Chapter 1: The White Man's Burden

The Global Wave of Democratization and the Rise of East Asia

Two of the most dramatic global phenomena in the last decades of the 20th century have been the rush of new democracies and the rise of East Asia as a new center of the global economy. This book is about the interaction between those two momentous events and their implications for the 21st century.

Only a generation ago liberal democratic governments were relatively few and largely confined to North Atlantic countries. In the aftermath of World War II, when a flood of new democracies were established in Africa and Asia after the retreat of European imperialists, hopes had been high in the western world that democracy, modernization, and capitalism would be the wave of the future. But those hopes had been dashed as most new democracies quickly succumbed to socialist or military dictatorships or other forms of autocracy. By the 1970s most sober analysts had concluded that democracy was a relatively fragile and culture-bound form of government, appropriate for only a minority of the world's people. However, beginning in southern Europe in the mid-70s, sweeping through most of Latin America in the 80s, and surging through the collapsing Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, the wave of democratization has even reached African, Asian, and Islamic countries with cultural traditions and political histories vastly different from the western polities in which democracy originated.

Another dramatic event on the world scene at the close of the 20th century was the rise of East Asian economic power. After centuries of being invaded, looted, exploited, and demoralized by Western colonialism, and then experiencing the massive destruction of the second world war, by the middle of the 20th century, China and the peoples of Southeast Asia were some of the poorest countries in the world. Japan, which had escaped colonization and embarked on a course of forced modernization in the mid-19th century was the one exception, having become a large, modern economy and an imperial power by the beginning of the 20th century. But the second world war had left Japan in ruins and occupied by the U.S.

However, in the past few decades there has been an explosion of economic growth in East Asia unlike anything the world has seen since the rise of capitalism in Europe. Beginning with Japan in the immediate postwar period, spreading first to the "four tigers," South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and eventually encompassing Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and even China, East Asian economies have grown at roughly three times the rate of western economies and vastly outstripped other developing economies. By the end of the 20th century trade across the Pacific Ocean was larger than trade across the Atlantic and total economic production of East Asian nations was greater than that of either the EU or the US, leading many to talk of the 21st century as the Pacific Century.

The implications of the rise of East Asia for the rest of the world are still unclear. No one yet knows how East Asians will use their new found economic and political power. Will East Asia become ever more closely integrated into the global system created by the West, or will there be significant cultural, economic, and political clashes between East and West? Clearly, much of East Asia is substantially modernized and most lagging areas are modernizing rapidly. But is East Asia also westernizing or is it following its own path? Is East Asia truly democratizing? Are East Asian political systems converging with western liberal democracies or following a path of their own?

Democratic thinkers in the West have long debated whether democracy was possible and even desirable in East Asian societies. For the first half 20th century there were few cases of democracy in East Asia, lending credence to the hypothesis that democracy was unsuited to Asian polities. After the second world war several of the nations which gained independence proclaimed themselves democratic republics, but their experience was not encouraging for those who hoped to see western style democracy flourish in East Asia. One by one, Burma, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia experienced military coups, martial law, or drastic restrictions of parliamentary democracy and political liberty. Even Japan, the one case of continuous postwar democratic forms, manifested a bureaucratically dominated system where one party seemingly governed uninterrupted and virtually unchallenged. Until a few years ago, those who argued that East Asia was unsuited for ,or at least not yet ready for, western style democracy seemed to be right.

However, the 1980s brought a resurgence of democratic forces in East Asia. The victory of "people power" over the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines drew the most international attention, but there were dramatic moves toward democracy in South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand as well. In the 1990s the once invincible ruling party in Japan actually lost an election to a reformist challenger. Even in communist China the winds of economic liberalization stirred hopes of democratic reform, despite the repression at Tiananmen.

Yet the skeptics remain unconvinced that western style democracy is the wave of the future in East Asia. Questions remain about the depth and durability of East Asian democratization. Critics argue that although many East Asian nations have adopted the forms of electoral democracy, the real content of these systems remain dramatically different from western democracies.

Can democracy survive and flourish in East Asia? Are East Asian democracies different from western democracies? And if East Asian democracies are different, are they inferior versions? These are the questions this book seeks to answer.

 

II. The Emergence of the Pacific World and the Rise of East Asia (Changing Position of East Asia in the World Order)

 

III. When East Met West

For 500 years, from the beginning of Western penetration into Asia, Westerners have thought themselves as culturally superior to Asians. Kipling's view that the white man had to carry the burden of civilizing the heathen Asians sums up this perspective well.

As the 20th century comes to a close, some of the sharper edges of this attitude have been worn down by the rapid technical and economic advances of East Asian societies, but the basic belief in western cultural superiority remains widespread. Western, and particularly American, attitudes about democracy must be reinterpreted in light of this ethnocentrism.

