An Australian National University history professor has become the first Australian woman to win a major international prize for the promotion of peace in Asia.
Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki will be presented with the prestigious Fukuoka Prize worth $33,000 on Tuesday.
The annual award, sponsored by the Japanese city of Fukuoka, celebrates connections between Asian countries and aims to further peaceful relations between them.
Dr Morris-Suzuki said she was surprised by the prestigious prize, especially because of the high calibre of past winners, including economist Muhammad Yunus, who later won the Nobel peace prize. ‘‘It’s pleasing, delightful and overwhelming,’’ she said.
Professor Morris-Suzuki’s research focuses on grassroots politics or, as she calls it, ‘‘informal life politics’’ in North Korea and Japan.
She said this kind of politics is different to mainstream politics in most Western countries, including Australia.
‘‘The media focus [in Australia] does tend to be very much on political leaders criticising each other.’’
‘‘This makes us miss things that are really quite important that are happening at a person-to-person level’’, Dr Morris-Suzuki said.
One such example is a grassroots project on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido to which Prof Morris-Suzuki plans to donate her prize money.
A local group run reconciliation workshops at a site where many Korean, Japanese and Chinese were forced to work in the aftermath of World War II.
Prof Morris-Suzuki said the workshops were important because young people from those Asian nations could discuss their different understandings of history.
‘‘They sit down and talk to one another and exchange ideas and eat and drink and sing and become friends with one another’’, she said.
Prof Morris-Suzuki said co-operation between Asian nations was not just vital for them, but very important for Australia.
‘‘Obviously the countries of northeast Asia, are enormously important economic partners not only from a strategic point of view but as well, Australia just has a huge interest in those countries having good relations with one another’’, she said.