Political Structure of Democracy in East Asia

Introduction

Democracy has several definitions posed by different political scientists. According to Hilla University for Humanistic Studies (para1), democracy consists of certain basic elements: it is a political system in which free and fair elections are used to choose governments and replace the existing ones, the people must actively participate in the civil life and political activities, all human rights must be respected and protected and there must be a rule of law applicable to all the citizens.

Democracy is a way through which citizens of a country elect their leaders and hold them accountable for their activities in the office and also for their policies. This is a situation where the government is anchored on the agreement between the governors and the governed. Democracy can also be defined as a government where the majority of the people retain supreme power or just government by the people. The political systems in East Asia are within the full range of laissez-faire democracy to diverse hybrid democratic-authoritarian kinds; in certain instances, the systems changed into totalitarian and authoritarian systems of government.

Democracy has widespread all over the globe. The current state of democratization began in the 1970s in southern Europe and spread to other parts of the world including Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The flow of democracy in East and Southeast Asia had a substantial amount of influence on South Korea, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, and Indonesia but had limited impact on the unbendable authoritarian system of governance in China, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos (Shadlen 7).

The political systems in East Asia do not fit closely into a simple dual categorization of democratic and authoritarian systems of government. The regimes have varying degrees of both systems; in fact, some systems have demonstrated the elements of both democratic and authoritarian governance in a range of combinations. There have been several attempts by political scientists to establish perfect typologies of the diverse political systems found in East and Southeast Asia and other parts of the world (Zhu 35).

However, there are still variations in the opinions about the classification criteria and the types of systems. Performance has been used for a long time in measuring the legitimacy of regimes in East and Southeast Asia. Its main concern is the competence of the government authority to fulfill the promises of economic and social benefits to the people. In Asia, as a whole, there has been some kind of trade-offs for such benefits in terms of limitations on liberal democratic practices and civil liberties (Zhu 36-37).

The Political Structure of East Asian Countries

Using the typologies that have been advanced by different political scientists, the majority of East and Southeast Asian countries fit authoritarianism. Countries like Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand are considered democratic countries in East and Southeast Asia. Amongst those considered to be authoritarian include countries like Myanmar, China, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Brunei. Indonesia is practicing a kind of government system that can neither be classified as democratic nor authoritarian (Godement 205). Generally, the political systems and the process of democracy are a divergence from the Western political systems.

The conventional liberal traits of democratic governance require that there must be multiple parties that represent different policies and also there should be a political alternative for the existing government; in other words, there should be a government in waiting. In such a democracy, there should also be checks and balances on the activities of the government (Held 43). The United States of America is known to practice this system. However, the democracies of East Asia are different from this kind of democratic ideal. Most of these countries have emerged from either hard or soft authoritarianism to certain forms of democracy; these forms include holding elections, having more than one political parties and having universal suffrage.

In some cases, these forms of democracies appear to be anchored on differing social premises. There is a general absence of liberal political parties across all the East Asian nations. In most of these countries, ruling parties have become hard to replace. For instance, Singapore has been under the rule of one political party known as “The People’s Action Party” since it attained its independence. It was also headed by one person from 1959 to 1990 (Monitor International Ltd 5-10).

Clearly, in many East Asian countries, the opposition parties have never had total freedom to express their opinion and policies, speech and also enjoy political and civil rights as is the case in the Western nations. The leaders of these countries believe that rather than develop democracy, it is important to develop discipline. They argue that strong governmental control and in certain situations the curtailment of political freedom or right are therefore necessary to guard the interest of the society. In some of these undemocratic countries, it is believed that the government must uphold the interest of the people and that this should not be hindered by the use of unnecessary democratic watch or checks and balances (Sachsenröder 56-98).

In most, East Asian countries strict bureaucracy is still in existence. They are also characterized by the absence of the separation of political powers; the state, party in leadership, and bureaucracy are all fused. This implies that leadership and decision-making are still highly centralized. A good number of East Asian countries still do not have opportunities for a free press. The governments seem to sanction everything done within the countries. Close examination of the undemocratic countries in East Asia reveals that citizens are rather treated as subjects than citizens by the ruling parties or those in the governmental authorities (Stenner 127-130).

The government policies are in fact against the putting of individual’s rights ahead of societal needs. The governmental practices in East Asian countries seem to be based on different backgrounds and cultural experiences. Therefore, the different leadership standards in those countries are seen as a mirror of varied foundations of culture and diversified practical needs. It has been argued that there is a need to dictate certain specific priorities in the multi-ethnic East Asian nations; and that for this to be possible some elements of authoritarianism must be implemented just like it was once done in the Western nations. The East Asian Nations, by the year 1997, had no legal instruments that protected human rights and it was also projected that there was a possibility that no commission on human rights existed (Stenner 130-133).

