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Vietnamese Australians’ Community: Realities and Prospects

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A Vietnamese Australian is an Australian, either born in Vietnam or having Vietnamese ancestors. These people make up the community of Vietnamese Australians and contribute significantly to both the Australian and Vietnamese economies as well as the comprehensive partnership relationship between the two countries. The circumstance behind the establishment of this community, however, was anything but without incidents.

In 1975 Vietnam was liberated from the US-backed Saigon regime. The new united Vietnam, christened the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was then established. Since then, particularly between 1975 and 1990, many people who worked for the South Vietnam government left Vietnam to reside abroad, including in Australia. According to the 1991 National Census, there were 124,800 people born in Vietnam residing in Australia and in 2001 there were 154,000. In 2011 this figure rose to 185,000. In the same year there were 219,000 people who spoke Vietnamese at home. (1)

The greatest proportion of Vietnamese Australians lives in Sydney (with strong vibrant communities in Sydney’s west and south west) and Melbourne although many of the second generation now live throughout Australia. The social mix of the refugees included people from all professions and walks of life in Vietnam which is reflected in today’s Vietnamese Australian communities. Mahayana Buddhism is the main religion of the community, followed by Christianity both Catholic and Protestant. The main festivals observed by Vietnamese Australians include Tet Nguyen Dan, the Lunar (or Chinese) New Year, and Tet Trung Thu (the Mid-Autumn Festival).

The article will analyze the Vietnamese Australians’ contribution to the Commonwealth of Australia and Vietnam in terms of economic development, the forging of a multiracial and multicultural society as well as the promotion of the comprehensive partnership relationship between Vietnam and Australia. The article will analyze the current problems of the Vietnamese Australian Community and suggest measures to overcome these problems. The article will also forecast the prospect of Vietnamese Australian Community in Australia in the future and propose some suggestions to improve the role and status of Vietnamese Australians in both Australia and Vietnam.

1. Australia and Her Immigration Policy Towards Asian Refugees
Being a unique country created in a unique historical background, the nature of Australian nationalism and nation building has been considerably debated.
Australia was a colonial society generated in the period of the great imperialist competitions of the nineteenth century, having then accepted modern nationhood while still responding to the imperial imperatives of Great Britain. This colonial past has resulted in two unresolved consequences: The first of these imperatives remains the effective subjugation of the original nations, and their incorporation into each of the three subsystems. Much of contemporary debate about Indigenous issues reflects the “unfinished business” – both for the empire project and the people subject to it. The second imperative is the defence of the original imperial peoples against competing external empires (understood as cultural systems rather than militarily driven state invasions). They are both different faces of the Australian empire project: (i) the successful imposition in a new land of a cultural, political and economic system; (ii) and that system privileges and secures the interests of the colonizing peoples. The strategy has been presented as multiculturalism (since about 1975) and has sought to suppress the racial nature of Australian nationhood, through assertions of commitments to modern values of equality in cultural relations, and capacity to contribute to economic development in immigration policies.(2)

By 1966 under the Prime Minister Holt Edward (Liberal), Australia had signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Educated, English-speaking Asians were being accepted – reflecting the idea of orientation to modernity as the organizing principle around which race could be reduced as a criterion of population selection. A modernizing nation would accept modernized populations, as they were expected to share values of democracy and economic productivity, and be bearers of significant stores of human capital (created by the investment by their states of origin). The new ALP government in 1973 withdrew all racial references in the Immigration Act, expecting that the modernity model of non-White immigration would continue as the norm. Indeed, a central ideological tenet of global modernity was created for this purpose, the concept of multiculturalism and its programmatic implementation.

Initially the Australian government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (3) was reluctant to get involved with the inflow of Asian refugees in spite of the aforementioned convention. Yet the arrival of the fishing boat KG4435 at a wharf in Darwin in April 1976 during the next government led by Malcolm Fraser meant that there had to be actions to take. The boat was the first sign of what had been happening throughout Southeast Asia, and soon it became a problem faced by every Australian government thereafter.

Fraser’s government’s solution was to broker a deal with the Asian countries of first refuge. The goal was twofold: To take the refugee problem off public attention, yet at the same time manage their arrival so as not to interfere with the Australian national interest and integrity. The government proposed that if the countries would no longer refuel the boats and send them towards the undefended north Australian coast, then Australia would take 15,000 refugees a year from the camps. However, the Australian government would choose those refugees it wanted in relation to their ‘fit’ with Australian priorities – thus attempting to sustain the modernity framework for population intake (and, in the process, minimize those with disabilities etc. who might be a long term cost to Australia).  This became, more or less, a framework for later governments in dealing with refugee issues that persists until today (4).

Once the first wave of refugees had been contained and a system found to process them, Australia sought ways to manage the continuing pressures. This period is marked by two contradicting views of the two Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard. Prime Minister Bob Hawke argued that if the outsiders (refugees) are seen as strengthening the depth of the cultural resources of the community, the level of perceived threat to Australia is reduced. Criminal deviance can then be seen as a minority activity, requiring normal social control strategies, rather than reflecting the essential differences between communities, or defining the core of the culture of the “Others”. On the contrary, in the late 1980s, John Howard as an opposition leader considered the outsiders as a threat to social cohesion.(5)

This duality, at its root, represents the real issue with white (or previously settled) Australian’s view on Vietnamese refugees and the subsequent community. Given the insecurities and prejudice deeply rooted in history, how the “existing population” views the “newcomers” will play an important role in defining how well they would fit into the new society and their social roles in the years thereafter.

As social cohesion and the formation of a modern, internally consistent and stable Australia began to be called into question, the position of the Vietnamese community once again was the target of much debate. The gist of the modern Australian Empire Project is the creation of an Australia that can compete with nations in the world on equal footing while maintaining an advanced, progressive, democratic and developed society at home. To this goal, social cohesion is key element. Previously, ever since the arrival of the Vietnamese refugee community as a full-fledged ethnic group, there have been many arguments to and for multiculturalism and their role in promoting or undermining the Australian internal solidarity and social cohesion. At that time, these arguments were based more on cultural and social grounds than economic.

The argument involving social cohesion was extended to economic grounds in the wake of the proposal from Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research. It stated that the Vietnamese were forming part of an emerging structural underclass.(6) As it happened, the Vietnamese community in Sydney, whose composition consisted of a large portion of ‘recent migrants who lack the skills to compete in the contemporary labour market’ (7) was found to be contributing to the sedimentation of poverty. The polarization of income groups had accelerated from 1976 to 1991, and intensified over the next five years. This period paralleled the rise in Vietnamese immigration; the impact of this polarization was most evident amongst the Vietnamese, and by implication may indeed have been a consequence of their presence.(8)
In sum, in that quarter century, a generation, a social revolution had occurred in Australia: from a society with White Australia as a recent and avowedly racist population selection policy, to an egalitarian policy now avowedly non-racist; from a society in which Asian faces were still extraordinary, to one where visible diversity is everywhere; and from a society with little sense of non-European cultures and traditions, to one where every Buddha’s birthday has senior politicians lining up to be seen at Vietnamese temples.

2. Immigration Reality from Vietnam to Australia
The community of Vietnamese Australians was established by refugees from the war in Vietnam and was the first large group of Asian immigrants to settle in Australia after the end of the White Australia policy in 1973. The migration of Vietnamese to Australia, which has occurred mostly during the last 40 years, has two distinct phases: (i) before Vietnam’s renovation policy with assisting orphans pre-1975 and refugee resettlement during 1975–1985; (ii) and after renovation policy with purpose of family reunions, since the late 80s.

