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Understanding East Asian Political fine and rich studies of the East Asian

Systems political economy.

I. Introduction - Lucian Pye:

Existing Approaches to East Asian Politics: 1. emphasized the continuity of Asia’s

Political Economy and Political Culture political tradition, revealed in the
paternalistic domination of the rulers and
- Studies of East Asian politics as a region
the dependency of their subordinates.
are approached mostly from either a
“political economy” or “political culture” 2. emphasized the Asian tradition of a
standpoint. What this means is that there is strong state and weak society.
a striking lack of political concern about
3. regarded patriotism, political
East Asian politics which, often determines
intolerance, and personalism as major
the directions and contents of economic
characteristics of East Asian politics.
development and cultural changes in the
region. - Daniel Bell, Lucian Pye and other scholars
argue that: East Asian states are not
- The main current of the political economy
neutral but interventionist; the state
approach treats politics as an institutional
manages public space, while the civil
infrastructure which enabled economic
society is dependent on the state. For them,
development in East Asia. This is shown in
recent democratization in some East Asian
the rich tradition of the study of
countries is a mere reflection of the state’s
government-business relations, or, more
need for more efficient management of the
generally, state-society relations in Japan,
society and economy. Thus, they argue that
while similar studies on South Korea and
East Asian democracy, if possible at all, will
Taiwan also abound.
be non-liberal as much as East Asian
- The second trend of the political economy politics has been so. (This prediction is
approach considers politics a virtual unacceptable because it shows how Western
reflection of capitalist economic political culture approaches oversimplify
mechanisms and the state’s management of “Eastern” culture and underestimate the
it, and this trend is seen in more or less neo- rapid changes both Eastern society and
Marxist analyses of East Asian political Eastern culture are undergoing.)
-The main weakness of the cultural
- The first tradition lacks clear vision of approaches to East Asian politics lies in that
political structures and processes as a they treat East Asian politics only as a
subject of analysis, while the second trend way in which power is exercised, generally
treats politics as largely shaped by market neglecting where ultimate power is located
mechanisms. Overall, they lack a and how different political institutions
systematic concern for politics, with all the emerge and change.
Need for a Political Approach to East Inoguchi used the bureaucratic structure of
Asian Politics developmental authoritarianism and the
location of power as criteria for his
-Previous approaches on political economy
typology of East Asian political systems.
and political culture treat East Asian politics
Although Inoguchi’s typology is more
not as an independent sphere of human
comprehensive than Huntington’s, it is less
relations but as dependent upon something
than consistent because he mixes
institutional and cultural variables for
- There is a need for a political approach differentiating each East Asian political
treating politics as an independent variable system.
which interacts with other variables, such as
- Scalapino’s typology is more appropriate,
economics and culture. That is narrowly-
he classified East Asian political systems as
focused analyses of political processes
Leninist, authoritarian-pluralist, and
abound, concentrating on party politics and
liberal democratic states. The problem,
voting behavior in each East Asian country
however, is that his typology is clearly less
(Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) and power
than elaborate and his empirical study of
relations within the circle of ruling elites
East Asian countries based upon this
typology is less than theoretical or
- What exists is not systematic but systematic.
fragmented or mere summary applications
What is to Be Studied?
of Western models. Representative
examples are found in the work by -What do we mean by “political approach”?
prominent figures in comparative politics. It means the approach that understands that
For example, Huntington merely describes politics has its own sphere and its own logic
East Asian political systems as “dominant of operation, independent of other spheres
party systems” without further elaboration. of human action or structure. More
His characterization of East Asian political concretely, we focus on the nature of
systems is based on the nature of the party political institutions and rules which
system, but East Asian political systems constitute the edifice of a political system.
cannot be fully understood by focusing This is what we consider the hardware side
upon party system alone because other of a political system.
institutions, such as the military and the
- the workings and changes of a political
bureaucracy, often play more important
system are determined by its hardware
political roles.
alone; rather, they are determined by the
- Japanese political scientist Inoguchi, combination of software and hardware, that
classified East Asian political systems as is of, political culture and political structure.
Leninist, one-party dominant pluralist, and
- factors for the emergence and changes of
Confucian authoritarian systems. Together
political institutions and political structures
with the nature of the party system,
are principally found in their own nature.
- Culture and socio-economic development characteristics of “Asian style democracy”:
set the broader conditions for the changes of patron-client communitarianism;
political structure. personalism; respect for authority;
dominant political party; and strong state.
- Political regime is generally understood in
political science as formal and informal Common Characteristics of East Asian
rules and institutions in which political Political Systems
rulers relate themselves to other sectors of
-here two major characteristics of East Asian
society and which regulate the relations and
political regimes: the unipolar nature of
interactions of different political actors
political power (hardware/institutional
within a political system.
side) and the paternalistic power relations
also “the formal and informal (software/culture side).
structure of government roles and
-Political power in East Asian countries has
processes, which includes such things as the
been more or less concentrated in unitary
method of selection of government
power centers making the political systems,
(election, coup, selection process within the
unipolar systems. This relates to the way in
military etc), formal and informal
which political power and political
mechanisms of representation, and patterns
institutions are structured and, thus,
of repression.”
constitutes the edifice of the East Asian
Political regime is usually political system.
considered a more permanent form of
-Political power in East Asia is unitary in
political organization than the specific
the sense that it is concentrated in one
government, but typically less permanent
center, be it a personal ruler, a monolithic
than the state.
party, or some coalition of political,
-the major ingredients of a political regime bureaucratic, and economic elites.
are: the ultimate location of political
-The unipolar nature of East Asian power is
power, the nature of ruling group and the
maintained not only within the ruling bloc,
opposition as well as the relationship
but also between the state and society. With
between the two, the means of political
the power concentration within their
control employed by the state, the means of
modern apparatus, East Asian states have
political recruitment, and the way in which
been successful in controlling and
political interests are represented.
managing an underdeveloped and
However, we will focus only on the
fragmented civil society.
location of ultimate power and the means
of control incumbents employ. -The all-out control of East Asian states over
the society is rather a modern phenomenon,
II. Characteristics of East Asian Political
a result of the development of modern
nation-states after World War II, either
through revolution or other means,
including the foreign imposition of a and the two Chinas. We also find that the
particular regime, as in Japan. smaller the country was, the stronger
foreign influence was, and vice versa.
-East Asian political systems show common
characteristics of power concentration III. Types of East Asian Political Regimes
within a small group of power- holders.
We classify East Asian unipolar regimes
according to the nature of the ruling group,
or the location of ultimate power. We
Origins of the Unipolar System
identify three types of unipolar political
-primarily found in geopolitics and systems in East Asia – the one-party system,
ideology one-man system, and the oligarchical
unipolar system.
-national survival and national
development, most urgent tasks for the East Types of Unipolar Systems in East Asia
Asian states in the course of colonialism and
One-Party Regime
the Cold War, necessitated the
concentration of power within one center, -This is a political system in which one
be it monolithic party, personal ruler, or political party, usually characterized as
some oligarchical power center. Leninist or quasi-Leninist, dominate the
state and society. There are two groups -
-An important source of power
one Communist, the other Nationalist.
concentration in this context was revolution,
either Communist or nationalist, initiated One-man Rule or Personal Regime
by a monolithic party, as was found in
-In one-man rule, political parties and other
Vietnam, Taiwan, and China. Another
institutions notwithstanding, power is
source was the military-ideological
concentrated in the hands of one strong
confrontation brought about by the Cold
man. Personal rule is also observed in one-
party regimes.
-East Asian states after World War II shared
-individual governments as well as the
a common threat perception and pursued
regime itself are more stabilized and thus
single-minded strategies for survival and
more enduring in more institutionalized
development, manifested in the competition
one-party regimes than in more unstable
between Communist and neo-mercantilist
one-man regimes.
pursuits for national power.
Oligarchical Unipolar System
-In the process of building unipolar regimes
in East Asia, foreign forces played a great -power is concentrated and distributed
part, especially due to the Cold War. The among a small circle of conservative
role of the Soviet Union and the United politicians, big businessmen and
States was particularly decisive for the bureaucrats of higher posts.
divided nations of East Asia, the two Koreas
Hard Versus Soft Authoritarian Regimes
The unipolar political system is by continuing struggles among diverse forces,
definition authoritarian. Authoritarianism, and this made the political scene highly
as distinguished from democracy and unstable. South Korea was typical of this
totalitarianism, is usually understood as a case.
system with a low level of both the citizens’
-Comparing the origins of one-party and
political participation and state penetration
one-man rule in East Asia, we find that the
into the society.
former emerged in a more bifurcated
Soft Authoritarianism- employ persuasion, society where the domination by the
propaganda, and material incentives as victorious force over the defeated was more
prime methods for social and political absolute. By contrast, one-man rule
control. emerged in a less bifurcated society or
where bifurcation was actualized in the
Hard Authoritarianism- employ more
division of nation as was the case of the two
explicit and extensive physical repression
Koreas. As far as the domination of one
for social and political control.
political force over the others was less
absolute and political opposition stronger,
South Korea’s one-man rule was less stable
than one-party rule. This was revealed in
relatively frequent turn-overs of power
between authoritarian and democratic

