves as being part of a community.”

That is a reassuring comment, coming as it does from a scholar who takes the long view of things.

94 thoughts on “Professor Amitav Acharya, friend of South-east Asia

  • April 15, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google,
    and found that it is really informative. I am going to watch out for brussels.
    I will be grateful if you continue this in future. Lots of people
    will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  • April 15, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Hi, I do believe this is a great blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will revisit yet again since i have bookmarked it.
    Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help

  • April 16, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Hi there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with
    SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
    seeing very good success. If you know of any please share.

  • April 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it
    helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and help others
    like you aided me.

  • April 16, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    This piece of writing will assist the internet viewers for setting up new weblog or even a
    blog from start to end.

  • April 19, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading
    and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  • April 19, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I got this site from my pal who told me about this web
    page and at the moment this time I am browsing this site and reading very informative content at this time.

  • April 19, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Hi there to every single one, it’s genuinely a nice for me to pay a quick visit
    this site, it contains helpful Information.

  • April 20, 2017 at 8:43 am

    I really love your website.. Great colors & theme. Did you make this site yourself?
    Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my own website and would love to know where you got this from or what the theme is named.


  • April 20, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Its not my first time to go to see this site,
    i am visiting this web site dailly and take fastidious information from here everyday.

  • April 20, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog and I am inspired!
    Very useful info particularly the final part 🙂 I care
    for such information much. I used to be seeking this particular information for a long
    time. Thanks and good luck.

  • April 21, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Today, I went to the beach front with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave
    it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally
    off topic but I had to tell someone!

  • April 21, 2017 at 9:55 am

    I get pleasure from, lead to I discovered exactly what I used to be taking a
    look for. You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a
    great day. Bye

  • April 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    magnificent points altogether, you just received a new reader.

    What would you recommend about your put up that you made a few days
    in the past? Any sure?

  • April 22, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be
    ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

  • April 22, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Hey, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, superb blog!

  • April 23, 2017 at 7:06 am

    If some one wants expert view concerning blogging and
    site-building afterward i propose him/her to pay a visit this weblog, Keep up the good work.

  • April 23, 2017 at 10:21 am

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality blogs online.
    I will highly recommend this website!

  • April 24, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Hello, i think that i noticed you visited my website thus i got here to return the prefer?.I’m attempting to find things
    to improve my site!I guess its good enough to make use of a few of your ideas!!

  • April 24, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Hey I am so happy I found your webpage, I really found you by error, while
    I was browsing on Aol for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to
    say thanks for a tremendous post and a all round enjoyable blog (I
    also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all at the moment but I have
    book-marked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I
    will be back to read more, Please do keep up the great jo.

  • April 24, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    It’s not my first time to go to see this web page, i am browsing this site
    dailly and take nice facts from here all the time.

  • April 26, 2017 at 4:08 am

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design.
    Excellent choice of colors!

  • April 26, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand
    your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely excellent.

    I actually like what you’ve acquired here,
    really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it.
    You make it entertaining and you still take care of
    to keep it smart. I can not wait to read far more from you.

    This is really a great web site.

  • April 26, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Good article. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..

  • April 28, 2017 at 9:59 am

    That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the
    blogosphere. Short but very accurate info… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read post!

  • April 28, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Hi there, all the time i used to check website posts here early in the daylight, since
    i like to learn more and more.

  • April 28, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Every weekend i used to visit this web page,
    because i want enjoyment, as this this web site conations truly pleasant funny data

  • April 28, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement?
    My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced
    but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help stop content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.

  • May 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Hi there, its good post regarding media print, we all
    be familiar with media is a impressive source of data.

  • May 2, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    I’m extremely inspired along with your writing skills as neatly as with the format for your weblog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it’s rare
    to see a nice weblog like this one today..

  • May 4, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Howdy I am so delighted I found your blog, I really found
    you by error, while I was looking on Google for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to
    say thanks for a fantastic post and a all round interesting blog (I
    also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all
    at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have
    time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the excellent work.

  • May 4, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Thank you for any other informative site. Where else
    may just I am getting that type of information written in such a perfect method?
    I have a venture that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out
    for such info.

  • May 4, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will come back once again since
    i have book marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change,
    may you be rich and continue to guide others.

  • May 8, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Hey are using WordPress for your site platform?

    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own.
    Do you need any html coding expertise to make your own blog?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • May 8, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they
    just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people
    could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  • May 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    My brother suggested I would possibly like this web site.

    He used to be totally right. This publish truly made my
    day. You can not consider just how a lot time I had spent for this info!

  • May 10, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Hi there, constantly i used to check web
    site posts here in the early hours in the morning, because i like to gain knowledge of more and

  • May 11, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Some truly interesting information, well written and generally user pleasant.

  • May 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    It’s very easy to find out any matter on net as compared
    to books, as I found this post at this web page.

  • May 15, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    For newest information you have to go to see web and on web I found this
    web page as a most excellent web site for latest updates.

  • May 15, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Hello it’s me, I am also visiting this web page on a regular basis, this web page is
    actually nice and the visitors are actually sharing nice

  • May 15, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    This is my first time visit at here and i am really happy to read everthing at
    one place.