2.1. Immigration from Vietnam to Australia Before Renovation Policy
From 1958, Vietnamese students started to arrive in Australia to study at universities under the Colombo Plan. Almost all of these students returned to Vietnam after finishing their courses. Meanwhile, Australia committed combat troops to the Vietnam War in 1965. Later, many of these troops and other Australians married Vietnamese people and brought them back to Australia. Additionally, as a result of war there were over 800,000 orphans in South Vietnam alone. Australian families adopted 537 Vietnamese orphaned babies and infants between 1972 and 1975. This was the beginning of the first wave of permanent Vietnamese migration to Australia. In 1975 there were only about 1,000 people born in Vietnam living in Australia consisting of 335 Colombo Plan students; 130 private Vietnamese students; and over 500 orphans adopted by Australian families.(9) 

After the fall of Saigon Regime in 1975, Australia, being a signatory to the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees” agreed to resettle its share of Vietnam-born refugees under a refugee resettlement plan between 1975 and 1985. In reality, Australia accepted Vietnam War refugees and arrivals of Vietnamese people increased rapidly. Once Prime Minister Fraser (from 11 November 1975 to 11 March 1983) had committed to taking the Vietnamese refugees, he was able to call on a shared liberal value set among his supporters in the Coalition, and the various spokespeople for the ALP Opposition, to fuse a solid wall of commitment to multiculturalism as the state ideology of inter-communal relations. Under this approach there was little argument about the Vietnamese policy at the level of parliamentary debate – other than to stress the need for services and the pressures to which government should respond.(10)

The resettlement of Vietnamese refugees did not happen without incidents. As refugees supported by the Australian government of the time, they were largely resettled in localities around the large migration centers. This is to say places like Cabramatta and Fairfield (Sydney), where already a relatively large population of previous immigrants – Yugoslavs, Italians, Russians, among others – existed. Unlike other postwar refugee communities, however, the Vietnamese community tended not to disperse from their initial place of settlement. As a result, they became a significant, condensed ethnic group in these localities, a fact that would fuel contention and public fallout for years to come.

Of these Vietnamese refugees, who arrived in the immediate post-war period, four main groups can be identified with different but in some cases overlapping arrival times: (i) the first group, arriving in 1975 was mostly elite Vietnamese, Chinese businessmen and Catholics. This group happened right before and after the liberation of South Vietnam; (ii) the second group arriving in 1976–78 was a gradually increasing outflow of refugees from camps outside Vietnam. In 1976 the first boat KG4435 arrived in Australia carrying refugees who had by-passed formal immigration procedures (11). Desperate to find a new home, they were accepted as immigrants on humanitarian grounds (see Table 1). Within three years a further 53 refugee boats had arrived; (iii) the third group, arriving in 1978, were mostly owners of private businesses, especially Chinese. Many of the boats that began to arrive in Australia had been refueled in Malaysia and then sent on their way. In addition, many of these refugees were not in fact boat people – but rather people being processed through refugee camps; (iv) The fourth group were so called ‘economic refugees’, mostly small traders, rural and urban workers and the unemployed. These left Vietnam during the socio-economic turmoil of the 1980s searching for a better life elsewhere and for the most parts weren’t fueled by political reasons.

Table 1: Vietnamese Population in Australia, 1976-2001

 

Census Year

Born in Vietnam

% change

The second generation

Speak Vietnamese

% change

% Australia- born speaking Vietnamese

1976

2,427

         

1981

41,096

   

n/a

   

1986

83,028

100

 

n/a

   

1991

121,813

50

25,151

110,817

 

16

1996

150,941

25

46,756

146,265

30

26

2001

154,831

3

n/a

174,236

20

n/a

Source:Andrew Jakubowicz, A Quintessential Collision:  Vietnamese in Australia after a generation of settlement

and adaptation, University of Technology Sydney, May 2004.

After the initial intake of refugees in the late 1970s, there was a second immigration peak in 1983-84, most likely a result of the 1982 agreement between the Australian and Vietnamese governments on the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which allowed relatives of Vietnamese Australians to leave Vietnam and migrate to Australia. This means that ODP emphasized family reunion, and two-thirds of arrivals over the next few years were women. Then the first immigrants from Vietnam under this program arrived in Australia in 1982. Within a few years the Vietnam-born population of Australia would again double. A third immigration peak in the late 1980s seems to have been mainly due to Australia’s family reunion scheme. At the 1981 census, there were 41,096 people born in Vietnamese in Australia, a very large increase from the 1976 level (see Table 1). (12)

2.2 Vietnamese Immigration to Australia Since Renovation Policy (1986)
In 1986 the Vietnamese government committed to the Doi Moi (renovation) Policy, liberalizing the market and undertaking structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The July 1989 International Conference adopted a Comprehensive Plan of Action that would have the effect of reducing the acceptance rate, increasing delays, and leaving about 40,000 rejected applicants in camps who refused to go back to Vietnam. In the wake of this situation the boats began to arrive again, with about 2,000 Indochinese arriving between 1989 and 1995, though the Vietnamese were few in numbers. The situation they faced had changed dramatically from what was before. These arrivals were now detained in camps in remote parts of Australia, facing arduous checks on their bona fides. When a couple walked out of one camp in 1992, security was intensified, based on a supposition that all unauthorized arrivals might seek to escape from lawful custody. All unauthorized arrivals, therefore and thereon, had to be interned under high security.

However, from the late 1980s Australia’s family reunion program was officially applied, called the ‘Vietnamese Family Migration Program’ (VFMP). Over 90,000 refugees were processed and entered Australia during this time. By the 1990s, the number of Vietnam-born migrating to Australia had surpassed the number entering as refugees. Between 1991 and 1993, the percentage of Vietnam-born migrants had reached 77% of the total intake of Vietnam-born arriving in Australia. By 1996 Vietnamese immigration had effectively ceased – tough new rules on family reunion made by the Howard government (from 11 March 1996) meant that there was a net increases of less than 4,000 over the 1996-2001 census period. Meanwhile the community was reflecting many of the characteristics of a mature group: for instance, by 2001 over one in four Vietnamese speakers was Australian born, while in 1996, 86% of Vietnamese had adopted Australian citizenship; and by 2000, the percentage of Vietnam-born migrants had climbed to 98%. In 2001-2002, 1,919 Vietnam-born migrants and 44 humanitarian entrants settled in Australia (see Figure 1). (13)

In the 2001 census, the 155,000 people of Vietnamese ancestry were first or second generation Australians; first generation Australians of Vietnamese ancestry outnumbered second generation Australians with Vietnamese ancestry (74%: 26%). Relatively few people of Vietnamese ancestry stated another ancestry (6%). Among the leading ancestries, the proportion of people who spoke a language other than English at home was highest for those of Vietnamese (96%). (14) At the 2006 census, 173,663 Australian residents declared themselves to be of Vietnamese ancestry.

fig02

In more recent years the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants have come to Australia through the Family Stream although there are growing numbers of skilled migrants. Permanent migration refers to the number of visas granted in any given year, without taking into account whether the visa recipient actually arrived and settled in Australia. In 2012-13, 30% of permanent visas granted to Vietnamese nationals were skilled visas, up from 17 per cent in 2009–10. A total of 5,339 Vietnamese nationals were granted a permanent visa through Australia’s Migration Programme in 2012–13, with the Family Stream accounting for 70% of visas granted. Of permanent migration, skilled migration focuses on facilitating the permanent entry of those who can make a positive contribution to Australia through their skills, qualifications, entrepreneurial spirit and employment potential. In 2012–13: (i) among the 128 & 973 skilled visas were granted, Vietnamese nationals accounted for 1.2% (1,592 grants) of the total. Compared to 2011–12, skilled visas granted to Vietnamese nationals rose by 49%. This represented an overall rise of 136% since 2009−10 and the highest on the record.  Much of this recent growth can be explained by a large increase in Employer Sponsorship, from 392 grants in 2011–12 to 898 grants in 2012−13, a 129% increase; (ii) Skilled visas granted to Vietnamese nationals accounted for nearly one-third (30%) of all permanent visas granted. While this share is low compared to most other countries it has increased from a share of 17% in 2009−10. Vietnam moved back to 15th position as source of skilled migrants in 2012–13 after falling to 19th in 2011−12; (iii) Points Tested Skilled Migration accounted for 34% of all skilled visas issued to Vietnamese nationals. Accountants, cooks and software and applications programmers were among the main occupations for new Points Tested Skilled Migration visa holders.

In addition, family migration facilitates the entry of close family members of Australian citizens, permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens. The programme is currently dominated by partners and dependent children, but also provides options for other family members, such as Carers, Parents and Aged Dependent Relatives. In 2012–13: (i) 60 cases of 185 family visas were granted, with grants to Vietnamese nationals accounting for 6.2% (3,716 grants) of the total. This made Vietnam the fifth largest provider of Family migrants to Australia; (ii) permanent family visas granted through the Migration Programme were 2.7% higher, but for Vietnamese nationals they were only increased by 0.8%: (iii) the Family Stream accounted for 7 in 10 permanent visas granted to Vietnamese Nationals – 73% of visas granted in this stream were to partners of an Australian resident.

