As Asia approaches the 21st century, three overarching issues preoccupy its leaders - issues that cut broadly across cultural and political lines. The first relates to the appropriate economic strategy for the years immediately ahead. Economic concerns affect virtually every society in the vast expanse known as the Pacific-Asian region, be it labeled an advanced industrial nation, a newly industrializing country (NIC), or a (hopefully) developing state.

Second is the clash between the requirements of political stability and the growing demand for greater openness. The demand for openness flows from the pressures of the emerging elites for both greater political freedom and increased participation in the decision-making process.

The third broad issue is how the nations of the area will relate to each other, and to outside powers, particularly the United States and the Soviet Union. Regionalism is growing, and local states are asserting increased independence from both superpowers. The danger of large-scale war is declining, and the prospects for peaceful evolution are stronger.

On the whole, there are grounds for optimism.


Only a few years ago, most of Asia's leaders exuded greater confidence in the economic policies being pursued. The socialist societies, essentially following a Stalinist "big push" strategy, proudly proclaimed their success, publishing reams of statistics that showed major quantitative advances.

Their claims were not without validity. The Stalinist approach - with its single-minded concentration of human and material resources upon industrialization, employing centralized command tactics and rigid political controls - produced significant initial gains, both in the U.S.S.R. and among its most apt Asian disciples. It represented a viable method of "catching up," if unevenly, with societies that had taken a more leisurely course. But at a certain point, diminishing returns set in. The innate staticism - the low evolutionary potential - of this strategy made itself felt in the weak initiatives, low productivity, excessive waste of resources and manpower, and poor quality that were the hallmarks of an autarkic system. It is the supreme irony that states operating under the internationalist imperatives of Marxism should have largely insulated themselves from the dynamic global currents that were flowing in the economic realm. Obsolescence loomed as a very real threat.

A recognition of the socialist economic malaise came first in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Khrushchev made the initial efforts in the U.S.S.R. to cope with economic problems. Other experiments preceded or followed in Yugoslavia, Hungary and - abortively - Czechoslovakia. China"s leaders also discovered the need to modify Stalinism to fit the contours of Chinese society, even in the 1950s. Indeed, this was one factor stimulating the Sino-Soviet cleavage. With its huge agrarian society impinging upon already overcrowded metropolitan centers, China could not afford to enforce the sacrifices upon the agrarian classes that had been a prominent feature of the Soviet drive toward industrialization. The ill-conceived commune system represented an early Chinese response to the problem.

Today, however, China is engaged in far-reaching economic reforms pointing in a different direction. It sets the pace for other Asian socialist societies with that self-confidence that is the enduring testimony to Middle Kingdom nationalism. Deng Xiaoping has pledged "socialism with Chinese characteristics." First, the commune system was rapidly dismantled, replaced with contractual agreements between family units and the government. This fundamental retreat from collectivism has brought significant production gains in agriculture and an explosion of small- and medium-sized rural industry.

Chinese agrarian reform is not without its costs and problems. Societies can share poverty more easily than wealth. Given alternatives, moreover, the peasant will gravitate toward those crops that promise the greatest profit, namely, commercial products other than grain. To offset this, state agricultural subsidies have been retained at extremely high levels. And the rapid growth of rural industry competes for resources with certain priority projects. Nor is it clear whether local commitment to maintaining the necessary infrastructure -irrigation canals, roads and health facilities, for example - will be minimally sufficient, or the commitment to population planning when more hands in the field are desired. Yet these problems can be reduced or contained, if not wholly solved. On balance agrarian reform has proved to be a decided plus, and recognized as such by the citizenry. When Chinese leaders proclaim that there can be no turning back, it is the transformation taking place in the rural areas above all that underwrites this promise.

The more difficult problems, of course, lie in the urban sector of the Chinese economy. A central dilemma relates to price reform and its necessary companion, industrial rationalization. As long as prices bear only limited relation to the costs of production, campaigns for industrial efficiency are likely to falter and subsidies or deficits in state industries will eat deeply into the governmental budget. Yet if thoroughgoing price reform is undertaken under present conditions of widespread managerial inefficiency and low labor productivity, high levels of inflation are feared.

