Democratic Transition in Asia Essay

Pages: 11 (4153 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government

In the Triangular Model of Social Movement Analysis (TRIM), Koichi Hasegawa theorized that the secretive and centralized control of Japan by ministers, bureaucrats, the Liberal Democratic Party and giant corporations left very little space for protest movements and NGOs to influence policy compared to the U.S. And other Western democracies (Broadbent and Brockman, p. 17). Tatsuo Arima described how the rise of fascism in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s was influenced by common intellectual currents of the time. Like Germany, it was ruled by elites who laid claim to "scientific and technical modernity but anti-modern values characterized by the 19th Century nostalgia for medieval history and feudal order" (Schmiegelow 1997, p. 30).

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China's economy is still growing at 9% per year in spite of the current recession, and at present rates will overtake Japan in 2015 and the U.S. In 2039. For some time, the "center of the global political economy" has been moving to Asia, with consequences for democracy that are unclear (Chan 2008, p. ix). Perhaps the most important political question in the decades ahead will be whether democratization and liberalization will result from this rapid economic development. Dingxin Zhau observed that the suppression of the students and their supporters in China in 1989 was carried out by the military and bureaucratic faction that "saw them as an illegitimate threat to the state," which gained ascendancy over other factions favoring reform and gradual democratization (Broadbent and Brockman, p. 15). Even so, China is now undergoing a "creeping" democratization due to its increasing integration with the global capitalist economy over the last thirty years (Shelley, p. 2).

Essay on Democratic Transition in Asia Transition Assignment

Baogang He affirmed that China stands in contradiction of transition theory in that it now has a mixed authoritarian and democratic system, with local elections permitted in the rural areas. This gradual transition to democracy has some historical precedent as well, such as Britain and North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries and constitutions that combined monarchy, aristocracy and democracy (He 2007, p. 225). China will not undergo the Solidarity Model of transition to democracy, in which a mass popular uprising forces the government to make the change. Rather, as Minxin Pei put it, the transition will be "silent and evolutionary with characteristics that Westerners will not recognize as 'democratic'" (He, p. 226). This gradual transition may well take decades, as it did in many other countries like Germany, Britain and France.

For decades in East Asia, the authoritarian and state-directed economic model had little in common with liberalism and was not influenced or controlled by large movements of private global capital. Bruce Cumings called this system a "bureaucratic-authoritarian industrializing regime" which in South Korea and other 'Asian Tigers' ensured that the state was thoroughly "insulated from the lower classes and civil society in general. By the 1980s, though, economic growth had led to the expansion of civil society and a new middle class "whose growing political demands had drastically weakened the autonomy and authoritarian character of the state" (Berger 2006, p. 111). According to Chulhee Chan, democratization occurred in South Korea in the 1980s and 1990s because students groups took the lead of a grassroots movement demanding the end of military dictatorship, and this reflected deep cultural traditions in Korean society (Broadbent and Brockman, p. 16). In Taiwan, Michael Hsiao found that social movements also brought an end to decades of dictatorship by the military and Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), although they were not initially accepted within the context of "conservative Chinese culture" (Broadbent and Brockman, p. 16). There was also a persistent ethnic conflict between the mainland Chinese who ruled the island after 1949 and the native Taiwanese majority.

These grassroots movements for democratization only became important factors with the waning of the Cold War in the 1980s and 1990s. From the 1940s to the 1970s, there was very little international investment or activity by multinational corporations in South Korea and Taiwan, especially because these were threatened by nearby Communist nations like China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Since the first priority of U.S. foreign policy was to "inoculate the countries against Communism," it supported land reform, mercantilist and protectionist policies, and exports, even opening up its own markets to their products without demanding reciprocity (Mahan, 2004, p. 198 Note 31). Significantly, its efforts to promote the exact same types of policies in South Vietnam from 1954-73 proved to be a dismal value in the face of North Vietnam's determination to unify the nation under Communist rule at all costs. In Southeast Asia as a whole, in fact, U.S. foreign policy turned out to be far less successful than it had been in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, even at establishing stable authoritarian regime that could produce the necessary level of social and economic development.