Permanent additions are the sum of those granted a permanent residency visa while in Australia and those granted a visa through an Australian mission abroad, who has entered Australia during the respective reporting period. In 2012–13, there were 5,940 Vietnam-born permanent additions to the Australian resident population. Among these new additions there are: (i) Skill Stream comprising 750 skilled migrants and 784 accompanying family members and accounted for 26% of all permanent additions; (ii) Family Stream, made up of 4087 migrants and accounted for 69% of all permanent additions; (iii) Non-programme Vietnamese-born New Zealand citizens account for 2.9% of all permanent additions (se Figure 1). (15)

Apart form that, the subclass 457 visa programme allows Australian employers to sponsor foreign workers for employment in management, professional, technical and skilled trades’ positions. The programme is demand-driven and highly responsive to Australian labour market conditions. In 2012–13 demand for this visa remained high and increased from 125,070 in 2011–12 to 126,350 – an 86% rise since 2009–10: (i) In 2012–13, 1310 subclass 457 visas were granted to Vietnamese nationals – 115% higher than 2011–12 and 245% higher than the number granted in 2009–10; (ii) Among the Vietnamese workers sponsored under this programme, café and restaurant managers, accountants and cooks were the main occupation for which Australian employers recruited from abroad.(16)

By the end of 2013, there were 215,000 people born in Vietnam were resident in Australia and over 250,000 people speaking Vietnamese at home. This is equivalent to 3.5% of Australia’s overseas-born population (17). There may additionally be persons of Vietnamese descent born in Australia, or of arguably non-Vietnamese ancestries (such as Cantonese) born in Vietnam.(18) About 0.9% of the Australian resident population was born in Vietnam. Today the Vietnam-born represent the fifth largest migrant community in Australia behind the United Kingdom (mainly from England and Scotland), New Zealand, China, and Italy, and after the United States of America, Australia is the second most common destination for Vietnamese migrants.(19)

2.3 The Advantages and Disadvantages of Vietnamese Australian Community
Vietnamese Australians vary in income and social class levels. Vietnam-born Australians are highly represented in Australian universities and many professions (particularly as information technology workers, engineers, doctors and pharmacists), while other members in the community are subject to high unemployment rates. As the Vietnamese presence continued to grow (no longer primarily refugees but ODP immigrants), the normalizing of the population change process intensified local antagonisms. The popular press made much of what was seen as an emerging crime problem, though in 1987, it was found that the situation was much less fearsome than the public discourse might suggest. For instance, Vietnamese minors were 50% less likely to offend than the community norm; unaccompanied minors were even less likely to offend; while the rate was rising it was still very much lower than the community norm. Vietnamese had a much lower violent crime rate: drug offences in 1987 were 75% of the norm; and the suburbs in which the Vietnamese were concentrated had less crime than before their arrival. (20) Even so, youth crime became the trope through which the fears about social cohesion were voiced. However, since 2000, the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants to Australia came through the Family Stream (although there have been growing numbers of skilled migrants). The income of this group is more than the average rate of the Vietnamese Australian community.

Over three-quarters of people born in Vietnam live in New South Wales (39%) and Victoria (37%) (21)(see Table 2). In Melbourne the suburbs of Richmond, Footscray, Springvale, Sunshine and St Albans have a significant proportion of Vietnamese-Australians, while in Sydney they are concentrated in Bankstown, Cabramatta, Canley Vale and Fairfield. Other places of significant Vietnamese presence include Brisbane, where many have settled in suburbs like Darra and Inala. For most of the decade after 1986, the focus was on the Vietnamese communities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Table 2: National geographical distribution, by Vietnamese-born and Vietnamese nationals (%)

National geographic distribution

NSW

Vic.

Qld

SA

WA

Tas

NT

ACT

Proportion of all persons counted in the Census, 2011

30

25

20

7

10

2

1

2

Proportion of all Vietnamese-born counted in the Census, 2011

39

37

9

6

7

0

0

2

Geographical distribution, permanent additions, 2012−13

 

Skill Stream (primary)

23

27

27

10

10

0

1

2

Skill Stream (dependent)

17

19

42

11

8

0

1

1

Geographical distribution, temporary entrants, 2012−13

 

International students

30

45

10

5

6

0

0

2

Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visa (primary)

39

20

18

4

16

0

1

3

Permanent departure

 

All Vietnamese-born permanent resident

57

21

8

2

9

0

1

2

Source: Information on migrants has come from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Information on the geographical distribution of the total population was sourced from the 2011 Census of Population and Housing

Of particular note, Vietnamese Australians have an exceptionally low rate of return migration to Vietnam. In December 2001, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) estimated that there were 3,950 Australian citizens resident in Vietnam. It is not clear what proportion of this number are returned emigrants with Australian citizenship or their Vietnamese Australian children, and what number are simply other Australians in Vietnam for business or other reasons. The greater proportion (3,000) was recorded in the south of the country. (22) What this means, among others, is that the community of Vietnamese Australians is relatively stable – they have come to stay for the rest of their lives.

3. Vietnamese Australian Community’s Contribution to Commonwealth of Australia and Vietnam
3.1. Role of the Vietnamese Australians to Economic Development and Multiracial Society of Australia
Today over 250.000 Australians are Vietnam-born, a mix of Viet and Chinese ethnicities, of which 25% are white collar professionals, whilst 28% work in transport, production and laboring. They enjoy strong community networks, and make a distinctive cultural contribution to Australian life and commerce. Features of Australia’s Vietnamese-born migrants are as follows: (i) The median age of 42.8 years was 5.5 years above that of the general Australian population; (ii) Females slightly outnumbered males – 53% compared with 47%; (iii) In August 2013, their labour force participation rate of 61% was slightly below the national average of around 65%; (iv) The unemployment rate at August 2013 was 7.8% – this is higher than average and above the national rate of 5.8%; (v) In August 2013, 107 000 Vietnam-born people were working in Australia. Their main occupations were labourers (19%), technicians and trade workers (15%) and professionals (14%).(23)

The arrival of the Vietnamese refugees and the culture clash and social paranoia that ensued as a result thereof was an unfortunate, yet natural, course when two wildly differing peoples made contact so suddenly, as has been examined in the above section. Yet more fascinating still is the growth of said community between the first arrival and present day. From 1975 until now, the Vietnamese community in Australia grew from near-nonexistence to a 250 thousand-strong ethnic minority. With this growth came an accompanying identity, which, in and of itself, contributed in many ways to the socio-political scene of the host country.

As a result, by 2012 the second generation was a significant part of Australian political, economic and cultural life. (24) Today there are Vietnamese newspapers, a community literary and cultural website as well as radio stations and regular SBS television programs. Vietnamese community organizations thrive and are involved in community development, advocacy and social work. Community members play an increasing role in local government as well as representation in the Upper Houses of Australian states. Vietnamese Australians are also well represented in the arts and the professions.

A far larger portion of Vietnamese are less successful, but do contribute to Australian society in their own ways. Many Vietnamese set up their own businesses, often working hard to put their children through school and university. Vietnamese small businesses gradually transformed streetscapes in suburbs like Richmond and Springvale into vibrant, restaurant and retail centers. Those who participate in these works do so mostly for survival. They have a long history of being overworked and underpaid until the Australian social activist community began to take action supporting their interest. (25) The result of these social movements is doubtful at best: The report found large numbers of Vietnamese workers still working for low pay, often being defrauded and suffering from exhaustion. (26)

For whatever motives, the contribution was made: their income was vital to the family, and the work often involved all the family. Thus, Vietnamese workers and their families have played a crucial part in the survival of many industries, particularly the Australian clothing one, literally sacrificing themselves in the work (suffering repetition and other injuries) so that their children can stay at high school, and successfully go on to university. The mentality behind this act of apparent sacrifice will be discussed in the following section.  
All these achievements stand testimony to the fact that the Vietnamese Australian community has gone a long way by any standards. There are a number of factors affecting this interaction process as follows:  

First, there is the political climate of the time. It was a stormy ride for the fledgling community since day one: They have constantly been used, positively or otherwise, in such political movements and upheavals as  the real end of White Australia in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s  their presence was again used as evidence in support of the abandonment of bi-partisanship on multiculturalism. In the following decade the community was centrally embroiled in the emergence of a politics of race in the 1990s, providing case studies for the vehement demagoguery of the One Nation party and their allies, while also providing widespread support for Australia’s first significant antiracist political party, Unity.
To this end, the Vietnamese Community in Australia has contributed to and revealed the deep instability of the Australian empire project, yet has also highlighted its resilience and capacity to adapt to and incorporate potential threats (27). Whether or not these incidents were for the better or worse of the Vietnamese Australian community, they have found themselves unwittingly at the eye of the storm of change in the Australian political thoughts of the era.

