The Pacific Wing

The Atlantic is more than the geographical Atlantic! All First World democracies have become a part of the extended Atlantic grouping.

The Pacific First World is the strongest of the extension wings of the Atlantic community. It includes Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and, in varying degrees, S. Korea and the other Asian tigers.

This page is devoted to developments in the Pacific First World and its connections with the Atlantic core.



The Maturing of the East Asian Democracies


A hopeful learning curve has recently been trod in the three most democratic East Asian states: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. They are better democracies for it, and a fuller part of the West.

Japan is the most important case, and the most dramatic one at present. But let us start with the earlier cases.

For decades, South Korea had an authoritarian anti-Communist regime. Then the regime self-democratized. The democratic opposition had long been led by an America-protected figure, Kim Dae-Jung, yet it was based largely on radical student and labor forces that were deeply into anti-Americanism and softness on North Korea, and a popularized leftist mythology that blamed America for the Korean War and for the bad relations with North Korea, and for the former authoritarianism. Free elections eventually brought these forces to power. After two successive leaderships, they failed to deliver economically, while strategically their “sunshine policy” was seen as having helped the North put the South in an even more vulnerable situation. The people overwhelmingly voted the conservatives back in, this time on a fully democratic basis. The bout of progressivist experimentation was a brief learning experience, a necessary stage in the evolution into a full democracy.

Taiwan had an authoritarian anti-Communist regime for even more decades. It too self-democratized. The old Chinese Nationalist party (KMT) was duly replaced in elections by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP was anti-Beijing on an ethnic Taiwanese separatist basis rather than a pan-Chinese anti-Communist basis. For decades, Western progressives had welcomed the DPP’s approach as a step away from anti-Communism. In power, however, the DPP’s pro-independence moves brought increased threats of invasion from China. The Taiwanese subsequently voted the Nationalists back into power. Cross-Strait relations re-stabilized. Democracy was re-wedded to sobriety.

Japan, the latest case, is a bit different, but is converging on the same outcome. It was long democratic, but with a clannish consensus politics led for more than half a century by the center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In August 2009 it for the first time elected a left of center government under the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). A left-liberal American think tank was enthusiastic: Japan had for the first time elected a government with a “progressive agenda”. But the new government quickly crashed, proving nearly incompetent at governing. Its dreams of melding with China in an East Asian Community, and distancing itself from America (implicitly floating away from Japan’s actual international home, the G7-OECD grouping of the industrial democracies of the world), were turning into nightmares: North Korean belligerence increased, China came to the North’s side. The Prime Minister changed tack and reached a deal with the U.S. on its naval base in Okinawa. And then resigned in June 2010, his approval rating having slid month by month from 72% to 21%. His DPJ party lost its majority in the upper house of the Diet in elections on July 11; the LDP made a comeback, although it too lacks a majority. The latest DPJ Prime Minister has now run into direct problems with China, not just indirect one: China has begun aggressively pressing territorial claims to islands long held by Japan, sending in a ship, and, when Japan arrested the fellow, making threatening warlike statements and beginning an economic war against Japan. The DPJ government released the follow; Japanese analysts began to speculate that it was too weak and yielding to China, giving a dangerous signal to China and to others in the region. This pushes the trend in Japanese thinking further in a direction of reinforcing the alliance with America and the West; coupled, however, with a trend toward favoring unilateral increases in Japanese military effort as long as the alliance is not reinforced to be more adequate to dealing with new challenges.

Is this the Japanese version of the same cycle that was played out in South Korea and Taiwan? There seem to be six stages to the cycle:

1. An old modernizing regime, stabilized under an American protectorate. 2. The regime, with American prodding, self-democratizes, gradually and cautiously, aware of the dangers in the neighborhood and in its own immature polity. There remain significant authoritarian elements in it. 3. Election of a left-leaning party, perceived as the triumph of true democracy. 4. The new leadership brings sharp risks to survival: strategic irresponsibility in a region where Communist Party-states are still extant and pose imminent security threats, and an oppressive mindset of identifying its own power with democracy. 5. The mass of swing voters reacts against the irresponsibility and sweep aside the new leadership. The period of high risk proves a limited interlude. 6. Democracy comes out the better for the experience. The country feels itself more fully democratic.

To be sure, the progress is not total. In Taiwan and South Korea, democracy exists against a backdrop of existential uncertainty: the parties disagree over how soft or hard to be toward China and North Korea, respectively; no matter what position on this is taken by either party, it involves huge risks to the very survival of their country; and so the parties sincerely express existential fears of one another. In Japan the overturn of the progressivist leadership is still in process; the final outcome is yet to be determined. Japan will come out of this process a better democracy, but with an interim period of weak governing capability.

Democracy has improved in all three countries, but not yet entirely up to the Western standard. Despite all that we criticize about flaws in our Western democracy, it has an overall level that remains well above the best in East Asia. East Asian democracy in turn is well above the level achieved in Third World democracies, where the societies are much less modernized, the divisions between rich and poor sharper, and the democratic processes accompanied by far more violence. The East Asian democracies are a part of the OECD world of industrialized democracies; that is to say, they are a part of the extended Western world, sociologically and politically as well as in their international alignment. Their communitarian aspect is less a dividing line from the West than an emphasis that participates within the eternal Western dialogue between community and individualism. Their variances from the OECD majority, while still meaningful, are diminishing.

This matters for the West. It doesn’t just mean that we have a dog in this race; it means that we ourselves are a bigger dog in our own race.

It means, specifically, that we should be counting the improved East Asian democracies as part of the West, or to be precise, the community of industrialized democracies that is centered on the West. This “Extended West” has about 73% of the global GDP (as any of the careless writers on Western decline could have easily figured out by going online and adding up the numbers). It is a whopping share; one can only wonder where the idea came from that the West has lost the economic wherewithal to maintain its global leadership roles. And with new industrial democracies always emerging, the Extended West keeps getting new members; the announcements of its decline keep proving wrong. The current 73% share of the world economy is actually more than the share the West had, and was recognized as having, in 1980. Or 1960-1 (when OECD was formed). Or ’40, or ’20 …

Evidently there has been a mistake in all the talk about the West’s being in decline, overshadowed by the emerging BRICs, losing its relevance. Evidently we should put aside the sense of compulsion to bring Third World countries into the G7, NATO, and OECD — diluting and enfeebling them — in the name of “preserving their relevance”. The real way to preserve relevance, it turns out when we look at the facts, is by continuing on the well thought out historical path of the West: consolidating the links with truly modernized democracies as they emerge, such as the East Asian ones, and doing it through the undiluted OECD-G7-Alliance structures.


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