Southeast Asia: Illiberal Democracies and Persistent Authoritarianism

Southeast Asia is one of the most neglected regions in political science, comparative politics and international relations, and has been so since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. East Asia receives far more scholarly and academic attention, as do North America, Europe and Latin America. Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia could all be described as patrimonial states, ruled by corrupt oligarchs tied to the military, and in fact they are in constant danger of being overthrown in military coups. Thailand may be somewhat exceptional in also having in having a semi-independent bureaucracy like the East Asian states that is not completely corrupt and nepotistic, and therefore able "to pursue some amount of rational-legal capitalist development from above," like Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan (Kuharta et al., p. 19). In Singapore, the corporate state "suppresses all manifestations of social movements through soft social control," and has been very successful in creating high incomes and living standards without the corruption and nepotism found in Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations (Broadbent and Brockman, p. 15).

Over the last forty years, Benedict Anderson has been the best known and most important political theorist to devote attention to the largely ignored area. In his study of Indonesia, he found that the strategy of conservative elites in conciliating the colonial powers "ensured that national sovereignty would ultimately be achieved at the expense of social reform and substantive, lasting democracy" (Kuhata et al. 2008, p. 10). As in other Asian countries, the U.S. supported the military and elite groups and was determined to maintain a non-Communist Indonesia. This culminated in its support for Suharto's military coup in 1965 that exterminated hundreds of thousands of Communists and ethic Chinese, and the dictatorship that lasted until the Asian economic meltdown in 1997-98. Only with the end of the Cold War and Suharto's loss of popular support did it stand aside and permit a fragile new democracy to come into being. In Thailand, Anderson claimed that the nationalism promoted by the monarchy was "inherently reactionary…forestalling hopes for deep social reform" (Kuharta et al., p. 10). Up to the present, Indonesia's democracy has been beset by an endless torrent of difficulties, including mass poverty, corruption, regional separatist movements, Islamic fundamentalism and the threat of a coup by elites still nostalgic for Suharto's New Order (Eldridge 2002, p. 9).

Indonesia and the Philippines introduced a form of democracy after independence in the 1940s, but "failed miserably economically" compared to authoritarian states like China, Singapore and South Korea (Bridges and Ho 2010, p. 1). This seemed to confirm once again that only an authoritarian regime would be powerful enough to destroy the old order and clear the way for social and economic development. Political democratization would occur decades in the future, once a modernized economic base had been securely built. This was the conventional wisdom in political science, development and modernization theories and international relations from the 1940s to the 1970s, and remains so in China, Vietnam and other authoritarian states today. In the Philippines after the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the military attempted to overthrow the new civilian government at least nine times. All of these coups were led by officers trained at the Philippines Military Academy under Marcos, particularly the notorious class of 1971. As soldiers, their main military experience had been "brutal campaigns against leftist opponents and Muslim insurgents," and they had plenty of experience in torture and death squad-style killings, but little in the way of democratic values (Kuharta et al., p. 16).

In contrast to India, British colonial policies in Burma left the country badly prepared for independence, at least under any recognizably democratic form of government. There was no liberal or democratic elite like the Congress Party, and the Burma's rulers had "little besides coercive institutions to hold a deeply fragmented society together" (Kuharta et al., p. 14). During the constant rebellions, regional breakaway movements and ethnic conflicts of 1947-62, the military came to regard itself as an autonomous and independent institution, with none other capable of preserving the nation. It became a state within a state and a power unto itself, answerable to no… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Democratic Transition in Asia.  (2011, January 27).  Retrieved April 2, 2020, from

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"Democratic Transition in Asia."  27 January 2011.  Web.  2 April 2020. <>.

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"Democratic Transition in Asia."  January 27, 2011.  Accessed April 2, 2020.