Values and Politics in Asia

For the past year I have heard so much about democratization in Asia in conferences and seminars that I am starting to think it is becoming a “buzz-word” rather than a serious topic for research and debate. It is therefore useful to get your hands on a book that sheds some light on the factors underpinning governance in this increasingly important region.

In his 2011 book, Doh Chull Shin tests the “Asian value hypothesis”, which postulates that values determine the governance mode in Asian countries. He goes on to identify the 5 key values in “Confusian Asia” (which includes China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam):

1)       hierarchical collectivism (loyalty to group leaders),

2)      paternalistic meritocracy (benevolent rule by a moral elite),

3)      interpersonal reciprocity and accommodation (avoiding conflict with others),

4)      communal interest and harmony (sacrificing personal interest for the community),

5)      and Confucian familism (placing family above self). 

To test his hypothesis, Shin uses the surveys of Asian Barometer, and finds out that the value diversity in Asia is caused by uneven distribution of modernization. This would, in turn, imply that  the political regimes of the more “modernized” countries in the group, such as Japan and Korea, are less “susceptible” to the “stringent limitations” posed by those values, contrary to China and Vietnam, where levels of modernization are lower and hence the governance mode relies more on implicit norms dictated by the traditional Confucian values.

Why does it matter? On the one hand, it gives support to the Chinese emphasis on cultural peculiarities in social and political development, which splurges into the hard-defended principle of “non-interference” in the Chinese foreign policy, a logic that Westerners do not seem to understand. On the other hand, this conclusion gives some support to the idea that economic development (which goes hand in hand with modernization) will lead to democracy, as the former  is likely to reduce the impact of traditional Confucian values. It remains to be seen, though, whether the actual development of East Asian countries will prove this idea.

Reference: Shin,  (2011). Confucianism and Democratization in East Asia. Cambridge University Press. Description (Google Books)

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About Evgen Vorobiov

I am an analyst of international relations, currently working on civilian security issues. In the past 3 years, I've done research on Ukraine's regional politics, on EU-Ukraine Association process and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. I hold a Master's Degree (cum laude) in European Studies and International Politics from Maastricht University (The Netherlands). I tweet regularly at @vorobyov as a private person. In addition to native-level Ukrainian and Russian, I speak fluent English, passable German and Polish, basic Dutch and French.

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