Second, it is the coincidental affinity of the Vietnamese culture with the pro-education, meritocratic environment of modern Australia. The Vietnamese culture considers education and successes in studies, one of the greatest values to be had. Within both Buddhist and Catholic Vietnamese communities, there is an assertion of the value of education, and a belief in the potential for individuals to realize their aspirations through education. Such a belief was rooted deeply in the history of the country, since the time of the Vietnamese Imperial exams, the last of which was still held towards the end of the Nguyen Dynasty. In an Australian environment that encourages educational participation, in which a globally focused modernity permeates elite and middle class cultures, meritocratic rules of selection compete with racist structures of exclusion. The Vietnamese dedication to academic excellence, hence, has found an excellent thriving ground. It was no surprising that a significant part of the Vietnamese community makes it through these hurdles – although a marginalized minority fails to do so. This also explains the degree of sacrifice Vietnamese Australian parents have been undertaking for the education of their children, as touched upon above.

Third, globalization of intellectual elites, proliferation of modern ideas of self-actualization brought into existence by the aforementioned high levels of education and meritocracy. This seems to manifest in the drive for self-actualization and the search for a new identity for themselves among Vietnamese Australian of the second-generation and beyond. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than during the Viet Pop exhibition (mobilized by community arts worker Cuong Le) – the text panel concludes with the words “the search for identity” is what young Vietnamese Australians are.

 Fourth (and the least fortunate) is the marginalization and failure to cope with the new environment seen in a significant part of the Vietnamese Australian population. Statistics are harrowing: Drawing on Victorian police reports, Vietnamese-born offenders processed for all crimes increased by nearly 40% from 1993 to 1997 – compared with a state rise of about 2%. Violent crime fell from about 350 offenders to 200, while drug offences rose from 220 to 1000. (28) Apart from that, a Commonwealth Parliamentary inquiry in 1995 into Asian Organized Crime made particular reference to the Vietnamese involvement in crime. In a detailed summary they identified a range of claims by police and law enforcement bodies across Australia, indicating that Vietnamese gangs were involved in heroin importation, sales and distribution, extortion, and home invasions. The concerns about the gangs in the Vietnamese community were widely held, and fuelled the growing antipathy to the community. (29)

This factor cannot and should not be taken out of context of the political difficulties mentioned above. The political turmoil and rejections as well as the failure to cope with the Australian environment has played a vital part in impoverizing and driving to crime a part of the Vietnamese Australian youth (30). They experience the strains too dramatically, and in their anomic reactions find alternative pathways to seeking (usually not successfully) economic success – often through crime as has typically occurred in other societies for newer immigrant groups, and in the past in Australia.(31)

Therefore, it is not surprising that the Vietnamese have drawn a fair amount of attention from social scientists and scholars interested in the ways in which cultural interaction, adaptation and change occur. (32) They were refugees from a colonial society escaping the aftermath of civil war, and entered a society that had been a protagonist on one side of that war. Many in the host society had hoped the war had been fought so that the population of Vietnam would stay in their own country, while others had supported the forces that won the war and triggered the exodus.

3.2 Role of the Vietnamese Australians to Economic Development of Vietnam and Promotion of Comprehensive Partnership Relationship between Vietnam and Australia

Economic opportunity is a huge driver for emigration (particularly among the educated). For this reason some 27.1% of Vietnam’s tertiary-educated population live abroad. Despite solid and continuing growth in Vietnam, economic development throughout the country is uneven and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is comparatively very low. This provides high incentives for Vietnamese nationals to leave in the hope of better economic prospects in countries like Australia, where on a purchasing power parity basis GDP per capita is more than 10 times higher (see Table 3).

Table 3: Economic and Human Development Indicators of Australia and Vietnam, 2013

Indicator

Australia

Vietnam

Adult literacy (%)

99.0

93.2

Fertility rates (children per female)

1.9

1.8

GDP per capita PPP (US$)

44,074

3,750

Life expectancy at birth (years)

82.0

75.4

Mean years of schooling

12.0

5.5

Human Development Index (HDI) (33)

0.938

0.617

Median age (years)

36.9

28.2

Population (millions)

22.9

89.7

Population growth (%)

1.8

1.1

Source: Most data in this table comes from the UNDP Human Development Report 2013, the CIA World Fact book and, the International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database April 2013. Data on the size, growth and median age of Australia’s population was sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Vietnamese Australian community, in that backdrop, is in a unique position to impact on the economic development in Vietnam. Equally uniquely are they qualified in aiding the comprehensive partnership relationship between Vietnam and Australia. They have many means at their disposal to these ends:

Firstly, they are a significant economic driver, expressed through such channels as remittances, business and investment. There are many commercial centres of Vietnamese throughout Australia. Most notable is the contribution of the Vietnamese Australian Community’s Entrepreneur Association, established with the support of Vietnam’s Embassy in Australia. This Association with more than 200 members was inaugurated on 3rd July 2010 to support and assist the Vietnamese Australian community’s entrepreneurs in undertaking business opportunities in Australia and Vietnam as well as other countries in the world. They have been making a positive contribution to the promotion of trade between the two countries as well as the supporting of the Vietnamese Australian business community.

With their economic capacity, the Vietnamese Australian business people have been increasingly investing into Vietnam. This has proven to be a growing source of remittances. According to World Bank data, remittances into Vietnam were US$9 billion in 2011, around seven times greater than in 2000 and equivalent to eight per cent of Vietnam’s GDP, making Vietnam one of the top ten remittance recipients. Remittances of the Vietnamese Australian community accounted for about 25% of total remittances of overseas Vietnamese all over the world. (34) On average, remittances from Australia increase by 10 – 15% per year, contributing to stabilizing Vietnam’s international balance of payment as well as socio-economic development. In previous period, remittances were mainly for helping families and relatives, but now this money is also used for business and/or macroeconomic purposes: investments in industries, contributions to poverty reduction and elimination, job creation and local welfare guarantee.

Secondly, the Vietnamese Australian community possesses many young, dynamic intellectuals with a lot of financial potentials, business and management experiences as well as high educated knowledge who have integrated into Australian societies. Through their skills and integrity they have acquired and held many political and economic positions in Australia and highly respected by many. Mr. Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia State, Chairman of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission is one exemplary person.  
The third and second generation who have been working in various crucial sectors of Australian economy such as information technology, electronics, composite materials, ecology, commerce, law, accounting and so on, have gradually replaced the first in Community operations. In recent years, every year there are many Vietnamese Australian experts, specialists, scientists, professors returning to Vietnam to take part effectively in teaching, textbook writing, consultation, knowledge, technological transfers and so on. They are cooperating with domestic experts, scientists, specialists and scholars to carry out research programs, to implement R&D projects, to bridge Australian universities and institutes with Vietnamese ones. Besides, thanks to their access to Australia’s advanced technologies and the understanding of the world development trends, the Vietnamese Australians may suggest and comment on the building of Vietnamese legislation and the making of policies for better socio-economic development and international integration.

Thirdly, the Vietnamese Australians have become the important bridge to help Vietnam expand bilateral relationship between Vietnam and Australia. With their influences to various Australian authorities, the Vietnamese Australians can promote economic, trade and political relations between Vietnam and Australia, and mobilize Australian support in international forums. This can be considered a crucial factor contributing to the Vietnamese implementation of her expanded foreign policies: diversified and multilateral foreign relations policies, so as to contributing to national building and defence. Moreover, the Vietnamese Australians have the unique advantage of living and working in Australia and tend to have close ties with other countries and peoples as a result of this. Therefore, they are a real force to diffuse, popularize and broadcast Vietnam’s culture, image of country and people to Australia and the world through cultural festival, food and tourism promotion, exhibition and trade fairs.

Fourthly, the Vietnamese Australian Community is also instrumental in protect the country from hostile activities of the enemies. Nowadays, there are more than 100 hostile organizations and groups including many in Australia (such as Viet Tan) who used to be soldiers and officers of the South Vietnam regime. They have ever been trying to contact reactionaries inside the country to obstruct and sabotage Vietnam’s socio-economic development efforts, particularly in the remote and mountainous areas. They have illegally carried out missionary works in the areas to provoke ethnic minorities into protesting against Communist Party and government of Vietnam. In recent years, they have been taking advantage of such issues as democracy, human right, and freedom of religion to organize meetings to slander and distort the policies of Vietnam government.