IV. Changes in East Asian Political

Origins of Each Type of Unipolar Regimes
From Personal to Institutional One-Party
One-Party Regime Rule

Huntington sought the origin of the one- One-party regimes are, especially at their
party system in a modernizing society in its earlier stages, controlled by one powerful
socio-political bifurcation. In a bifurcated individual. In the struggle with political
society, according to him, political leaders enemies both within and outside the party,
are pressed to integrate polarized political the political leaders in the one-party regime
interests, and they put great efforts to find an urgent need for integrated power
organize and legitimize rule by one social for the party’s survival and the hegemonic
force over the other. They secure political control over society, and this is why one-
control by creating a dominant party. party systems are dominated by a personal
ruler at earlier stages. Here power becomes
One-Man Rule and Oligarchical Rule
personalized, not institutionalized.
In countries where no revolutionary party
From Hard to Soft Authoritarianism and
existed, politics was characterized by
In East Asia, hard authoritarianism has a
tendency to become softer, which in turn
shows increasing propensity toward

Why Do Some Regimes Change and Others


the degrees of change in East Asian political

regimes were determined by three factors -
the power gap between state/party and
society/opposition, foreign influence, and
the degree of the institutionalization of the
existing regime.

V. Future of the East Asian Political


There are roughly three alternative

prospects for East Asian regimes: 1) the
continuation of a unipolar system, 2) the
loosened unipolar system, and 3) pluralist