The idea of democracy cannot be separated from the broader Western invasion of the East. Westerners came to Asia not as teachers bearing the gifts of modernization and democracy but as military conquerors and rulers. Most of East Asia was attacked and subjected to western rule. The Dutch invaded Indonesia, the French overran Indochina, the British added Burma to its Indian empire, the Spanish originally took the Philippines although they later lost them to the U.S., and all the western powers carved out spheres of influence in China. The fundamental contadiction between westerners posturing about democracy and their conquest of colonial empires cannot be denied. Asian ideas about democracy have been shaped not only by western theory of democracy but also by resistance to western imperialism and by fascination with western technological superiority. Westerners have never lost the sense of cultural superiority that was both a cause and a consequence of imperialism.

On the other hand, the idea of democracy is a real cultural innovation of the West that has a certain universal ethical validity. Democracy is a good thing for the East as well as the West, and its theory and practice are more advanced in the West.

 

The Dual Nature of Democratic Ideology

The history of the 20th century shows that western-style democracy cannot simply be transplanted whole into nations whose cultural traditions are vastly different from the West. Moreover, the disagreements in the West on core issues of democratic theory and what constitutes true democracy are highlighted as the problem of constucting democracy in non-western contexts is confronted. Just as important, but less often recognized, is that Western thinking about the relative emphasis on different elements of democratic theory and even core concepts of democracy are culturally biased.

IV. Some Contemporary East Asian Political Concepts and Democratic Theory

Ethnocentric western thinking tends to ignore certain indigenous Asian political and social concepts and practices that can be seen as compatible with democracy. Kim Dae Jung, leader of the opposition in South Korea, has pointed out two such examples in East Asian political traditions: the Chinese concept that the emperor ruled only through the "mandate of heaven" and the Korean practice of village self rule. The Chinese scholar Mencius, who was second only to Confucius in importance in Chinese tradition, asserted that the emperor's power was not absolute, but contingent on a mandate from heaven. If the emperor was unjust, corrupt, or did not serve the people well, then he lost the mandate of heaven and could legimately be deposed. While not exactly the same as the western philosophy of "popular sovereignty," the concept of the mandate of heaven asserts a similar claim that the right to rule is contingent on popular support.

In contemporary Asian politics there are also cases of ideas and practices that differ from western ways of thinking but which could be regarded as compatible with democracy or even as extensions of democratic theory. Let me just briefly point out three: the New Economic Policy of Malaysia which used activist public policy to manage ethnic relations, the Chinese notion of the "iron rice bowl," and the Japanese idea of nemawashi, or consultation and dialogue before making decisions. Each of these concepts will be analyzed in more detail in later chapters. My purpose here is only to introduce these ideas as examples of indigenous Asian thinking potentially consistent with at least certain philosophies of democracy.

One example of how Asian ideas of basic rights come into conflict with liberal, capitalistic democratic notions based on non-interference with private property can be seen in Malaysia' New Economic Policy (NEP). Malaysia is a multiethnic society. The majority Malays are over 60% of the population, but there are also large numbers of ethnic Chinese and Indians. Historically, non-Malays, especially Chinese, dominated business and the professions.

Resentment of the majority Malays of the privileged position of the Chinese and Indians was fanned by post-independence electoral politicians with their increasingly strident appeals to ethnic nationalism. In 1969 large scale rioting against Chinese economic and political power caused the suspension of the electoral system.

In 1970 the NEP was promulgated. The NEP was a conscious attempt to manage ethnic group relations. It used a broad array of government preferences and subsidies which sought over time to transfer to the Malay majority or "bumiputra" (sons of the soil) ownership of economic assets, membership in the professions, and economic power generally. Since the establishment of the NEP there has been relative ethnic peace in Malaysia. Majority Malays have in fact taken a greater role in the economy, increasing their ownership of businesses and representation in the professions. Contrary to the predictions of proponents of limited government, the NEP has not harmed economic performance. The Malaysian economy has consistently grown at such a rapid rate that many are now classifying it with the "tigers" of East Asia such as Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In the 1990s the NEP has been gradually replaced by xxx, which pursues the same goals through less formal and pervasive means.

Yet the NEP has been generally ignored and when acknowledged, it has been widely criticized in the West. White American ideologists, bent on eliminating the limited attempts of affirmative action to redress racial grievances in the U.S., want to discredit the successes of the NEP in managing ethnic tensions through ethnically conscious public policy. Transnational corporations resent government pressure to share a greater proportion of their profits with ethnic Malays, although this has not significantly slowed their investment in the dynamic Malaysian economy. Most western commentators are hardened in their opposition to the NEP despite the gains it has achieved for the Malay majority because it does not meet western notions of individual democratic rights and perhaps more importantly because it conflicts with the desires of transnational corporations.