It should be made clear that the base of power of these subversive elements lie within a small portion of the Vietnamese Australian Community. As long as they can sway the overseas Vietnamese’s opinion to their way of thinking, the Vietnamese people and government’s goal of upholding national unity and integrity will be severely challenged. On the other hand, if they should fail to rally overseas Vietnamese to their cause, it will be very difficult for them to do any real and lasting damage. The cooperation of the Vietnamese Australian community, hence, plays a role that cannot be overstated in maintaining national unity. In that context, the Vietnamese Australian community has correctly explained the policies and guidelines of Government and CPV, as well as disclosed their plots and hostile activities to Australian Government and people (for example, Lawyer Tran Ba Phuc in Melbourne).    

        
3.3. Solutions and Suggestions to Improve the Role of the Vietnamese Australians in Australia and Vietnam
The Vietnamese Australian Community has continuously been growing both in number and quality. In recent years, apart from the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants through the Family Stream, there have been a growing number of skilled migrants. The Vietnamese Australian community has grown to almost 250,000 people at the end of 2013, excluding the 24,000 Vietnamese students at Australian schools and universities.  Of this number there have been more and more successful Vietnamese Australians in political, economic and artistic fields.
Although deeply and widely integration into the Australian economy and society, there are many issues involving the Vietnamese Australian community that needs to be addressed in order to enhance their role in both Australia and Vietnam. There are such issues as the loss of the Vietnamese cultural root among the later generations of Vietnamese Australian Community, the rate of crime – especially drug-related crimes – among the poorer Vietnamese Australians, the loss of faith in the government of Vietnam and the Communist Party of Vietnam (or worse, the development of dissident thoughts and movements). From the Vietnamese side, there are a number of solutions the Vietnamese government can undertake: (i) stimulate the second and third generations to keep learning Vietnamese as well as maintain the Vietnamese cultural traditions and identity by providing textbooks and cultural products; (ii) promote their investment in Vietnam by means of such concessions as visa exemption, residence, investment incentives, tax holidays… as much as is within reasons; (iii) mobilize and incentivize Vietnamese Australian scientists, scholars and professors to work in Vietnam by provisions of  material incentives and preferential treatments; (iv) maintain the community’s ties with the homeland by providing them with information of current situation in Vietnam as well as achievement in political and economic affairs, supporting them to organize food and cultural promotion of Vietnam in Australia; (v) closely cooperate with the Australian authorities to counter Vietnamese Australian criminal activities, especially in drugs and human trafficking; (vi) Strengthen diplomatic information service to inform Vietnamese Australian of the true picture in Vietnam and counter slanders and misinformation spread by subversive elements hostile to the Vietnamese national unity.

At the same time, with diligence, skill and brain, the Vietnamese Australians treated fairly, supported and facilitated by Australian government to study at the universities and vocational colleges, will contribute a lot to Australia. In addition, with the dynamic development of East Asia, the Vietnamese Australians can be used by Australian Government as a cultural and economic bridge between Australia and the East Asian countries in general and between Australia and Vietnam in particular. Apart from that, with the support of both Vietnamese and Australian authorities, the establishment of Vietnamese center (town) will give rise to even greater multiculturalism of Australia.  

4. Conclusion
For Vietnamese Australians, the strive for integration and assimilation into the greater Australian society was defining in many ways. In this long journey of more than forty years that have seen both the best and the worst in the Australian mindset, their efforts have in general paid off. In 2013 there are almost 250,000 thousand Vietnamese Australians in a community that has largely melded with the Australian society. Throughout this journey, they have made many contributions, both good and bad, for or against their own interest, to the Australian process of building a modern, democratic, non-discriminatory and civilized society.

However, this does not mean the role of policymakers should henceforth end. The contribution of Vietnamese Australians to both countries and to their relationship with each other is so significant that the community needs constant nurturing, promotion and accommodation. A strong, mature, civilized and modern Vietnamese Australian community will play a pivotal role in strengthening both Australia and Vietnam, as well as bridging the two countries whose culture and politics do not always see eye-to-eye. This paper seeks, then, to provide some assessment and suggestion for policymaking to pursue those ends. This is an endeavor that will require not only the close coordination and participation of the Vietnamese government, but also cooperation between Vietnam and Australia and the political will to commit to comprehensive joint actions.

 

(1)As many as a quarter of Vietnamese speakers in Australia are of Chinese ancestry but there is no real divide between ethnic Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese Vietnamese communities.

(2)Andrew Jakubowicz, A Quintessential Collision: Vietnamese in Australia after a generation of settlement and adaptation, University of Technology Sydney, May 2004.

(3)He used to be Army minister during the Vietnam War.

(4)For example, in conjunction with the Vietnamese government’s orderly departure program. See more in: Viviani, N., 1980, Australian government policy on the entry of Vietnamese refugees in 1975, Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations Griffith University.

(5)Social cohesion’ was after all a central concern of the empire project – what sort of deal needed to be struck with incomers to ensure that the social order was not destabilized? The original strategies of assimilation had faltered as they did not address the realities of communal processes of survival and the critical role of culture in human identity and social engagement.

(6)Birrell B. and Seol B.-S., 1998, ‘Sydney’s ethnic underclass’, People and Place, Vol. (6) 3.

(7)Healy E., 1997, “1996 Census Update – Residential Concentrations of Vietnam-Born people in Melbourne and Sydney”, People and Place, Vol. 5(3).

(8)Tran, M.V., Holton, R. J., 1991, Sadness is losing our country, happiness is knowing peace: Vietnamese social mobility in Australia, 1975-1990, Canberra: Office of Multicultural Affairs.

(9)However, that before 1975 Vietnam was not separately recorded as a country of birth for settlers so the Australian Bureau of Statistics is unable to provide an exact picture of settler intake prior to this time.

(10) Lewins F. W. and Ly J., 1985, The first wave: the settlement of Australia’s first Vietnamese refugees, Sydney: Allen & Unwin; Viviani N., 1984, The long journey: Vietnamese migration and settlement in Australia, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.

(11) People sailing out of Vietnam to wherever would take them; if they survived from pirates, storms and unsafe boats. Many of the boats that began to arrive in Australia had been re-fuelled in Malaysia and then sent on their way.

(12)Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, 1994 : Population Growth: Birthplaces of Australia’s settlers, Canberra 1995.

(13)In the 2001 census almost all people of Vietnamese ancestry were first or second generation Australians, consistent with the timing of Vietnamese immigration, which essentially began in the mid-1970s and increased over the 1980s (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, 2003: Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia’s population, Canberra 2004).

(14)In 2001, the Vietnamese language was spoken at home by 174,236 people in Australia. Vietnamese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the country after English, the Chinese languages, Italian, Greek and Arabic. See: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, 2003: Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia’s population, Canberra 2004.

(15) Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Country Profile – Vietnam, Canberra 2013.

(16) Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Ibid.

(17)Between 1975 and 1986, almost all of the Vietnamese arrivals were refugees. This decreased to around 45 per cent between 1986 and 1991 and only 22% between 1991 and 1993. By 2000 the Vietnamese humanitarian arrivals were less than 2% of the total Vietnamese settler arrivals.

(18)Australian Bureau of Statistics, Country of Birth of Person by Sex – Australia, Canberra 2007.

(19)Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Country Profile – Vietnam, Canberra 2013.

(20)This is partly thanks to almost Vietnamese Australians follow one of the religions. According to census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2012, Vietnamese Australians are, by religion, 30.3% Catholic, 0.4% Anglican, 3.1 other Christian, 55.2% other religions (mainly Buddhist with Taoism and Ancestor Worship   as one), and only 11.0% no religion.

(21)Australian Bureau of Statistics, Ibid.

(22)Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Country Profile – Vietnam, Canberra 2012.

(23)Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Country Profile – Vietnam, Canberra 2013

(24)Indeed, in June 2002 in the outer Sydney suburb of Liverpool a group of twenty-something Vietnamese Australians created ‘Viet Pop’, a celebration of their experience as ‘Generation 2’. Through music, performance, art and photography they sought to capture the multiplicity of identities, challenges and creative engagements that characterized their lives in this metropolis to which their parents had fled a generation before. In addition, in the 2003 Centenary Awards identified eight Vietnamese Australians for recognition – from SBS radio’s Quang Luu to Fairfield Unity Party councillor Thang Ngo.

(25)Alcorso C., 1991, Non-English Speaking Background Immigrant Women in the Workforce, Centre for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong.

