Democracy refers to the process through which individuals compete for power and various positions in the government at regular intervals. Thus, democracy implies a political system in which leaders are selected through a fair electoral process. Besides, no major interest group should be excluded in a democratic system.
However, the meaning of democracy has evolved over the years, and today it is interpreted differently in different societies. Furthermore, the application of the principles of democracy varies across the globe.
It is against this backdrop that a distinct variant of democracy is being applied in Asia. This variant is popularly known as the ‘Asian democracy’ and it represents a significant departure from the Western model of democracy. The basic elements of the Asian democracy include the following.
To begin with, Asian democracy is based on Asian cultural values and norms. Concisely, it is based on the principles of harmony, consensus and prioritizing the interest of the community. In the contrary, the western democracy is based on values such as conflict, as well as, individualism. In Asia, economic and social democracy is more important than procedural democracy.
Thus, maintaining a stable government is considered to be more important than the electoral process. The rationale of this view is that a strong government will facilitate achievement of social and economic objectives, thereby improving the welfare of all citizens.
Whereas Western democracy focuses on the individual, Asian democracy is based on groups such as the family, business entities and the nation or community. Thus, the identity of the citizens is defined by the groups which they belong to. In Asia, pursuing individual interest is interpreted as an act of selfishness rather than a key element of democracy.
Loyalty to leaders is the main factor that promotes harmony in Asian democracy. Consequently, the citizens are expected to respect leaders and their decisions at various levels of governance. According to Asian democracy, political opposition should not be legally recognized. Those who hold divergent political opinions are normally members of the non-ruling political parties.
Criticism from such parties is often not tolerated by the government. This contradicts Western democracy in which non-ruling political parties normally criticize the government in order to improve governance. Unlike most western countries, a single party system seems to be the most preferred regime in Asia.
This preference is based on the premise that a single party regime enhances long term planning and communication of economic policies to the business community. Moreover, it facilitates political stability by averting opposition from disgruntled leaders.
In Asia, the government and the business community maintain close relationships. They work together to achieve common social and economic objectives. This explains the persistence of protectionist trade policies in countries such as China and Singapore. In contrast, western countries maintain clear boundaries between the state and private economic agents.
Consequently, most western countries advocate for free and fair trade. Finally, Asian democracy is mainly influenced by local traditions. For instance, leadership in countries such as Singapore and China is informed by Confucianism.
The factors that account for the Asian democracy include the following. First, Asian democracy has a cultural dimension which has always shaped leadership and the political processes in most Asian countries. Asian leaders believe that the political system in their countries should be informed by local values and norms. This is expected to enhance harmony by averting cultural conflicts that emanate from adoption of western values.
Besides, focusing on local values is expected to enable Asian countries to develop a clear identity that is different from the western culture. After long periods of colonization, Asian leaders believe that they can only achieve true independence if they govern their subjects through indigenous values. In this regard, leadership should be based on local ideologies rather than foreign perspectives.
Traditionally, decisions were made through consensus by family and community leaders in Asian countries. This tradition is still evident in some of the most advanced Asian countries such as Japan and China. In this regard, building consensus among leaders is preferred to conducting public debates in order to determine the most popular opinion.
Besides, most political and business decisions are made through closed door meetings rather than wide consultations and open debates. Nonetheless, voting is still practiced in certain spheres of life such as choosing leaders during a general election.
Asian governments prefer to build consensus when making decisions in order to facilitate efficient implementation of policies. Concisely, consensus enables the governments to take into account the concerns of all stakeholders. Additionally, it enables political and economic planners to avert any opposition that can derail the implementation of policies.
In most Asian cultures, leadership is characterized by partial dispersal of power. In the traditional Asian world, communities were led by kings and chiefs who shared power with other stakeholders such as religious leaders. This system of leadership is still practiced in Asian democracy. In the Asian world, it is common to find governments which are led by the president, vice president, a prime minister and various party leaders.
These leaders share power and none of them seems to have absolute control over the government or the political process. For instance, the prime minister of Japan is not as powerful as his UK counterpart. This indicates that a gap tends to exist between real and formal power in Asian democracy.
Second, Asian democracy is informed by the principle of ‘guided democracy’. This principle has its roots in Indonesian political system. Proponents of guided democracy advocate for organic conception of the government. This perspective provides the justification for a conservative and authoritarian leadership style. Consequently, political opposition to state-controlled structures is considered to be illegal.
In this context, the principle of guided democracy has enhanced the popularity of the single party system. Cultural relativism is one of the main factors that led to the incorporation of organic nationalism in Asian democracy. In particular, harmony was considered to be the moral fiber that held the Asian society.
Some scholars argue that guided democracy is a variant of dictatorship. This argument is based on the fact that guided democracy normally results into the exclusion of those who oppose the ruling elite. Furthermore, it limits political freedom and the pursuit of self interest which are key elements of Western democracy.