Yet the NEP and xxx have fervent support among the majority Malays and have even been accepted as a social compact by many Chinese and Indians. A policy supported by the vast majority which reduces differences in life chances between members of the ethnic majority and an economically privileged minority might seem on its face to be essentially democratic. But most westerner observers, their perspective narrowly focused on western models (and interests), cannot see that.

One of the key concepts that lent legitimacy to the Chinese revolution was the concept of the "iron rice bowl." This term refers to assurances dating back to the Maoist era that despite the widespread poverty and shortages after decades of international and civil war, every Chinese would have their basic needs for economic subsistence--food, housing, basic medical care, etc.--guaranteed by the state. Whatever else one might say about the Chinese communists, this promise has been largely met. In the early years of the regime there were some failures to provided universal subsistence, especially during the food shortages following the turmoil of the Great Leap Forward. But overall, during the period of central planning food, housing, and medical costs were kept artificially low, paid for largely through artificially high prices on individual consumer goods. Workers and retirees in state enterprises and collective farms came to take for granted cheap housing, medical benefits, and subsidized rice.

Now the liberal, capitalistic variant of democratic theory rejects the systematic government management of the economy that made such policies possible. But the iron rice bowl can be seen in terms of basic human rights. For example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights asserts such positive rights to basic economic subsistence in equal terms to more traditional western concepts of individual freedom from government interference, or what have been called negative human rights. Article 25 states

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate

for the health and well-being of himself and his family,

including food, clothing, housing and medical care and

necessary social services.

According to the philosophy of social democracy, positive rights to economic subsistence are human rights issues just as crucial to democracy as freedom of the press or treatment of political dissidents. Ironically, Chinese guarantees of economic subsistence are under sustained attack from western governments and corporations who want to reduce the cost of doing business in China, even as westerners posture as agents of democratization.

Another example of an indigenous Asian concept that can be seen as compatible with democratic theory is the Japanese notion of nemawashi. Nemawashhi is not easily translated into English, but basically it means developing group consensus by consultation with all involved persons. Nemawashi is more a social and business concept than purely political concept, but it reflects a deeply and widely held value in Japanese society that has an underlying democratic element.

The American democratic ethos places a high value on egalitarianism. The American Declaration of Independence asserts that "all men are created equal." De Tocqueville was only the most prominent of a host of observers who have commented on how the value of egalitarianism has made American manners, customs, and even government policies different than those of Europe. In practice some Americans are more equal than others, especially those with wealth. Those with wealth or position can command not only special treatment but greater respect from ordinary people. But in contrast even to democratic societies in Europe, and especially to non-democratic societies, Americans show less deference and more assertiveness toward those of higher social status. The value of egalitarianism has a real impact in American social and political behavior even it does not prevent great inequalities in position and status.

By contrast Japan is a society that celebrates hierarchy. Innumerable commentators have noted the deference Japanese show for their social superiors, reaching as far as multiple levels of polite speech depending on the differences in rank between individuals. Yet despite the Japanese penchant for hierarchy, the idea of nemawashi asserts that in many contexts subordinates must be consulted and their opinions at least formally considered when decisions are made. This is in essence a democratic notion. While nemawashi accepts the legitimacy of hierarchy, it asserts the rights of all to be heard.

Like American egalitarianism, the Japanese ethic of nemawashi coexists other values which counter its influence, and like any value, it is often violated in practice. But just as American egalitarianism has a real impact on the behavior of both high ranking and lower ranking individuals, the Japanese value of nemawashi has a real effect on the way decisions are made in Japanese society.

As we can see from these examples, indigenous Asian thinking may be compatible with democratic theory in ways that many westerners do not recognize or are unable to accept. The very theory of democracy needs to be reinterpreted in light of the interaction between Western and non-western societies.

Not all Asian revisions of traditional western democratic theory are consistent with true democratic ideals. Many Asian dictators have sought to put a democratic gloss on brutal regimes. Asian tyrants as diverse as Marcos, Suharto, and Kim Il Sung have criticized western notions of democracy as inappropriate to their indigenous culture and proposed their own theories of national democracy which place their military cronies or party ideologues in near total control of political life.

Yet a truly democratic perspective must recognize that not only westerners, but also Asians, must be heard if concepts of democracy are to be developed which can flourish on both sides of the Pacific. While democratic theory is most advanced in the West, westerners will not be the only ones to contribute to its future development.

