Australians, Chris Bowen lamented recently, pay lip service to Asia. While millions of us visit every year, it is too easy to skim across the region’s surface. Few Australians speak Asian languages; most know little about our colossal neighbour Indonesia, let alone other ASEAN countries. Making matters worse, there is an astonishing dearth of quality books about Southeast Asia for a general audience. The region contains more than 600 million people; its economy is over $US2.4 trillion. Yet between academic monographs and the airbrushed presentations of these societies which appear in Lonely Planet guides there are comparatively few options. The publication of Michael Vatikiotis’s superb Blood and Silk: Power and conflict in modern Southeast Asia is therefore very welcome. Lip service to Asia is not something that can be said of Vatikiotis. With university degrees in Southeast Asian studies, he has spent thirty years in the region working as a journalist then conflict mediator; he speaks fluent Indonesian and Thai.
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