Statement by the Board of the German Association for Asian Studies on the Current State of Research on Asia in Germany


published in German: 2021-06-19

The interdependency and interconnectedness of the world is increasing. At the same time, tensions and tendencies of disassociation are gaining in prominence both in general and in political debates. Furthermore, we observe a return of dangerously stereotypical and undifferentiated models of world order. Additionally, regional and global structural changes are taking place and they have significant implications for research and the freedom of research and opinion of both individual researchers and research institutions.

As a research association for researchers studying and teaching on multifarious aspects relating to Asia, the German Association for Asian Studies observes these developments with grave concern. In particular, this is because the developments arise against the background of an increasingly sharp power and systemic conflict between China and the United States, and regime transformations (“democratic backsliding”/“democratic regression”) in parts of Southeast Asia. These developments also demand that Europe (and Germany) re-evaluate their positions. This re-evaluation of positions has to be based on a critical and scientific approach to dealing with Asia. The German Association for Asian Studies is committed to the freedom of research and plurality of opinions, and thus calls for reliance in this re-evaluation of positions on the expertise of research associations whose members have been studying these countries and regions for years. They have the necessary and required language and analytical competencies. As researchers, we have a duty to proactively communicate with and inform the general public as well as economic actors and politicians.

The German Association for Asian Studies combines a multitude of fields and disciplines that are part of the so-called small disciplines, in the sense of the German Ministry for Research and Education, but also of the so-called large disciplines in a more general sense. Therefore, the Association reflects precisely the degree of network building that research is supposed to engage in. It has a specific and integrated approach to studying Asia and can participate in public and political debates in a competent manner. The fruitful cooperation of the German Association for Asian Studies testifies to the relevance of contemporary and historic research on Asia in the fields of science, politics and society that is completely independent of cycles of attention.

It is a core concern to the members of the German Association for Asian Studies to reflect the plurality of voices on and in Asia and to oppose dogmatic perceptions of friend and enemy.

At the same time, the German Association for Asian Studies wants to maintain academic exchange and dialogue with the countries of Asia, particularly in times of political turbulence and radical change. The Association’s board observes with great concern the tendencies of self-censorship and politically motivated influence on foci of research and the plurality of opinions within Germany, but also within some of the regions in Asia that the Association’s members are studying. The German Association for Asian Studies calls on all sides to counter tendencies of polarisation from the beginning and work toward open and critical-analytical exchange and research cooperation with researchers and research institutions in Asia. The goal is fundamental research that is guided by theory, empirically grounded and does not respond to short-term, politically motivated moods.

In order to foster exchange with and on Asia, the German Association for Asian Studies organizes academic conferences and also plans to conduct lecture series on topics related to current affairs. The goal of these, however, is not to communicate recommendations for action. Rather, the goal is to assume a long-term perspective and to present knowledge from and on Asia in a systematic, structured and theory-based manner. Fundamental research and analytical perspectives are the main contribution that members of the Association can make to current political debates. Single, isolated events should not be rashly considered a turn away from the status quo in world politics and economy. Researching Asia always requires that we contemplate our own identities and standpoints. These are reflected in the way we relate to others (e.g. in the European view on Asia) and have a close relationship with observers’ foundations in space and time. In times of globally interdependent processes, it is indispensable to gain an understanding of the highly complex domestic and regional political developments in Asia and also of their potential global implications.

In all circumstances, we have to avoid a relapse of the systemic antagonism of the Cold War and the divestiture of the values of the Enlightenment. The German Association for Asian Studies observes with grave concern the current debates on cuts to funding and positions in the field of research on Asia. Particularly in the context of increasing antagonisms and tensions in and with the region and the countries of Asia, it is of utmost importance to have knowledge of these complex developments and their historical and cultural bases in various regions of Asia. Short-term cuts can have severe long-term consequences. As evident in recent years, once subject to cuts, research structures that have been developed over a long time cannot easily or immediately be reinvigorated.