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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - The Idea of ‘Asia’: Australia's ‘Near North’ – East and Southeast Asia


Defining the ‘region’

before we begin to study something called ‘Asia’ we have to decide what it is we are studying. We have to decide what we include and what we exclude; we need to explain and justify our definition of ‘Asia’. This is important because, conceived extensively, Asia can be defined as all of the land mass on the continent of Asia east of the Mediterranean Sea, plus the islands of Japan and Southeast Asia. Map 1 provides a visual representation of this very extensive idea of Asia. We would face a difficult task if we employed this definition of Asia, as we would have to cover the following regions:

West and Southwest Asia (often called the Middle East – Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries)

South Asia (or the sub-continent of Asia – India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka)

Northern and Central Asia (Russia, the Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan and so on)

East Asia (China, Japan, North and South Korea. See Map 3.)

Southeast Asia (mainland Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar [Burma], Malaysia; and island Southeast Asia – parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and East Timor. See Map 4.)

The reader can see at a glance that if we attempted to cover such a huge geographical area, we could only do it very superficially.

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Guide to further reading
Dirlik, Arif. 1992. The Asia-Pacific idea: reality and representation in the invention of a regional structure. Journal of World History. 3(1): 55–79. A critical analysis of the origins and uses of the concept of the Asia-Pacific
Emmerson, Donald K. 1984. ‘Southeast Asia’: what's in a name? Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 15(1): 1–21. A very useful analysis of the idea of Southeast Asia as a region
Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. 1998. Invisible countries: Japan and the Asian dream. Asian Studies Review. 22(1): 5–22. Traces the history of the idea of ‘Asia’ and examines perceptions of this idea within contemporary Japan
Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. The classic work on the negative European construction and use of the concept of the ‘Orient’