Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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The Australian National University, in partnership with the Lowy Institute for International Policy and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, is responsible for an Australian Research Council linkage project on Languages of Security in the Asia Pacific. The project has drawn together specialists from a range of academic disciplines who have contributed their knowledge to this collective effort. Within the ANU it is a joint project between the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre and the School of Culture, History and Language. The project is convened by Professors Desmond Ball and Anthony Milner, supervised by Dr. Nicholas Farrelly, with research and editorial assistance provided by Matthew Hill and Sheryn Lee.

The Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific originated from a project designed in 2004 to address a particular problem confronted by Australia in the area of security: the fact that we deal with a region influenced by norm and conceptual systems – and conceptual understandings – that are often different from those dominant in Australian society. The project is a comparative study of the ‘languages of security’ in the East Asian region and Australia, in which ‘by language of security’ we mean the vocabulary of security, the key concepts and norms, the rules, ideas about the nature of causality, potent metaphors and so forth. The term ‘language’ is stressed to convey the project’s concern to probe different understandings (and not merely vocabularies) relating to security issues. It is designed to contribute in practical ways to Australian security analysis and policy formulation, particularly with respect to the development of regional cooperation in both the defence and policy spheres.

In addition, it is concerned to employ a cross-disciplinary approach that will advance the theoretical development of constructivism in the field of security studies. Even in 2011, far more attention is given to explaining international security concepts than to examining the way they are received or understood, or in the way they relate to assumptions already embedded in Asian societies and their modes of communication. Although important research has been undertaken on the broader historical/social context of security relations in the Asian region, the Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific project is novel in seeking to examine the conceptualising of security issues in a range of Asian languages.There are two main dimensions to this project:


One dimension of this project is a lexicon of local language terms that are prominent in security thinking in the society concerned. (Lexicon entries can be accessed via the right-hand sidebar by language or thematic/semantic  role.)

The languages/societies that have been explored include: Burmese; Chinese by I-Ling Tseng; English (Australian) by Brendan Taylor; English (Indian) by Nishank Motwani, with Manjeet S. Pardesi; Indonesian by Amrih Widodo; Japanese by Peter Hendriks; Karen by Paul Keenan and Nan Mu Chaung Khu; Korean (North) by Tatiana Gabroussenko; Korean (South) by Andrei Lankov; Malaysian by Syed Khairudin Aljunied; Shan by Brian McCartan; and Thai by Chintana Sandilands.

Entries for each language/society are being disseminated online with the aim of generating discussion and debate – and strengthening the quality of the entries themselves.  Readers of this website are strongly encouraged to make their own contributions through the individual lexicon entries and more extensive comments can be contributed to the forum.

The local language terms have also been grouped according to their thematic or semantic role.  There are, for instance, comparative categories based around terms such as, deterrence, human security, pluralism, region, security and sovereignty; as well as unique terms idiosyncratic to a country such as, human rights, kidnapping, leader, middle power and unity.


The second dimension of this project is a series of case studies based on terms from the lexicon. Each paper presents a security problem which has arisen due to language confusion and/or misunderstanding, and consequently the linguistic insights that are essential to solving the problem.

Examples of case studies that have been examined are, Language, autonomy and violence in the Southern Thai security crisis by Anthony Diller; The 2001 EP-3 spy-plane incident : the language of ‘sorry’ and ‘apology’ in China and the U.S. by I-Ling Tseng; The Dokdo Island dispute: Korean reconstruction of history and national identity by Jukka Jouhki; and The meaning of ‘ceasefire’ in Burma by Nicholas Farrelly.


**Please note: This is not a final version of the website. Lexicon entries displayed here are the most current working drafts and as we finalise the project we are continually updating the website, as well as adding new entries. Many of the case studies are in the editorial process, with the aim of being published in the new year, and are not yet available for distribution. This project also relies on a range of different fonts used for Asian languages, as such muddled text may appear on your screen in place of some of the fonts. Other Asian scripts have been rendered as GIFF images in order to be displayed correctly on computer systems.


Thank you for your patience and understanding, we hope you enjoy exploring the website,

Desmond Ball and Anthony Milner

with Nicholas Farrelly and Sheryn Lee


For all enquiries, please contact Sheryn Lee (sheryn.lee[at]