A group of faculty members and students from different disciplines such as International Relations, Political Science, and Peace and Conflict Studies of University of Dhaka formed a study group led by Professor Delwar Hossain known as the “East Asia Study Group” in 2010. Some of the students of the group subsequently became faculty members. Apart from regular meetings and discussions, the Group organized talks and seminars, exchange programs with students from Japan. The Study Group observed a huge enthusiasm among its members about research and teaching on issues and questions pertaining to East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Later on Professor Delwar Hossain took initiatives to transform the group into a research center in 2012. Finally, the University approved the establishment of the East Asia Study Center (EASC) in December 2012. The Center started its functions from January 2013. However, it is pertinent to understand criticality of the Center for a country like Bangladesh in a larger national and global context as presented in the following section.
The rapid rise of East Asia is one of the most critical events of the last century. The region as a whole has today come to play a growingly critical role in diverse academic disciplines including international relations, economics, political economy, development studies, policy studies, area studies, business studies, etc. Accounts of ‘the East Asian model’ have shaped our answers to an array of critical questions including what prospects the developing world countries have in a competitive world economy; what sorts of policies can most effectively promote development in these countries; how are economic decisions are linked with political or security considerations; what is the trade-off between equity and growth in diverse countries; what is the proper role of free markets in diverse countries; how international institutions should manage the global economic order; the relationship between culture and economic performance; and where and under what conditions is democracy desirable — among other questions. While understanding East Asia may be important, events have repeatedly demonstrated the limits of our wisdom. The discovery of ‘the East Asian model’ in the 1980s and early 1990s led to arguments that democracy and free markets were not as useful as previously understood. Then the East Asian Financial Crisis and the prolonged stagnation of Japan’s economy have called into question the value of the East Asian model. Now, the rise of China again puts our knowledge to the test. Another critical aspect is the politico-security implication of the rise of East Asia. The crisis of balance of power model or hegemonic stability in East Asia and the ascendance of Asian values debate are generating new questions regarding peace and security in this region. The growing influence of East Asian powers beyond their regional boundaries has been reconfiguring power relations with a definite impact on patterns of global peace and development.
While coming to the practical dimension of diplomatic world, it is highly encouraging to observe that East Asian diplomats in Bangladesh have come forward to strengthen partnership between Bangladesh and East Asian nations. They have already expressed their interests in promoting strong relations between Bangladesh and East Asia for mutual cooperation and benefit. Different seminars and cultural programs participated by the Japanese, Chinese and Korean diplomats demonstrate high degree of enthusiasm about mutual cooperation between Bangladesh and East Asia. The people of Bangladesh from diverse backgrounds are also deeply enthusiastic about East Asia. Students, scholars, governmental and corporate officials in Bangladesh are demonstrating growing interests about language, culture, politics and security in East Asian countries.
Against this backdrop, the University of Dhaka undertook a concrete initiative to acquire in-depth knowledge on East Asia in the interest of Bangladesh and East Asian nations. The formation of the East Asia Study Center (EASC) involving the students, teachers, researchers, and professionals based in the University of Dhaka and beyond was is a much-needed step in this direction. In this Center, we join the efforts to reevaluate our accumulated wisdom in light of our experiences with an eye toward how our changing understanding of East Asia affects the rest of what we know. This Center will examine the security, politics and economy and interstate and regional linkages in postwar East Asia. The emphasis will be on the economic, cultural, security and political issues in international relations, though we will also study the domestic conditions driving those relations. Major themes will include development, trade, cultural issues, security, environment, democracy, and human rights.
It may be mentioned that there is an enormous degree of interests among the diplomatic circles of East and Southeast Asian states in Bangladesh to promote mutual interests between Bangladesh and East Asian region. It is also a fact that despite our immense interest in expanding boundaries of knowledge about East Asia, we lack higher institutions of scholarly/research excellence in Bangladesh that can offer newfangled outlooks on this aspect. To be more explicit, although there are already a number of public and private universities throughout the country, none of them offers an institutional foundation to engage in research and academic programs in East Asian studies.
Bangladesh has recently embarked upon massive diplomatic strides to expand her relations with countries like South Korea and Russia in addition to traditional friends such as China and Japan. The high level visits by the East Asian leaders in Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s leaders to this region reflect the ever-increasing importance of the resurgent East to our international relations as often encompassed through ‘Look East Policy’. The University of Dhaka as the leading seat of teaching and research in the country must show the way to uncapping huge potentials of East Asia in Bangladesh through research and academic programs. In this context, it was urgently required to start a research center at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Dhaka.
Finally, the need for ‘Economic Diplomacy’ of Bangladesh generates inescapable imperatives to provide a state of the art center for research and academic programs in the country. The ‘East Asia Study Center’ (ESAC) is a timely and much-needed initiative in this direction.
The Center is a non-profit research and academic institution approved by the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Center is a unique institution focused on the study of contemporary East Asia. Its research field concerns East Asian affairs on its various facets – political, economic, cultural and environmental. The Center is responsible for organizing and coordinating research and academic activities of the related experts and scholars at home and abroad
The Center is to adhere to the research excellence and academic knowledge in liberal traditions embedded in domestic and global practices. It adheres to the principles that practice and theory are combined and the Center should serve people and nations in Bangladesh and beyond.