(26)Cregan C., 2001, Home sweat home: Preliminary findings of the first stage of a two-part study of outworkers in the textile industry in Melbourne, Melbourne: Department of Management, Melbourne University.

(27)Hage G., 2002, White nation: fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society, 2nd Edition, Sydney: Pluto Press.

(28)The figures were provided by Mukherjee of the Australian Institute of Criminology in 1999 (Melbourne).

(29)Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1995.

(30)Robert Merton first theorised such situations in his studies in the 1940s of anomie and alienation in ethnic neighbourhoods of Chicago, and reflected on a sociological modelling of dis/organised crime. Merton proposed models of adaptation by immigrant communities facing existing hierarchies of status and privilege that produced dysfunctional outcomes he labelled as ‘alienation’ and ‘anomie’, drawing on but going beyond Durkheim’s theoretical conclusions about the dynamics of suicide. Merton argued for a model that linked personal values and aspirations to social structure and mobility pathways. He suggested that the critical link was between aspiration and opportunity. ‘Anomie’ occurred where individuals had internalised wider societal values and aspirations but found that the legitimate pathways to achieve those goals were blocked – thus leading to the development of alternative pathways and structures. ‘Alienation’ referred to a process when the very values of the wider society were rejected, and alternative values with little chance of their realisation, emerged.

(31)See more in: (i) Featherstone, R. and Deflem, M., 2003, ‘Anomie and Strain: Context and Consequences of Merton’s Two Theories’, Sociological Inquiry 73(4): 471-489; (ii) Merton, R. K., 1938, ‘Social Structure and Anomie’, American Sociological Review, No 3(October): 672-682.

(32)Kawakami, I. 2003 ‘Resettlement and Border Crossing: A Comparative Study on the Life and Ethnicity of Vietnamese in Australia and Japan’, International Journal of Japanese Sociology 12(1): 48-67.

(33)The HDI produced by the UN is a composite measure of three dimensions of human development – health, education and income. Australia ranks very high on this measure, with a 2012 score of 0.94, second only to Norway. Comparatively, Vietnam’s HDI in 2012 was 0.62, ranking the country 127 out of 186 countries. The HDI of East Asia and the Pacific in 2012 was 0.68.

(34) In term of remittance, Vietnam was the number 2 in South East Asia and the number 9 in the world in 2012.

C. Main Reference
1. Andrew Jakubowicz, Vietnamese in Australia: A Quintessential  Collision, University of Technology Sydney, 2004
2. Ashley Carruthers, Vietnamese Dictionary of Sydney, 2008 http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/vietnamese.
3. Australia Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Country Profile – Vietnam, Canberra 2013
4. Australian Social Trends, 1994, Population Growth: Birthplaces of Australia’s settlers. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2008-03-14.
5. Australian Social Trends, 2003, Population  characteristics: Ancestry of Australia’s population. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2008-03-14.
6. Department of Immigration and Citizenship, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/federation/body2.pdf.
7. Haslinda Abullah (2009), “Major Challenges to the Effective Management of Human Resource Training and Development Activities”, The Journal of International Social Research, Volume 2/8 Summer 2009.
8. Gibbs, Stephen (2 December 2003). “Crunch time for SBS over Vietnamese news bulletin”. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-03-14.
9. International Organization of Migration (IOM), Rural Development and Migration, Hanoi 2014.
10. International Organization of Migration (IOM), IOM Viet Nam joins together with National Government to host workshop on grievance redress mechanism for migrant workers, Hanoi 17th December 2013.
11. International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, Washington April 2013.
12. James Jupp (ed.), 2001 The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins Edited by, Cambridge University Press 2001
13. Nguyen Anh Tuan (ed), 2006, Chapter 7: Migration of Labor Forces in International Economic Relations (Textbook), National Political Publisher, Hanoi.
14. Tim Lambert, a Brief History of Vietnam, http://www.localhistories.org/viethist.html,
15. Philip L. Martin, 2003, Highly Skilled Labor Migration: Sharing the Benefits, Geneva: The International Institute for Labour Studies.
16. Philip Martin, 2004, Inter-economics: Policy Responses to Unauthorized or Irregular Workers, Geneva: ILO, January/February
17. Viviani, N. and Griffith University. Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations.  1980  Australian government policy on the entry of Vietnamese refugees in 1975, Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations Griffith University.
18. Viviani, N., Lawe-Davies, J. and Griffith University. Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations.  1980  Australian government policy on the entry of Vietnamese refugees, 1976 to 1978, Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations Griffith University.
19. Viet Ventures,  http://www.vietventures.com/vietnam/history_vietnam.asp     
20. The World Fact book, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html   
21. UNDP, UNDP Human Development Report 2013, the CIA World Fact book 2014.
22. Williams, J. R. and Morris, J.  1991,  Homecoming: images of Vietnam, Nambour, Qld: Homecoming Publications.

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Southeast Asia

Curing Malaysia’s National Psychosis

Prof. Murray Hunter

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Malaysia has reached a chronic situation where the police are using the court system to suppress alternative points of view by banning closed door meetings of legally registered societies, where members of a governing coalition party are arrested on alleged terrorist links to a defunct organization, and where the prime minister uses inuendo to threaten sectarian retaliation against a community group. A high-ranking Islamic official is arguing Malaysia should be exclusively for the Malays, contrary to the constitution and principles of Islam, and the education system is used as a propaganda tool to spread racism and distorted views of Islam. The rule of law is not the same for all, where designated people are treated differently by police.

The themes and arguments within social discussion and outcomes of governance in Malaysia today set the country apart from the rest of the world community. Malaysia’s failure to sign the United Nation’s International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) put it in the company of Dominica, South Sudan, Myanmar, and North Korea. Institutionalized racism in Malaysia puts the country in the same category of the old South African Apartheid regime, that Malaysia once vigorously opposed. Prime minister Mahathir Mohamed is perhaps the only world leader to be publicly anti-Semitic today.

Today in Malaysia, government policy, decision making, leadership, and institutional development are all influenced by certain ‘sinister’ forces. These subliminal psychological forces are controlling political outcomes that are appearing more irrational and dysfunctional as time goes on. The divisive ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) narratives are now implanted deeply into the assumptions and beliefs of the ruling elite’s psych.

These beliefs are heavily skewing political decision making. This cognitive dissonance has been destructive upon community relations, nation building, national culture, and even the Malaysian concept of nationhood itself.

When comparing Malaysian governmental decision making with the outcomes of other nations, Malaysia can be seen as being outside the gamut of normality. Other governments across the world try to build community integration, enhance the national culture, and hold nationhood as something sacrosanct, whereas Malaysian leaders are for political ends allowing these things to deteriorate.

Thus, a national psychosis exists. This is the reason why reform is off the national agenda, as reform challenges the ruling elites’ view of the reality of how they see Malaysia. Through transference, political reform is feared as an attack on authority, status, prestige, and the very security of those in power. These fears are currently projected onto the DAP, a member of the ruling coalition, which is now seen by some in power as an ‘evil’ force.

Symptoms of this psychosis are strewn around the national narrative. This narrative has become an instrument of exclusion, where the roles of groups working towards independence have been largely rewritten to serve the perceptions of the leaders of today. The aspirations of Sabahans, Sarawakians, and Orang Asli (the true indigenous people),have been excluded. This was seen in one of the final directives given by the ex-education minister Maszlee Malik before he was sacked in appointing a non-SarawakianKamal Mat Salihas chairman of the board of directors of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), which has led to criticism and outrage by some Sarawakians.

There is no narrative of inclusiveness anymore in Malaysia. Today’s narratives are focused on severing empathetic ties between the various ethnic groups, replacing them with a biased single narrative akin to the film Tanda Putera, which according to critics gave a biased view of Malaysia’s First Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman over the May 13 1969 incident.

With thanks to a mentality within the national education system that frames exam questions claiming Zakir Naik is an Islamic icon teaching ‘true Islam’, more than two generations of Malays now behave according to the beliefs and values incorporated within these narrow vistas of reality. This denies the cascade of alternative perceptions and views that would accompany a true multi-cultural nation. The current national narratives completely fail to encompass any evolving aspirations that promote any semblance of national unity. 

What is completely missing from the current national narratives are any aspirations about the dreams the nation was founded upon. There is just a subliminal sense of loss, something is missing. An alternative sense of identity has crept in – divisiveness, exclusion, and hate. Today’s narratives lack any optimism. They are depressive, holding onto an outdated caste concept. Malaysia is now a prisoner of the paradigm of division, a culture of segregation manifested by an institutionalized psychosis.

