Integration, Corruption and Economy

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Yvonne Ho
Professor Annette Clear
Southeast Asian 10B
May 5, 2014
Politicization of Asian Values
Traditionally, ‘Asian values’ encompassed a set of characteristics, based on Confucian and Eastern philosophies, which are distinct to Asia. These values placed an emphasis on family, hard work, education, and community over Western liberalization and individualism. ‘Asian values’ were believed to be an antidote for the tribulations of Westernization, consequently creating a sense of Asian style democracy within Southeast Asia. However, with the emergence of modernization and globalization of Southeast Asia in the decades following World War II, Asian leaders have come to politicize ‘Asian values’, ultimately using it as an apparatus in setting their political agendas. Asian style democracy eventually went on to exhibit both authoritarian and democratic elements, as Asian leaders politicized ‘Asian values’ to legitimize their power through the establishment of strong nation states, centralization of bureaucracies, and oppression of civil liberties. While political leaders justify that ‘Asian values’ contributed to the economic development of Southeast Asia, the leaders have also politicized and exploited these values as opportunities to uphold and strengthen non-democratic forms of government.

‘Asian values’ utilized by political leaders emphasized the interests of the community taking precedence over that of individuals and the role of the state as a “guardian of the general interests of society” (Robison 1996:311). Due to this guardianist

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outlook, leaders of guardianist political regimes utilized ‘Asian values’ as ideological statements of national interest in creating a strong central state. In Indonesia, the state adopted the ideology of Pancasila, which encompassed “organic statism in which ideals of harmony…and the embodiment of definable national interests in the state” remove the need for state opposition (Robison 1996:316). Pancasila played a critical role in delegitimizing non-state political organizations, enhancing the authoritarian regime’s domestic legitimacy, and fostering consensus making. Pancasila demonstrated that “in the strong states of Asia, the trend has been for compulsion in the acceptance of single, state defined ideologies” (Robison 1996:316).

Political leaders used ‘Asian values’ to promote nationalism and mobilize a strong central state. Within Southeast Asian nations, rulers stressed the ‘Asian values’ of social cohesion and harmony as priorities to achieving a strong state. In order to keep subjects loyal to the state, leaders followed a corporatist model, in which there is a co-opted interdependence between the state and societal interest organizations. This helped to strengthen the state and provide it with influence over various activities, such as: business, labor, and economic life. In Singapore, leaders abused this authority by using the agencies of the state to make “citizens follow the dictates of the state” and “unit[e] in their goals for their society” (Neher 1994:958). By promoting nationalism, managing political-economic affairs, and preserving national security, leaders in Southeast Asia enjoyed legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens and longevity of rule, while strengthening the authority of the state.

Political leaders have used ‘Asian values’, such as consensus building, to avoid confrontation of representative political systems and to create a centralized bureaucracy.

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Because political leaders did not desire competition amongst various political parties, they placed an emphasis on consensus building and stability, which in turn created a dominant party system. The dominant party system caused political regimes within Southeast Asia “to be characterized by the fusion of state, party and bureaucratic authority”, in which “political rulers sit astride state party and bureaucracy” (Robison 1996:315). For example, the dominant Golkar party’s...
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