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Asia.com: Asia Encounters the Internet

Editor: K. C. Ho, Randy Kluver, C.C Yang
Publisher: New York: Routledge, 2003
Review Published: September 2005

 REVIEW 1: Rohitashya Chattopadhyay
 REVIEW 2: Allen Chun
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: KC Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth CC Yang

Asia.com: Asia Encounters the Internet, edited by K. C. Ho, Randy Kluver, C.C Yang, is a well timed collection of essays that provide useful information about various aspects of Internet usage in Asia. Moreover, the emphasis is clearly on the economic, legal, and political aspects of Internet usage, and this focus is featureed explicitly or implicitly in nearly every chapter. Also, while the economic disparities created by the information technology (IT) revolution are emphasized throughout the first section, there is not as much importance given to the new and certainly brighter face of Asia that is projected by those who have benefited from information and communications technology (ICT).

The collection's introduction, which provides comments and data about the role of the Internet in Asian development, usage patterns across various regions, and the attendant inequality, sets the tone for the first two chapters of the first section. In these articles, Tim Beal and Anthony P. D' Costa elaborate on these issues and also situate IT growth and the digital divide in a global context. One learns about the unfortunate predicament that the digital divide will increase in Asia due to factors such as education disparities. However, the authors are unable to take the discussion beyond a basic reiteration of the facts regarding Internet use and possibly suppress any undue optimism that a reader might have regarding the Internet's effect on Asia.

In contrast, the remaining articles in the first section are slightly more elaborate; they shift the focus to online surveillance and piracy. It is quite obvious from the chapters by David Lyon and Carolyn Penfold that online surveillance occurs routinely in countries such as Australia, China, Japan and Singapore. Yet, the degree of control and the sort of content blocked differs according to the individual nation's policy. Thus, the Internet does not create a unique space of freedom, but is merely an extension of the offline public and private spheres within which citizens communicate. Furthermore, as a recent poll in Singapore suggests, citizens are not necessarily against surveillance; more than eighty percent of Singaporeans believed that censorship was necessary (Anil, 2001).

Debora Halbert's chapter on digital piracy outlines the United States' efforts to curb copyright violation in Asia. Although, such illegality occurs widely across US and Europe, the anti-piracy laws have been targeted at Asia due to many reasons, including the relative lack of regulation and swift economic growth in Asian countries, which in turn threatens the countries producing intellectual property. The author also reviews the open source movement, which is recommended as an alternative route to building digital infrastructure in Asia with minimal any legal interference. This is because piracy is redundant when the code is made public.

The book's second section presents a series of case studies that discuss Internet use in a particular Asian country or by a specific Asian community. In the first three of these articles, the authors write about the Internet's role in the enhancement of democracy in Indonesia, Malaysia, and China respectively. The first, by Merlyna Lim, is useful in theoretically contextualizing the issue of online democracy, and contains a synopsis of the political theory that is pertinent to the topic.

In comparison, the next two articles by James Chin and Xiguang Li et al., lack this theoretical substance. James Chin discusses the formation of an online news portal, Malaysiakini.com, which was instrumental in providing news that was not reported by the largely pro government mainstream media. The portal was regularly critical of the government and gave a voice to the marginalized groups of Malaysia. Similarly, Xiguang Li, Qin Xuan, and Randolph Kluver discuss the role played by an online chat room, which was started by China's most prominent newspaper, in providing alternative sources of news such as foreign newspapers.

These are followed by a closely related topic, which is the use of the Internet for political campaigning and the discussion focuses on Japan. The author, Leslie M. Tkach-Kawasaki, explains that despite a restrictive Public Offices Election Law (POEL), the Internet was used by Japanese political actors to communicate with the electorate during the June 2000 general election and July 2001 upper house election.

Political communication of a different sort is discussed by Shyam Tekwani, in his chapter about the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora's use of the Internet in order to network and support the movement for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Apart from the specific issues of the community being considered, the Internet's ability to serve as a container for a de-territorialized group is highlighted.
Furthermore, the issue is particularly sensational in this case because of the group's support for the LTTE, which would be considered a terrorist organization by most jurisdictions.

Similarly, K. S. Muthu Selvan discusses the online networking of the Hindu Diaspora through his discussion of messages posted on three Usenet news groups. In this case, transnational religious identity is the focus and the politics involved in religion is revealed as well, due to the discussion of anti-Hindu propaganda in these news groups. However, the topic being considered deserves more space than a short chapter, especially considering its relevance to today's state of affairs.

The three remaining articles in the book are once again about online networking, but instead of the transnational socialization, the focus is on online interaction within a nation. Chinese identity politics is the topic of Karsten Giese's article and the author presents a remarkable thesis about the avenues opened up by the Internet for the expression of Chinese identity that is not necessarily connected to the State. Online feminism is the topic of Junko R. Onosaka's chapter and one learns about how Japanese women are using the Internet to assert their independence. Finally, the socialization of Singapore youths is discussed by Waipeng Lee and Brenda Chan. Their chapter argues that rather than an arena where new interactions can take place, the Internet is a medium which can be used to nurture relationships already formed offline.

The Internet's contribution to the enhancement of democracy seems to be one of the major advantages offered by the medium. Yet, due to the second section's emphasis on political activism, adequate information is not presented regarding apolitical socialization on the Internet. This parallels the first section's focus on inequality, as opposed to the advantages created by the IT revolution. Consequently, Asia.com might give a skewed perspective on Internet use in Asia; although, discussions of the chosen areas are quite sufficient for anyone unfamiliar with the overall topic of the book. Overall, Asia.com is a useful introduction to Asian Internet usage.

Anil, S. (2001). "Re-visiting the Singapore Internet code
of practice," Journal of Information, Law and Technology, 2.

Rohitashya Chattopadhyay:
Rohitashya Chattopadhyay is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include advertising, electronic media, and national identity.  <rchattopadhyay@asc.upenn.edu>

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