How Democracy Occurred in East Asian Countries

As much as most nations found within East Asia largely remain either totally or less authoritarian, some of the nations have experienced the force of democratization. The democratization process in some of these nations started with the post-Vietnam war, post-cold war, and post regional crisis. For instance, in the Philippines, there was a revolution that took place in 1986. This revolution was a people’s reaction to economic failures. The revolution brought in some elements of democracy in the state. The most democratic countries within this region are democratic. The United States of America is particularly interested in ensuring democracy in East and Southeast Asia (Chow 231).

Through its international development agencies, the United States has contributed substantially to the growth of democracy in East Asian nations. Global democratization is one of the United States’ foreign policies. It has initiated programs that seek to ensure that the rights of the workers are respected, human rights are protected and the rule of laws applies equally to all people (Chow 233). Some of the East Asian nations in which the programs are implemented include China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, and South Korea. East Asia may remain largely authoritarian but the existence of democracy in some of its regions is partial.

Taking China, for instance, the liberalization of the Chinese economy to be influenced by capitalistic factors was an indication that democracy would quickly follow since capitalistic market economies come with many elements of democracy. However, the Chinese government has even tightened its grip on the authoritarian form of governance. This has affected the hope of having a fully operational democracy. It can be argued that there exists a democracy that is non-liberalized (Ghista 34-43).

The introduction of democracy in some parts of East Asia came as a result of the struggle by citizens; this was coupled with international pressure. People like the former president of South Korea, Kim Dae-Jung had long periods of political struggle geared toward pressurizing the introduction of liberal democracy in their countries. They were constantly tortured and imprisoned because of their spirited fight to end the complete authoritarian regimes (Barkawi 239).

Leaders in most East Asian nations started thinking about respecting and protecting human rights because of the fear of trials on human rights violations. International bodies like the United Nations have come up with specific definitions of components of democracy that should be enforced globally in the democratization process. They have also come up with parameters for evaluating the state of democracies and also spelled out possible actions to be taken against regimes that do not respects the basics of democracy like respect for human rights and free media. These international bodies seem to succeed in influencing East Asian nations to try former leaders on the violations of such rights and freedoms.

Democracy in some East Asian nations was influenced by their pro-democracy colonial powers. For instance, the United State of America wanted the Philippines leaders to embrace and practice democracy as they were handing over power to them. This was also the trend with other East Asian nations colonized by the Western countries. Unfortunately, after the pro-democracy colonialists left East Asia, some of the nations adopted a strict authoritarian rule (Pandey 23-34).

Why China Does Not Like Liberal Democracy

Democracy is not a concept natural in the culture of Chinese neither is it in the Chinese political philosophy. This concept of democracy negates the ideologies of Confucianism which is strongly in favor of obedience and harmony. The people must obey the authority and engage in activities that are in harmony with others and the government. Even though China is not pro-democracy, it does not mean that the Chinese had never fought for the introduction of liberal democracy in China.

The first such attempt occurred in 1895 and was introduced almost single-handedly by a Chinese involved in series of protests that took place in Beijing demanding that the people of China be allowed increased participation in the governing process. This was the first pro-democracy protest ever recorded in China at that time. The clamor for the democratization of China was also supported by Mao Zedong and the communists of China. Moreover, the Cultural Revolution has been described as one of the radical attempts at achieving the great democracy advocated for by Mao Zedong (Shou 23-27).

Democracy comes with a lot of changes. The changes include but are not limited to demanding that the government be transparent in its dealings and activities, allow for free press and expression of freedom of speech, and also allowing the people to participate in the government’s decision-making. Democracy requires that the government consults with the people before making an undertaking and implementing any decision. The Chinese government does not believe in the effectiveness of these traits of democracy.

It believes that the people have the responsibility to obey the authority; it believes that allowing for a free press to operate in China will amount to spying on the government by the media and it also fears that economists will access information confidential to the government; that the information may be used to study and conclude on whether the Chinese economic policies are either healthy or unfavorable. Constitutionally, the press in China enjoys the freedom of expression, but in practice, it is controlled by the ruling communist party; the party ensures that about 80 percent of what comes out of the press is favorable or supports the government.

The Chinese government has a great interest in protecting some of the policies it fears will never be sanctioned by the international community. To ensure this, it is not likely to accept the elements of democracy; it has even come up with legislations that spell out harsh punishment that includes even the death penalty to those who reveal the secrets of such policies (Shou 34-47).

The Chinese government is against liberal democracy also because the ideologies of democracy completely contrast with those that are held by the ruling communist party. Democracy requires the government to be accountable to the people while the general ideology held by the party is that the people should be accountable to the government. Like any other authoritarian government, China’s ruling party believes that the interest of the state comes first then followed that of individuals. The interest of the state includes sabotaging any form of opposition to the government, the institutionalization of the regime, and to stay in power due to spectacular economic growth.

Expanding more on economic growth; the Chinese government has been able to maintain its legitimacy through ensuring radical economic growth. This has played a role in making the ruling party stay longer in power and also reduced the pressure to slacken power. Currently, China pursues market capitalism but remains adamantly strong against Western liberal democracy. It argues that the Western style of democracy induces chaos and is not appropriate for China’s current economic status. The implication is that should China allow for liberal democracy, there would be chaos that is likely to interfere with the process of economic growth. The proponents of authoritarianism have also argued that t democracy, liberalized politics, free operation of the press, and any protest against the government will make the current regime collapse and is, therefore, likely to destabilize Chinese society.