Third, the Confucian heritage plays a fundamental role in advancing Asian democracy. Singapore is the most notable government whose leadership is mainly informed by Confucian principles. In 1983, the government of Singapore established the Institute of Asian Philosophies (IEAP) to teach the Confucian philosophy. The aim of this program was to enhance the understanding of Confucianism.
Consequently, more citizens have been able to understand and identify with a political system that is based on Confucian principles. Additionally, the program enabled the government to counter the influence of western values and ethics among its citizens.
Confucian principles have since been adopted by other countries such as China. In these countries, the ruling elite use several mechanisms to pacify their subjects and to perpetuate their leadership. For example, the PAP government in Singapore has stayed in power for over three decades. The government has used economic means to justify its leadership.
Concisely, it has been able to maintain rapid economic growth and to provide citizens with acceptable standards of living. A similar approach has been used in China to justify the leadership of various regimes. Through carefully designed repressive policies, Asian countries that believe in Confucianism have managed to instill acquiescence among their citizens.
Such policies include limiting civil rights, restricting freedom of speech and detention without trial. Severe penalties are used to implement these policies. According to Western democracy, repressive policies are strongly condemned by both the government and the public. It is against this backdrop that the United States has called upon Singapore and China to improve their human rights conditions.
The final factor that accounts for Asian democracy is the premise that too much democracy is detrimental to the society. This school of thought is led by Malaysian Prime Minister, Mr. Mahathir. Majority of Asian leaders believe that Western democracy is excessive in nature. Consequently, it has led to the prevalence of undesirable behaviors such as homosexuality and general moral decay.
Furthermore, excessive democracy is believed to be one of the major causes of economic decline, as well as, single parenthood. Mahathir and his followers opine that excessive democracy undermines the efforts to inculcate values that promote peace and spirituality. These views have been used to criticize Western democracy and to support Asian democracy.
At the local level, these criticisms have enabled Asian governments to establish a unified nationalistic convergence point. In a nutshell, the criticisms are used to differentiate the Asian society from its western counterpart. The former is considered to be a unified society while the later is largely seen as a divided society.
At the international level, the criticisms are used by Asian governments to defend their political systems and policies. Through this defense mechanism, Asian governments hope to counter the influence of western powers in the Asia-Pacific region.
For example, adopting the business culture in Asian economies such as Japan has always been a challenge to American leaders. This is because the values that underpin Asian leadership styles contradict those in America. Additionally, divergent opinions on democracy are some of the major factors that hinder economic and political integration in the Asia-Pacific region.
Even though Asian democracy is believed to be based on Asian values, it is also influenced by western cultures. For instance, the concept of guided democracy can be traced to the European world. During the colonial period, European administrators did not expect any opposition from Asians.
After gaining independence, most Asian countries continued with the authoritarian rule of their former colonial masters. Additionally, the idea of selecting leaders through a voting system was borrowed from western democracy.
US Leadership in the Asia-Pacific Region
The Asia-Pacific region has emerged as the focal point of foreign policy in most countries. The region is home to the world’s fastest growing economies such as Japan and China. These countries have advanced technologies and financial resources which have enabled them to strengthen their military and political presence in the region. Approximately, one third of the total population of mankind lives in the Asia-Pacific region.
These trends illustrate the importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the United States. Economic and political advancements in the region present both challenges and opportunities to the United States. Consequently, the US has developed a set of policies to strengthen its leadership position in the Asia-Pacific area.
In this regard, the US has embarked on pursuing the following policies in order to achieve its security and economic priorities in the region. To begin with, the US intends to increase its contribution to the maintenance of peace and security. President Obama’s administration is focusing on strengthening the country’s alliances with other nations in the region in order to enhance peace and security.
Additionally, the government intends to foster new alliances with emerging economies in order to maintain its dominance in the maintenance of the region’s security and peace initiatives. For instance, the US is working together with its allies in the Korean Peninsula in order to prevent any attacks from North Korea.
Through collaborations with allies, the US intends to facilitate a legitimate international order that will promote economic and political stability. One of the priorities of this security objective is to counter terrorism, as well as, any form of warfare in the region. The US has embarked on pursuing members of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Asia-Pacific region.
Countries such as North Korea are seen as potential safe havens for terrorist groups. Consequently, these countries pose a security threat to the region by supporting acts of terror. Additionally, China has always been identified as one of the main sources of cheap weapons which are being used to perpetuate terrorism.
Thus, it is the responsibility of the United States’ government to monitor terrorism in order to protect its interests in the region. Deterring and defeating aggression is the second security priority of the US. Currently, the US is not comfortable with the rise in China’s military power.
Besides, Japan and other emerging economies in the region are likely to develop stronger military capabilities that can lead to the defeat of the United States. In order to avert this threat, the government of the United States has increased its investments in the military. Additionally, it is closely monitoring the military activities of countries in the region in order to detect and deter any military threats.
The US has also prioritized the need to project power in the region. This strategy is based on the fact that potential adversaries can only be defeated if the US is capable of projecting power in regions where its ability to operate is limited. Currently, China and Iran are considered to be the main threats to the United States’ efforts to project power in the Asia-Pacific region.