Malaysians now live within a psychic prison that is full of illusions about enemies which don’t exist. People are suffering from hallucinations about the Jewish plot, the Christian plot, and the Chinese plot. Threats from communism have long disappeared in history. Paranoia is behind the disappearance of Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat. Lack of transparency, the failure to introduce Freedom of information (FOI), and ministerial cover ups are based on fear that the people will see the shortcomings of government. The centralization of decision making, often within secretive circumstances indicates the government’s fear of scrutinization. This paranoia is displayed in the way ministers attack those who expose their shortcomings.

The ‘Eros complex’ hypocrisy of the governing elite is projected onto LGBT, Shia and liberal Muslims, who become the enemy of the state.

The narcissistic distain for other cultures was recently displayed when a school principal veep of an ultra- Malay party demanded that Chinese New Year decorations be removed from the school. This depressive display of force has been nurtured on the assumption that ‘we are the law’. Within Malay society, ‘Malay unity’ means that all must agree to the views and ideas of the elite. Dissent is considered disloyalty. Challenging the khat and Jawi in schools is akin to an attack on the national language. All must adhere to a political interpretation of Islam rather universal principles of Islam. Those who have alternative views are the enemy. Malaysia is in the depths of a repressive totalitarian-like cultural reformation that values conformity, obedience, and extreme conservatism. Citizens of Malaysia are smothered with a single dimensional view.

Racism has become so much embedded within Malaysian culture to the extent of delusion. Its now ingrained into the psych. Racism is the emotional precursor to repressing and discriminating against other groups. However, racism has been a cover for deep corruption arising from the discriminatory policies like the New Economic Policy (NEP). The anxiety generated by the ‘lazy Malay’ being raped and plundered by other groups fallacy revived by Mahathir from British colonial times was its justification. The ruling elite has always been projected as the saviour. However, this projection of being the savour is more about resolving intra-Malay political and power rivalries, than inter-racial conflict. It’s all been a convenient fabrication for maintaining power. This delusion has allowed one group rule the rest in a negative and grandiose manner. This schizoid trait has severely impaired Malaysia maturing as a nation.

Ketuanan Melayu must be seen for what it really is; a defence mechanism against change. The irony of Ketuanan Melayu is that it is not protecting and enhancing a rich Malay culture, but rather gutting it to the mercy of some alien tribal desert culture. The imposition of Arabism has destroyed much of the richness in the beautiful Malay culture that was once fondly treasured, even by non-Malays. Now there is hate. So many traditional Malay traditions and art forms have been discouraged and even banned, under the arbitrary declaration that they are un-Islamic. Hard-line Islamic policies are taking root throughout government institutions, leading to the belief that the more one takes on the artefacts of Arabism, the better a Muslim he or she will be. Government was not set up for the purpose of worshipping God. Government was set up to build and manage a nation. Reciting Rukun Negara would be much more appropriate than reciting prayers before government events and meetings.

Curing Malaysia’s national psychosis can only come from reverting back to the assumptions, beliefs and values that were around when the nation of Malaysia was created. This means breaking up the fallacies that are hindering the pursuit of nationhood. These include the fallacy that public enterprise can do what private enterprise can’t do. This is where the elite have gained their ill-gotten wealth and most state economic development corporations, and their subsidiaries are bedrocks of corruption. The fallacy of Fadhli-Ainwhich has encouraged blind following of ritual, should be questioned and more focus put on values pursuing Fadhli-Kifayah, where all life thinking, action, and relationships shows true devotion to God. Fadhli-Kifayah brings Islam into the community. It’s unselfish Islam and true da’wah.

‘Biarmatianak, janganbiarmatiadat’ (better your children die than your traditions) is abandoned Malay wisdom. Malay culture is quickly being killed off by the Arab fallacy. Malay and other indigenous cultures originated from three distinct sources. Those indigenous to Tanah Melayu (the Malay Peninsula), Sabah and Sarawak, those who migrated to Malaysia from the Nusantara archipelago, and those who migrated to Malaysia while the Sultanates were riverine rather than territorially defined. Some of the migrants from outside of Nusantara over the centuries from China and South Asia formed a unique Baba culture that has co-existed with Malay culture for centuries. Once, Malays, Chinese, Indians and the other peoples of Malaysia celebrated Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Christmas, and Deepavali together as a symbol of unity, this is now forbidden.

The new Arabized cultural traits and inwardly politically defined Islamic view of the world has become a fence of exclusion. This is pushing younger Chinese into a China admiration syndrome which holds China’s accomplishments in awe, which China is now clandestinely exploiting for its own advantage. Expect this to become much more pronounced over the next few years.

Malay culture started to change when the cikgu (teachers) and civil servants were replaced within UMNO by an opportunistic rent-seeking Malay class and when Mahathir-Anwar ran amok Islamizing the government and civil service. This was also the time of the birth of crony capitalism which guaranteed the gentry would rule over the rest. Malay culture was sold out for greed. The rule of law became we are the law, where police need special permission to interview anyone seen as being a member of the gentry in any investigation.

However, the constructed truths created and manipulated by those in power have always depended upon economic prosperity. The government handed out millions of Ringgit to the people, gave out privileges, and extended credit so households could consume, so people could be controlled through debt and gratitude. Affluence bought silence, it kept the opposition weak, and enhanced the image of the government as being benevolent.

Government budgetary and fiscal problems, economic downturn, and rising cost of living are making it much harder for any government to placate the people, as has been done traditionally for decades. Its going to be much more difficult to buy into power in the future.

The country has been led by the same people for 50 years. The Pakatan Harapan government is still operating the old practices of feudalistic nepotism.

None of the present political parties, either alone, or in any combination can remedy this national psychosis. Bersatu members of cabinet have shown their disdain for transparency, in honouring their pledges, and have been implementing their own agendas. PKR ministers have been enjoying the trappings of office. They are changed people from the days they were in opposition.

The Malaysian Malaysia dream of Tunku Abdul Rahman is fading away into a Wahabi state with all the tribal trimmings, pushed by the Malay-centric parties on the people.

The only hope for a cure is for intellectuals, activists, writers, lawyers and other professional people, members of Royal families, along with ordinary citizens, led by those who once experienced a Malaysian Malaysia to come together to initiate change. This doesn’t have to immediately become a political movement, but a diversity of social and cultural organizations that refocus the narratives back to the old Nusantara values, society once cherished. This movement could advocate de-Arabizing the Malay language, and returning to Islam Hadhari (today) with its wider universal values. Kampongs need revitalization, where mosques become centres of vocational and community education. Cottage industry can be revitalised to develop local sustainable economies. This would also mean dissolving state economic development corporations and their subsidiary companies that are full of corruption and taking market-space away from local entrepreneurs.

The states need their sovereignty back. Political centralization must be reversed. They need to campaign for local government and Citizen Development Committees (LPPKN)elections, so thatas many people as possible can participate in some level of governance.

The movement would be as much spiritual as it would be political focusing on the similarities rather than the differences between religions. Finally, history needs to be taught as it really was. A country without a deep sense of history is a country without a soul.

If such a movement could ever gain momentum, some of the old political partisans from the PKR, DAP, and political forces in Sabah would come onboard. This is not an impossibility. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward Party made a successful debut in Thailand’s general election last year, and is very quickly becoming a mass social movement aimed at changing Thailand’s current political paradigm.

An abridged version was originally published in Asia Sentinel

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s economic diplomacy: From hope into doubt

Brandon Firman Cahyadi

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The dawn of 2020marked as a new era for Indonesian foreign affairs, as the Indonesian government issued a new foreign policy direction shortly after Retno Marsudi re-elected as foreign minister for the second period. On its new foreign policy direction, Marsudi altering her previous policy priority to compete with global economic challenges in the new decade.

In 2015 Marsudi asserted that Indonesia top priority in foreign affairs was to maintain state sovereignty. It was demonstrated by Indonesia intensity to carried out around 129 border negotiation which resulted in significant border agreements. But now, economic diplomacy seemingly become Indonesia’s prominent foreign policy outlook.

With a sluggish economic growth in the past five years, Indonesia intentionally boost its economy through the implementation of economic diplomacy strategy. Theoretically, economic diplomacy is the government strategy to engage possible stakeholders (states or non-state actors) for the sake of national economic growth.

In the Indonesian case, economic diplomacy originally has been implemented through many initiatives during Marsudi’s first period. Economic ties with new and potential market in other regions such as South Asia, Latin America and African states have grown stronger. Also, profound bilateral cooperation was taken through comprehensive economic partnership (CEPA) mechanism, among others are Indonesia CEPA agreement with Australia, Chile and European Free Trade Association that was finally concluded in the past five years.