The refusal of the Chinese government to embrace liberal democracy is reinforced by the arguments of some of the Chinese citizens. Predominantly, the Chinese middle-class populace holds the notion that the country has not matured enough for the democratization process. Most of these people use the effects of post-Soviet Russia’s instability in its social sphere. The social instability contributed to the faded economic growth, reduced national power, and pandemonium overall. These scenarios are not appealing to anti-democracy proponents in China. This only serves to protect the interest of the Chinese ruling party.

China interprets the United States of American interest by persuading it to accept liberal democracy as a way of containing it. It feels it is a major American economic competitor and therefore sees the clamor for liberal democracy as the United States’ tactic to thwart its growth and destabilize its social and political systems. This is one of the reasons the ruling party of China remains defiant to calls for democratization of China. China is against Western democracy because such democratic practices are perceived to carry the ideologies of the bourgeoisie. Democracy has its roots in the 17th-century English revolution and the 18th century French Revolution of the 18th century.

It was a type of democracy put in place to protect the political domination and widespread economic control by the capitalists class. It was also used to ensure that the powers of the state were not accessed by the working class who were described as the proletariats. This type of democracy is, therefore, not appropriate for the Chinese communist government whose main concerns are the interests of the classes considered antagonistic to bourgeoisies.

Conclusion

The presence of democracy in East Asian countries is not fully operational. It is a situation that can be described as partial democracy. The current state of democratization began in the 1970s in southern Europe and spread to other parts of the world including Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The flow of democracy in East and Southeast Asia, democracy had a substantial amount of influence on South Korea, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, and Indonesia but had limited impact on the unbendable authoritarian system of governance in China, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea, and Laos.

Most parts of East Asia large remain undemocratic as governments still practice authoritarian rules. In cases where democracy is said to exist, the governments still exercise almost full control on all aspects of citizens’ engagements, especially concerning the press and human rights. Some countries still have not seen the importance of democracy in development; China is one such country. China has a specific reason it believes democracy is not good for it. It argues that the concept of democracy negates the ideologies of Confucianism which is strongly in favor of obedience and harmony. It is also against democratization because the ideologies of democracy completely contrast with those that are held by the ruling communist party. Democracy requires the government to be accountable to the people while the general ideology held by the party is that the people should be accountable to the government.

Like any other authoritarian government, China’s ruling party believes that the interest of the state comes first then followed that of individuals. The Chinese government interprets the United States of American interest by persuading it to accept liberal democracy as a way of containing it. It feels it is a major American economic competitor and therefore sees the clamor for liberal democracy as the United States’ tactic to thwart its growth and destabilize its social and political systems.

The suspicion is that the government of the United States of America may be trying to find out the secrecy of China’s economic policies and policies of human rights protection. To ensure that nobody interferes with the affairs of the state, the Chinese ruling party has put in place severe punishments to be given to those who violate state legislation and leaks out the government’s confidential information; the punishments include even the death penalty. Another reason the Chinese government may not be favorable to democracy is that democracy has its roots in the 17th-century English revolution and the 18th century French Revolution of the 18th century.

It was a type of democracy put in place to protect the political domination and widespread economic control by the capitalists class. It was also used to ensure that the powers of the state were not accessed by the working class who were described as the proletariats. This type of democracy is, therefore, not appropriate for the Chinese communist government whose main concerns are the interests of the classes considered antagonistic to bourgeoisies.

Works Cited

Barkawi, Tarak. Democracy, liberalism, and war: Rethinking the democratic peace debate. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.

Chow, Peter. Economic integration, democratization and national security in East Asia: Shifting paradigms in US, China and Taiwan relations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007.

Ghista, Dhanjoo. Socio-economic democracy and the world government: Collective capitalism, depovertization, human rights, template for sustainable peace. New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2004.

Godement, François. La renaissance de l’Asie. London: Routledge, 1997.

Held, David. Models of democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Hilla University for Humanistic Studies. “What is democracy?” Stanford, 2004. Web.

Monitor International Ltd. Asia monitor: South East Asia. Volume 17. California: The University of California, 2008.

Pandey, Bishwa. South and South-east Asia, 1945-1979: Problems and policies. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

Sachsenröder, Wolfgang. Political Party Systems and Democratic Development in East and Southeast Asia. New York: Ashgate, 1998.

Shadlen, Kenneth. Democratization without representation: the politics of small industry in Mexico. University Park: Penn State Press, 2004.

Shou, Ching-wei. Democracy and finance in China: A study in the development of fiscal systems and ideals. Columbia: Columbia university press, 1926.

Stenner, Karen. The authoritarian dynamic: Cambridge Studies in Political Psychology and Public Opinion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Zhu, Yunhan. How East Asians view democracy. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2008.