Finally, the US intends to control the development and use of nuclear technology in the region. Controlling such technology is necessary in order to prevent the development and irresponsible use of nuclear weapons.
The economic priorities of the US in the Asia-Pacific region include the following. First, the country intends to increase its access to the markets in the region.
The government has been holding talks with regional trading blocks such as ASEAN in order to obtain favorable terms of trade for its products. Moreover, such negotiations will enable American companies to operate freely in the region. The government has also focused on strengthening its economic ties with regional governments in order to access raw material such as oil.
Second, the US intends to maintain its leadership in research and development. The Asia-pacific region is characterized with intense competition in innovation. Emerging economies such as China and Singapore have taken the lead in innovation in sectors such as the electronics and textile industries.
Consequently, the competitiveness of the United States is at stake. It is against this backdrop that the government has decided to increase its investment in research and development. It is also encouraging American firms to work closely with customers in the region in order to develop the right products.
Third, the US is focusing on improving its economic influence in the region. The US dollar has traditionally been used as the main currency for international transactions in the region. Following the 2007/2008 financial crisis, the popularity of the US dollar declined significantly. In contrast, the Japanese and Chinese currencies have become more popular due to their stability.
With the reduction in the use of the dollar, America is likely to lose its control over the macroeconomic environment in the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, exports from the United States have become uncompetitive due to constant devaluation of the Chinese currency.
The government has implemented several measures to stabilize its macroeconomic environment. These measures include, reducing public debt, cutting jobs in the public sector and maintaining a stable exchange rate. These measures are expected to stabilize the dollar and to improve its attractiveness in the region.
Finally, the US intends to strengthen its leadership in the process of making key economic decisions in the region. As the world economic power, the United State plays a fundamental role in the formulation and implementation of trade policies.
Hence, the US has had to intensify its participation in institutions that facilitate trade in the region. The government of America provides both technical and financial support to trade organization in the region. By participating in regional trade organizations, the US expects to obtain favorable terms of trade.
The extent to which economic interests of the US shape policy in the region has significantly reduced over the years. This decline is mainly attributed to two factors namely, the reduction in USA’s economic growth and the emergence of economies such as China, India and Singapore. Traditionally, exports from the US dominated the region. In this regard, other countries in the region were mainly consumers of products from America.
Consequently, the US was very influential in the formulation of trade and economic policies. In the last decade, China and India have overtaken the United States in the production and sale of commodities, as well as, services. Besides, most of America’s firms have relocated their production plants to countries such as China, India and Japan.
However, the US has very little control over economic and political policies in these countries. Nonetheless, the influence of America can still be felt in the following areas. First, the US is the main export market in the region. Consequently, it has a greater say over production decisions than most countries in the region.
Secondly, the US is also one of the leading sources of foreign direct investment in the region. Consequently, the policies implemented by the beneficiaries of foreign direct investments from America have to reflect the interests of the country. Third, the US has always used its financial muscle to shape policies. Most developing countries in the region usually obtain loans from the United States.
However, these loans are often obtained after the fulfillment of certain conditions. For instance, the US prefers to offer credit to countries with stable and democratic political systems. Additionally, the borrowers must have a stable macroeconomic environment. In this regard, countries intending to obtain credit from the US must implement political and economic policies that are sanctioned by the US.
The factors that have contributed to the longevity of the leadership of America in the region include the following. To begin with, the country’s security and economic interests depend on the changes that occur in the region. A better part of the United States’ exports are consumed in this region. Consequently, the United States has to strengthen its position in order to protect its economic interest.
Furthermore, a complex economic relationship exists between the US and most countries in the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, most of the United States’ goods are being manufactured in China, Japan and India.
These countries also have production plants in America. Moreover, China has become an important source of credit to America. The symbiotic relationship that exists between America and its partners can only be sustained if the country maintains its leadership and participation in the region.
America’s position as the world’s political and economic super power is envied by its peers in the Asia-Pacific region. Many countries in the region are interested in overtaking America’s economy.
It is apparent that America can only counter the influence of its rivals by engaging them directly. Consequently, America must lead the process of policy formulation and implementation in order to prevent its rivals from gaining political and economic advantage at its expense.
Rising cases of insecurity is another reason that has contributed to the longevity of America’s leadership. In this context, America must enhance security in order to protect its economic and political interests.
Furthermore, the Asia-Pacific region provides the best platform for fighting terrorism in the Middle East. However, the United States can only win the war on terror if it forms alliances with other countries in the region. The alliances will enable the United States to access both financial and material support that is required to fight terror effectively.
In conclusion, America is still the most influential country in the Asia-Pacific area. However, its influence has significantly reduced in the last decade. This decline is explained by poor economic growth, as well as, the rise of countries such as China, India and Japan.
Nonetheless, the government is implementing policies that will enable it to maintain its economic and political influence. Thus, the future of America’s leadership in the region largely depends on the success of these policies.