One of the most historical breakthrough was the achievement to hold Indonesia-Africa Forum (IAF) in 2018. It was a milestone for Indonesia footprint in African states. The dialogue has generated more than $568 million business deals and $1.3 billion business announcement only two days after the forum.

Unfortunately, we all also witnessing the plot-twist result of Indonesian economic growth. In the beginning of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration, he was very confident to elevate Indonesia economy up to 7% in GDP. In fact, Indonesia economy has desperately stagnated in the number of 5%. And yet, Jokowi’s economic priority in the second terms predominantly inherited by his lack of budget infrastructure development projects. It reflects that some possible hurdles for Indonesia’s economic diplomacy are waiting to be address.

The challenge lay down in the weeds

According to Minister of Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR), Basuki Hadimuljono, reiterated that infrastructure development in 2019-2024requiring up to Rp2000 trillion budget allocation, while the state-budget only covered Rp620 trillion out of it.He added that private sectors and state-owned company are expected to patch the remaining budget through cooperation framework. This scheme is about the same of the previous National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN) mechanism, stated that 36% of the development were funded by the private sectors and 22,2% were funded by state-owned company.

The problem is, Indonesia was hassles in providing economic capital for infrastructure projects. As what Prameswaran has been said, the challenge for Indonesia is not in the big picture, but lay down in the weeds. Some local investors are unable to provide assistance due to large funding requirement. Otherwise, foreign investor become the government’s main target.

However, to attract foreign investors─ it requiring radical changes in the system and circumvent possible regulatory hurdles, included stipulate legal certainty, restrain corruption and harmonizing regulations. After so many ineffective economic package policies, the omnibus billhas been offered from the government as an ultimate effort to regulate its investment environment. The bill encompassed 82 regulations and expectedly boost Indonesia GDP up to 6% in a near future. However, Indonesia’s limited experience on conducting omnibus law remain questioned.

Therefore, Jokowi inward looking foreign policy has been impeded by the ─ classical problem of─ convoluted bureaucracy, his round-the-clock slogan of “deregulation and simple bureaucracy” has not been able to realize by far, as we can see when he evokes it again in 2019 election. Having said that, Marsudi’s five-year foreign affairs plan of4+1 formula raises doubts.

Trade deficit

Another critical challenge for Indonesia’s economic diplomacy is how to conduct productive trade relations, as the country facing massive deterioration of its trade balance. In April 2019, Jokowi administration recorded the worst trade deficit in history, as the nation posted $2.5 billion trade deficit, surpassing the previous record $2.05 billion in December 2018. After some improvement in a next months, trade deficit reoccurs in November 2019 when the number slumped at $2.29 billion.

The global economic slowdown that resulted to the lower demand for Indonesian products deemed to be the causative factor of trade deficit and contributed to the slackening of Indonesia’s export absorbency. In the other side, huge imports have caused to the increasing number of trade deficit into $3.11 billion during 2019.

In addition, oil and gas exports posted as one of the most influential commodities for Indonesian trade balance fluctuation. The April and November trade deficit were among the example of how oil and gas deficit causing to the widen gap of Indonesia’s trade balance. Reversely in May 2019, Indonesia encounter trade surplus, mostly driven by a narrower trade balance in oil and gas industry. It reflects that oil and gas exports largely influence the trade balance stability.

Therefore, Indonesian trade relations are an important feature to achieve the resilience of economic diplomacy. Given its three-quarter of Indonesian exports by value were delivered to Asian countries, Indonesia’s commendable efforts to open diplomatic relations to new regional market need to encompass Indonesia’s export interests. Especially, widening a new and promising relations to other regions for oil and gas sectors, it is required as most of Indonesian exports (23%) are driven by this product.

Overall, Indonesian economic diplomacy direction depended on domestic ability to produce a healthy and competitive environment for economic activity. Similarly, government intervention to manage productive trade relations are crucial in order to escalate Indonesian economic growth.

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Southeast Asia

Ripples of 1MDB scandal likely to complicate Malaysian ties to key Gulf states

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Disclosures of taped phone calls between embattled former prime minister Najib Razak and a person believed to be United Arab Emirate crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed go a long way to explain Malaysian efforts to counter UAE and Saudi influence in the Muslim world.

The disclosures are the latest incident in what have been complex, if not strained relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia since prime minister Mahathir Mohamad returned to office 19 months ago on the back of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

The scandal involves the siphoning off of billions of dollars from the government investment fund for which Mr. Razak is standing trial.

Strains in relations between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the kingdom’s closest ally, were on display last month when Mr. Mahathir convened in cooperation with Turkey, Iran and Qatar – countries with which the two conservative Gulf states are at odds — an Islamic summit that did not involve the Saudi-controlled, Riyadh-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC groups 57 Muslim countries and is the usual convener of Islamic summits.

In line with the summit that called for Muslim nations to jointly confront problems Muslims face, Mr. Mahathir earlier this week, in contrast to the Gulf states, condemned the killing in Iraq of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani in a US drone strike as a violation of international law.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE called for restraint in the wake of the killing but few in the two states mourned the commander’s death.

Mr. Mahathir’s critical view of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, rooted partly in their alleged associations with the 1MDB scandal, was evident almost from the moment he assumed office.

Mr. Mahathir appointed as defense minister Mohamed Sabu, known for his critical views of Saudi Arabia.

Within a few months, Mr. Sabu closed the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), a Saudi-funded anti-terrorism centre established together with the Malaysian defense ministry.

Similarly, Mr. Mahathir re-appointed Seri Mohd Shukri as head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Mr. Shukri noted in one of his first statements that “we have had difficulties dealing with Arab countries (such as) Qatar, Saudi Arabia, (and the) UAE.”

Mr. Shukri initially resigned in 2016 as the government’s anti-corruption czar because he had been pressured by Mr. Razak to drop his plans to indict the then prime minister.

Excerpts of tapes played by the MACC at a news conference this week suggested that Mr. Razak asked a person believed to be Prince Mohammed to assist in unidentified ways to resolve the scandal and as a “personal favour” help his stepson, Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, evade charges of money laundering.

The voice of the person Mr. Razak was speaking to on the tapes did not identify himself but was addressed by the prime minister as “Your Highness.” The MACC believes on the basis of the context of the conversations that the voice is that of Prince Mohammed.

In the recordings, Mr. Razak advises the person that “it is important to resolve this impasse with respect to 1MDB… so that we put closure as soon as possible because it’s embarrassing to both countries, embarrassing Malaysia and embarrassing the UAE as well as personalities close to you.”

The person rejects a request by Mr. Razak to discuss the issue in person but delegates an associate to talk to the prime minister.

He “has the full authority from me and I really, genuinely, want to find a solution…. It’s in our both interests, Mr. Prime Minister, to solve it,” the person said.

It’s not clear from the tapes whether the UAE actually stepped in a bid to help Mr. Razak and his stepson out of their predicaments.

Approaching the UAE for help made sense for Mr. Razak not only because of the country’s alleged links to the scandal but also because it has established itself as a financial and/or physical safe haven for politicians, businessmen and others while in office or positions of influence as well as those who have fallen into disgrace like former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and his former Thai colleagues Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.

A Pakistani court last month sentenced Mr. Musharraf to death on charges of treason. Mr. Musharraf lives in Dubai where he is receiving medical treatment.

Mr. Shinawatra, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, fled into exile in Dubai after escaping Thailand to evade serving a prison term for a conflict of interest conviction.

Ms. Shinawatra, Mr. Shinawatra’s sister, followed him in 2017 after being removed in 2014 by another military intervention and having been charged with negligence while serving as prime minister.

Political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, whose views are often seen as reflecting UAE government thinking, anticipating a possible change in relations, disparaged Mr. Mahathir and his election victory at the time.

Mr. Abdulla focussed on Mr. Mahathir’s age as well as the fact that he had forged an alliance with his former deputy prime minister and rival Anwar Ibrahim, an Islamist believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, a bete noir of Prince Mohammed.

“Malaysia seems to lack wise men, leaders, statesmen and youth to elect a 92-year-old who suddenly turned against his own party and his own allies and made a suspicious deal with his own political opponent whom he previously imprisoned after fabricating the most heinous of charges against him. This is politics as a curse and democracy as wrath,” Mr. Abdulla said on Twitter, two days after the election.

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