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10-08-2015, 23:28


What explains the striking ability of Japan and the four Little Tigers to follow the Western example and transform themselves into export-oriented societies capable of competing with the advanced nations of Europe and the Western Hemisphere? Some analysts point to the traditional character traits of Confucian societies, such as thrift, a work ethic, respect for education, and obedience to authority. In a recent poll of Asian executives, more than 80 percent expressed the belief that Asian values differ from those of the West, and most add that these values have contributed significantly to the region’s recent success. Others place more emphasis on deliberate steps taken by government and economic leaders to meet the political, economic, and social challenges their societies face. There seems no reason to doubt that cultural factors connected to East Asian social traditions have contributed to the economic success of these societies. Certainly, habits such as frugality, industriousness, and subordination of individual desires have all played a role in their governments’ ability to concentrate on the collective interest. Political elites in these countries have been highly conscious of these factors and willing to use them for national purposes. Prime Minister Lee Kuan-yew of Singapore deliberately fostered the inculcation of such ideals among the citizens of his small nation and lamented the decline of Confucian values among the young. The importance of specifically Confucian values, however, should not be overemphasized as a factor in what authors Roy Hofheinz and Kent E. Calder call the “East Asia Edge.” In the first place, until recently, mainland China did not share in the economic success of its neighbors despite a long tradition of espousing Confucian values. In fact, some historians in recent years have maintained that it was precisely those Confucian values that hindered China’s early response to the challenge of theWest. As this and preceding chapters have shown, without active encouragement by political elites, such traditions cannot be effectively harnessed for the good of society as a whole. The creative talents of the Chinese people were not efficiently utilized under Mao Zedong or in the Little Tigers while they were under European or Japanese colonial rule (although Japanese colonialism did lead to the creation of an infrastructure more conducive to later development than was the case in European colonies). Only when a “modernizing elite” took charge and began to place a high priority on economic development were the stunning advances of recent decades achieved. Rural poverty was reduced, if not eliminated, by stringent land reform and population control programs. Profit incentives and foreign investment were encouraged, and the development of export markets received high priority. There was, of course, another common factor in the successes achieved by Japan and its emulators. All the Little Tigers received substantial inputs of capital and technology from the advanced nations of the West— Taiwan and South Korea from the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore from Britain. Japan relied to a greater degree on its own efforts but received a significant advantage by being placed under the U.S. security umbrella and guaranteed access to markets and sources of raw materials in a region dominated by U.S. naval power. To some observers, economic advancement in the region has sometimes been achieved at the cost of political freedom and individual human rights. Until recently, government repression of opposition has been common throughout East Asia except in Japan. In addition, the rights of national minorities and women are often still limited in comparison with the advanced countries of the West. Some commentators in the region take vigorous exception to such criticism, and argue that pluralistic political systems could be very dangerous and destabilizing in the heterogeneous societies that currently exist in the region (see the box on p. 307). Recent developments such as the financial crisis of 1997 have somewhat tarnished the image of the “Asian miracle,” and there is now widespread concern that some of the very factors that contributed to economic success in previous years are now making it difficult for governments in the region to develop increased openness and accountability in their financial systems. Still, it should be kept in mind that progress in political pluralism and human rights has not always been easy to achieve in Europe and North America and even now frequently fails to match expectations. A rising standard of living, increased social mobility, and a changing regional environment brought about by the end of the Cold War should go far to enhance political freedoms and promote social justice in the countries bordering the western Pacific.