  • May 15, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I am actually grateful to the holder of this web page who has shared this fantastic paragraph at at this place.

  • May 15, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    It’s not my first time to go to see this web site,
    i am browsing this web site dailly and take good
    data from here daily.

  • May 24, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Its like you learn my thoughts! You appear to know
    a lot about this, like you wrote the e book in it or something.
    I feel that you can do with some % to drive the message house a bit, but instead of that, this is great blog.
    A great read. I will certainly be back.

  • May 24, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too.
    This kind of clever work and coverage! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys to my personal blogroll.

  • May 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

    It’s not my first time to pay a visit this site,
    i am visiting this website dailly and obtain nice data from here all
    the time.

  • May 24, 2017 at 11:02 am

    This is a topic that’s close to my heart… Best wishes!
    Where are your contact details though?

  • May 24, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Super-Duper website! I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am taking your feeds also

  • May 25, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Hello! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with
    Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good results.
    If you know of any please share. Thank you!

  • May 25, 2017 at 10:51 am

    We absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be just what I’m
    looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for you
    personally? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you
    write in relation to here. Again, awesome blog!

  • May 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    We absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.

    Does one offer guest writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects
    you write with regards to here. Again, awesome weblog!

  • May 25, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Your mode of describing everything in this paragraph is actually fastidious,
    all be capable of easily be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

  • May 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    I have read several excellent stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting.
    I wonder how so much effort you set to create one of these great informative web site.

  • May 25, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.
    I’ll definitely return.

  • May 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Do you have a spam issue on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have developed
    some nice procedures and we are looking to trade techniques with
    other folks, be sure to shoot me an e-mail if

  • May 26, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about fifa 18 tips para.


  • May 26, 2017 at 9:41 am

    I am sure this post has touched all the internet users, its really really
    nice paragraph on building up new website.

  • May 26, 2017 at 11:02 am

    I think this is one of the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article.
    But wanna remark on few general things, The website style
    is ideal, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  • June 6, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    I had fun reading this post. I want to see more on this subject.. Gives Thanks for writing this nice article.. Anyway, I’m going to subscribe to your rss and I wish you write great articles again soon.

  • June 7, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Hello, I check your new stuff daily. Your writing style is awesome, keep it up!

  • June 7, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    My brother suggested I may like this web site. He was once entirely right.
    This publish actually made my day. You cann’t consider simply how
    so much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  • June 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Hi there colleagues, its fantastic article on the
    topic of teachingand entirely defined, keep it up all the time.

  • June 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding
    more. Thanks for magnificent info I was looking
    for this information for my mission.

  • June 7, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Hello my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing,
    great written and come with almost all vital infos.
    I’d like to peer more posts like this .

  • June 7, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people about this
    topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  • June 7, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Quality articles or reviews is the important to
    attract the people to pay a quick visit the site, that’s what this site is providing.

  • June 7, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    This article provides clear idea designed for the new
    people of blogging, that really how to do running a blog.

  • June 7, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    I constantly emailed this website post page to all
    my associates, because if like to read it then my contacts will

  • June 8, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    I visited multiple websites except the audio quality for audio
    songs present at this web page is really wonderful.

  • June 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Every weekend i used to visit this web page, for the
    reason that i want enjoyment, for the reason that this this site conations actually fastidious funny information too.

  • June 8, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Hello! This post could not be written any better!

    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 8, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks designed for sharing such a fastidious opinion, post
    is fastidious, thats why i have read it completely

  • June 8, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    I constantly emailed this website post page to all my contacts, since if like
    to read it next my friends will too.

  • June 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Hi colleagues, its great post concerning cultureand entirely explained, keep it up all
    the time.

  • June 11, 2017 at 9:52 am

    This post offers clear idea for the new visitors of
    blogging, that truly how to do blogging and site-building.

  • June 12, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Hey I am so happy I found your blog page,
    I really found you by mistake, while I was looking
    on Yahoo for something else, Anyways I am here now and would
    just like to say thanks for a incredible post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time
    to read it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back
    to read more, Please do keep up the awesome b.

  • June 14, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Hi there to all, as I am actually eager of reading this webpage’s post to be updated daily.
    It carries good stuff.

  • June 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    I think this is among the so much vital info for me. And i’m happy reading your article. But wanna remark on few common issues, The site style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent : D. Just right job, cheers

  • June 18, 2017 at 6:19 am

    I am glad to be a visitor on this website!, regards for this rare information!

  • June 19, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Hi there would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re utilizing?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different browsers and
    I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a reasonable price?
    Thanks, I appreciate it!

  • June 20, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but I’m glad I visited. I will post a link to this site on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

  • June 21, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Have you given any kind of thought at all with converting your current web-site into French? I know a couple of of translaters here that will would certainly help you do it for no cost if you want to get in touch with me personally.

  • June 23, 2017 at 1:24 am

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for
    me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?

    Great work!

  • June 23, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!

    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future.
    Many thanks

  • June 23, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I simply want to tell you that I am just beginner to weblog and definitely liked you’re web-site. Very likely I’m likely to bookmark your site . You absolutely come with very good writings. Thanks for revealing your web-site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.