West Australians love the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. We swim in it, we mine it, we even drink it. We also share it with about 40% of the world’s population.
Bounded by Australia, Asia and Africa, the Indian Ocean has emerged as a key focus of international attention in recent years due to piracy, threats to the oil supply from the Middle East and strategic competition between China, India and the United States.
In July this year UWA formed a unique partnership with Paramadina University and the University of Pretoria to run an intensive Masters level course on The International Relations of the Indian Ocean Region.
A group of 22 Australian, Indonesian and South African students were treated to an impressive array of speakers including not only academic experts but also practitioners of international relations such as the South African Ambassador, senior Australian embassy officials and top planners from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also took an interest, contributing several of her speeches on the topic.
A highlight of the 10-day course was a 3-hour train trip to the mountain town of Bandung, the site of the historic Asian-African Conference in 1955 which led to the formation of the Non-Aligned movement in world politics. After a talk on the significance of the Bandung Conference by international relations staff at Bandung’s Parahyangan University the students visited the well-preserved Dutch era venue for the conference that is now a museum.
Most students said that the best thing was collaborating with their counterparts from other countries and thinking for the first time of the Indian Ocean as a potential community with shared interests. Even though regional organisations such as IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) have existed for some time, there is as yet little sense of a common identity.
“I have learned so much in so many ways, I cannot even start to mention specific aspects. I now have a great thirst to pursue this topic for my research” one student said.
On the final day blended groups of students presented on topics as diverse as illegal fishing, tourism, IORA leadership and the blue economy.
The International Collaborative Study Experience (SOCS5105) was coordinated by Dr David Bourchier and Dr David Mickler, the interim director of the Africa Research & Engagement Centre. Prof Maxi Schoeman of the University of Pretoria was our South African partner and Dr Shiskha Prabawaningtyas very generously hosted and coordinated activities at Paramadina University.
The course follows the success of a UWA collaboration with Paramadina University last year on the theme of Australia-Indonesia relations.