AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 383

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Session 383: Postcolonial Policing in Asia: Comparative Perspectives on State Surveillance.

Organizer: Alfred W. McCoy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Chair: Georgina Sinclair, Open University, United Kingdom

Discussant: Jeremy Kuzmarov, University of Tulsa, USA

These two back-to-back panels investigate the longue durée political effects of policing, secret police, and surveillance in colonial and postcolonial Asia, placing national studies from East, South, and Southeast Asia in a global context. Although far more elusive and less documented than the much-studied military, police nonetheless play a central role in state formation, often serving as the prime point of contact between citizen/subject and government. While policing is immersed in community and thus intensely local, police have been, since the imperial age, global in their policies, with reciprocal impacts between Asian colony and European metropole. Reflecting recent political developments, the study of policing has experienced resurgence in academic interest, manifest in conferences, symposia, and publications. To test assumptions about police as instrument of colonial hegemony, some historians focus on postcolonial practices in former Asian empires, investigating lasting effects on colony, metropole, and transnational politics. Others question how police tools and techniques were transmitted across space and over time, problematizing such knowledge in both local and international practice of public security. Moreover, anthropologists study policing and political transitions in post-conflict or post-authoritarian states in Asia. Applying appropriate theory, participants will insert policing into state-formation models from Ben Anderson, Foucault, James C. Scott, and Charles Tilly. With five short presentations, website-posted papers, and a discussant cum presenter, these panels will allow anthropologists and historians to present on-going research into policing and surveillance in Asia--comparing findings, testing theory, exploring commonalities, probing continuities and, above all, examining a lingering colonial inflection in Asia’s (post)colonial policing.

Royalist Missionaries In the Borders: The Transformation of Thai Border Patrol Police and Its Civic Actions in the Cold War Era
Sinae Hyun, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

By transforming from a CIA-sponsored paramilitary unit to a body of dedicated royalist missionaries promoting nationalism, the Border Patrol Police of Thailand has played a pivotal role in instilling Thainess and royalism in the border areas. The history of Border Patrol Police (BPP), therefore, brings our attention to the localization of Cold War politics in Thailand and Southeast Asia. This discussion on the evolving role of Thai Border Patrol Police during the Cold War period will focus on the following three questions. First, why did the U.S. and Thai governments form such a special police unit in Thailand in the early 1950s? To set the historical context, the paper will discuss the formation of BPP in the beginning of Cold War in Southeast Asia. Second, what are the activities of BPP in the border areas? This part will introduce the key activities of the unit from the formation to the early 1980s when the Cold War influence began to decline in the region. Finally, what are the implications of BPP’s civic actions among the marginalized border people? This question will delve the process of nation building projected in the BPP’s activities to understand the nature of Cold War in the postcolonial Southeast Asia. Building on these approaches, the paper will argue that the development of BPP organization and its civic action programs demonstrates the changing role of police not only limited in expanding the state surveillance system but also to propagating the nationalism during the Cold War in Southeast Asia.

‘Colonial’ and ‘Postcolonial’ Policing in Malaya/Malaysia 1948 – 1965
Georgina Sinclair, Open University, United Kingdom

This paper considers the fusion of British styles of policing (‘colonial’/semi-military and ‘English’/civil) that were used to police Malaya/Malaysia in the aftermath of the Second World War. The onset of an emergency situation in Malaya from 1948 necessitated a (re)-militarization of the Malayan Police and the emergence of paramilitary auxiliary police groups and a formal Special Branch. Paradoxically during this period, the Colonial Office seconded Colonel Arthur Young from the City of London Police with a brief to reform the Malayan Police along more ‘civil’ lines. This approach to policing the end of empire was paralleled in many other territories though essentially a colonial policing system prevailed. In Malaya/Malaysia, the counter-insurgency policing expertise and riot control skills were used to offer training to other police forces within Southeast Asia and the Far East and have provided a modern example of international policing.

Policing Publics in an Indonesian City
Joshua D. Barker, University of Toronto, Canada

Indonesia’s New Order regime (1966-98) developed an array of formal and informal mechanisms to police public life in Indonesia’s cities. These mechanisms ranged from regulatory measures aimed at controlling the distribution of newsprint (the raw material for producing newspapers), to the use of spies and thugs to maintain ‘order’ at any public events that had the potential to draw a crowd. This paper examines how the policing of public life has changed since the end of the New Order. The paper focuses on Bandung, a city that has undergone something of a renaissance in public life over the past several years. This renaissance is evident in efforts by community and self-styled underground groups to refashion and re-purpose public spaces for new kinds of activities and events; and it is evident in a flowering of mainstream and alternative media forms and outlets. Through interviews with journalists, activists, and others involved in this renaissance, the paper examines how methods for the policing of public life have adapted to the changing circumstances of post-Suharto Indonesia. In so doing, the paper aims to shed light on the legacies left by the New Order regime and its successors on emergent urban public formations.

The Significance of the Police-Hukou Nexus in Taiwan's Democratic Era
Jeffrey Martin, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Taiwan's modern police institutions took shape under Japanese colonial (1895-1945) and Chinese Nationalist authoritarian (1945-1986) governance. The forms of policing developed in the context of these strongly interventionist regimes were based on the use of “census administration” (hukou xingzheng in Mandarin) as a governmental idiom through which to cultivate the alignment of grass-roots social forces with centralized political designs. The democratic transition (1987-1996) transformed both the ideological and the practical relationship between central and local sources of political authority. This made the rationale of census-based policing somewhat ambiguous. However the system is functionally entrenched within the institutional structure of local governance in ways that make reform difficult, and the police-hukou nexus persists to the present day. In this paper I describe certain cultural dimensions of this status quo. In particular, I explore how contemporary interpretations of legitimate police-citizen relationships reflect Taiwan's historical experience with various kinds of modern government, and reveal the central significance of the census-policing nexus within this history.

Modernizing Repression: American Global Police Training and the Violence of Empire
Jeremy Kuzmarov, University of Tulsa, USA

American police training programs have been in the news recently with the Wikileaks scandal and revelations about the corruption and brutality of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Ignored in much mainstream commentary is the fact that American strategy in the Middle-East and Central Asia today is consistent with practices honed over more than a century in the poor nations of the periphery. Over the years, as U.S. imperial attention has shifted from one region to another, police training and financing has remained an unobserved constant, evolving with new strategies and weapons innovations but always retaining the same strategic goals and tactical elements. The programs have been valued as a cost effective and covert mechanism of suppressing radical and nationalist movements, precluding the need for military intervention that was more likely to arouse public opposition, or enabling the drawdown of troops. With remarkable continuity, the United States has trained police not just to target criminals but to develop elaborate intelligence networks oriented towards internal defense, which allowed in a wider range the suppression of dissident groups, and in a more surgical and often brutal way. My paper will provide a basic overview of the history of American police training, its intended function and consequences. I will go on to discuss the centrality to American Cold War strategy in Southeast Asia, where police training was implemented most extensively, and to analyze its impact in South Vietnam, where it evolved as a crucial dimension of broader “nation-building” and counter-insurgency programs.