 

VI. The Plan of the Book

This chapter has shown how the rise of East Asia and the spread of democracy beyond the confines of western societies mandate a rethinking of the concept of democracy. Chapter 2 begins to develop the conceptual tools necessary to analyze democracy in non-western settings by contrasting Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis with Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis. It asks whether modernization and westernization are essentially the same thing or whether there are different roads to the modern world and different ends to the modernization process. The corrolary question is whether democracy is a necessary part of the modernization process. The two leading theories of western scholars about democratization are surveyed and both are found ethnocentrically biased, too Atlantic-centric to make sophisticated judgments about non-western polities.

Part II explores of western thought about democracy and its relationship to political development. Chapter 3 examines the dominant type of democratic theory--liberal democracy, tracing the origins of democratic and liberal thought, examining the paradox of the key role of political elites in democratic theory, and sketching some of the leading alternatives ways of thinking about democracy that have challenged the hegemony of liberal democracy. Most theories of democracy are theories about the relationship between economics and politics, so Chapter 4 examines whether democratic development is dependent on a particular type of economic system. It also introduces the concept of the developmental state, which is useful in analyzing many East Asian political economies.

Part III looks at how the international system influences democratization within individual nations. Chapter 5 shows how the waves of democratization and reversals of democracy noted by Huntington can be explained by the ebb and flow of the power of the hegemonic state and the rise of war blocks challenging the hegemon. Victories of the hegemonic power and its allies in world war or cold war have spurred waves of democratization, while the rise of challenging war blocs have led to reversals of many newer democratic regimes. Chapter 5 also traces the waves of democratization in East Asia from the period of independence from Europe when many new democracies were formed, through the triumph of military dictatorships during the Cold War, to the wave of liberalization and democratization that has swept East Asia in the past decade. The early chapters of this book largely take the concept of democracy at face value, but it is no secret that the symbolism of democracy has often been used for non-democratic purposes. Chapter 6 examines how the concepts of democracy and human rights have been tools of western power, especially how they were used as ideological weapons in the Cold War.

The early parts of the book largely look at democracy from a western perspective, either tracing the evolution of democratic theory in the West or discussing how western institutions and ideas have impacted on East Asia. Part IV takes a more East Asia-centric view. Chapter 7 discusses the importance of political culture and especially the role of Confucianism and neo-Confucianism in East Asian political development. Chapter 8 discusses the evolution of East Asian political institutions, particularly the new type of regime, which is emerging in the region, the hegemonic party state. Chapter 9 focuses on the writings of East Asian leaders on democracy and political ideology, covering the early founders of modern East Asian states, more recent defenders of liberal democracy, and militarist, socialist, Islamicist, and neo-Confucian critics of liberal democracy.

Chapter 10 pulls together the analyses of earlier chapters to develop a set of criteria to evaluate the degree of democratization of a polity. These criteria synthesize many different approaches to thinking about democratic development, and thus are quite stringent. The fact that no nation scores highly on all the criteria simply highlights the fact that no nation is a perfect democracy, but that all real political systems are only partially democratized.

Parts V and VI contain qualitative case studies of democratization. Since no nation is completely democratized, several Pacific nations are evaluated on the criteria developed in Chapter 10, beginning with the United States, which likes to think of itself as the paragon of democracies. Although Sweden is clearly not a Pacific nation, it is the most developed case of the western alternative to liberal democracy, social democracy, so its political system is also reviewed. Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore, are the East Asian nations examined in most detail. Greater China is also discussed. Other Southeast Asian nations are also briefly examined. The case studies in Parts V and VI are not comprehensive analyses of the entire political systems of the selected Pacific nations. Nor do they assign quantitative scores of democratization along conventional measures of democratization. Rather, they apply the complex concept of democracy advanced in the theoretical chapters to empirical cases and assess democratization of various nations in light of the framework developed in Chapter 10.

Part VII takes up issues affecting the future of democracy in the Pacific world. The strength of the recent wave of democratization in East Asia is considered in light of the rise of East Asian economic and political power and the integration of Pacific economies. Five alternative scenarios for the future of the Pacific Rim are presented based on different possibilities about the relations among the U.S., China, Japan, and other nations; potential military and security developments in the region; evolving trade patterns; and possible patterns of political integration of the region. The scenarios are the Status Quo, Harmonious Integration, a New Cold War between the U.S. and China, the rise of a Confucian Cultural Zone, and Regional Disintegration. The effects of each of these scenarios of the Pacific future on the viability of democratic thought and practice are then assessed. The Postscript considers the crucial positive and negative effects the U.S. has had and will continue to have in the evolution of the region and the future of Pacific democracy.

 

VII. A Note on Terminology