Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia (4th edition)
Editors: Joseph Chinyong Liow
Pages: pp. 429
Price: £. 38.99 $59.95 (pbck)
Reviewed by Kai Chen, School of International Relations, Xiamen University, China
Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia (4th edition) draws on a wide array of sources to provide a thorough list of important figures, organizations, and events in the political history of the Southeast Asian countries (i.e., Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam) since the Second World War.
In general, the dictionary is divided into two parts. The first part is composed of 11 essays, which outline the basic facts of each Southeast Asian country. Scholars and lay readers alike will find the essays useful, if their use of the essays is primarily to access brief summaries of the political dynamics of the Southeast Asian countries. The second part of the dictionary has over 350 entries, which would not only satisfy anyone who consults this dictionary, but also benefit both advanced scholars and students of Southeast Asian studies. Moreover, the list of further reading and index are also valuable.
There are no doubt more improvements that could be made to the dictionary, and the reviewer hopes that the editor will welcome any constructive suggestions or comments that reviewers and readers care to offer. To a Chinese reviewer, there is an omission in the dictionary. In page 189, the dictionary said, “China launched a punitive military expedition into northern Vietnam in February 1979”. frankly speaking, the term “punitive” is a misnomer and has inevitably gained a negative connotation. In 1979, China launched “self-defence actions” against Vietnam, when China’s “paramount national interests were involved” (Zhang 2005, p.862). The nature of the war was a “self-defensive counter-attack.” It was “limited in time and space,” and also limited to the ground fighting— similar to the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. No naval or air forces would be used (Chen 1983, p.240). if the editor would take the above-mentioned arguments into account, the entries related with China’s War Against Vietnam in 1979, would be more enlightened and inclusive.
Overall, however, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia is a concise, and enlightening resource that captures the breadth and depth of the dynamics of Southeast Asian politics in modern era. It should be a valuable reading for anyone interested in the history of political history of Southeast Asian countries. It also deserves a place within the larger literature on Southeast Asian contemporary history. Readers should feel that there is much to learn. It would have a long shelf life, and certainly be helpful to have a copy on hand.
1. CHEN, K.C. 1983, “China’s War Against Vietnam, 1979: A Military Analysis”, The Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 233-263.
2. Zhang, X. 2005, “China’s 1979 War with Vietnam: A Reassessment”, The China Quarterly, vol. 184, no. 184, pp. 851-874.