China's reformers face other formidable problems. What is the best balance between centralization and decentralization, and, within the individual plant, between managers and party cadres? Decentralization - essential if adequate attention is to be paid to diverse local circumstances and plant initiatives are to be encouraged - is not easily achieved under a system where centralized planning and resource allocation are deeply ingrained. Abrupt decentralization, moreover, has led to serious excesses such as the profligate expenditures of foreign exchange and a rapid rise in corruption. Heavy industry remains essentially under Beijing's control, and that constitutes a significant portion of the industrial sector. At the provincial and local levels, moreover, the ability and will of political figures varies greatly. Tianjin's current mayor is popularly judged a "doer," Shanghai's mayor a "plodder." Meanwhile, party cadres and plant managers adjust in diverse ways to the edicts shifting control of factory operations to the manager. Actual authority varies greatly, as do personal relations. In theory it is now possible to dismiss inefficient or lazy workers, but only rarely is such a step taken. Wages throughout the society remain distorted, with intellectuals and officials thus far garnering the least economic benefit from the reforms.

It is thus not surprising that a debate over the pace and scale of the reforms has unfolded. Even the direction of the reforms is questioned in some quarters. To tinker with a command economy is to effect limited change; to alter it fundamentally is to take a hazardous journey into the unknown, especially when its political consequences are considered. The views of China's current leaders range along a lengthy continuum, with each action productive of new issues, hence, new discussion and debate. The common assertion that there are two sharply delineated factions within the Chinese leadership - the "progressives" and the "conservatives" - is inaccurate. It is no doubt true that some individuals regularly exhibit cautious, even critical, propensities while others display impatience and boldness. Personal ties, always a vital element in the Chinese political scene, must also be factored into any analysis. Yet the commanding fact is that dominant power is held today by those who remain rightly convinced that the autarkic policies of the past cannot advance China successfully into the next century. They are determined to continue and widen ties to the advanced industrial states, fashioning them in China's interests. Thus, they are genuine reformers - but they are not liberals.

Chinese reforms, it should be noted, take on the attributes of campaigns, the rhetoric of planning notwithstanding. Out of exhortation and mobilization comes overkill, followed by retrenchment. The slogan "two steps forward, one step backward" is an apt description of Chinese-style evolution. The works of Hegel, not Marx, best explain the Chinese phenomenon. Pursuing its own course, China is likely to muddle through, with Deng Xiaoping and his successors persevering - tough in the face of setbacks, governed by trial and error, not immune to periodic retreats, accepting of the fact that no policies known to man can bring about the rapid modernization of one-and-one-quarter billion people. The overriding issue for China and for Asia's other socialist societies, put simply, is this: Can Leninist-style socialism and market-oriented economics be satisfactorily united? Will "market socialism" work - and work sufficiently well to serve for the decades ahead?


In North Korea the decision to turn outward is more tentative. The first efforts took place in 1972-73, unfortunately coinciding with the initial oil crisis and resulting in heavy indebtedness. Leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea continue to send economic as well as political signals to Japan and the West, although their hot-and-cold quality suggests differences of opinion within the leadership hierarchy. Yet the necessity for change is spelled out in declining growth rates and the threat of obsolescence hanging over North Korean industries. Although the D.P.R.K. possesses half of South Korea's population, its level of production is now estimated at no more than a quarter of that in the South, possibly less. The lack of products suitable for export other than military supplies accounts for the scarcity of foreign exchange, making it impossible for North Korea to pay its foreign debts and saddling it with a miserable credit rating. The high military expenditures (estimated by Japanese and Western sources at 15 to 20 percent of total GNP) add to the burdens of the citizenry. Since North Korea's economic troubles have security implications (causing the country to fall further and further behind the South), it is not surprising that Pyongyang's leaders have shown some interest in Chinese experiments, have turned urgently to the Soviets for military and economic assistance, and have sought technology from various sources, even enacting a joint venture law for such purposes.

There is no current evidence, however, to suggest that North Korea is yet prepared for bold reforms. Over time North Korean trade has grown with non-socialist states, especially Japan, although Japanese firms have generally demanded cash payment in recent years. Approximately 11 percent of total D.P.R.K. trade is with Japan. Investment from Japan has come almost wholly from pro-North Koreans resident there. The D.P.R.K.'s quest for modern technology still revolves essentially around the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. One stark dilemma confronts North Korea in addition to the economic difficulties involved in shifting course: What will be the political fallout of a much more extensive opening to the outside? Can a people more intensely indoctrinated and more isolated than those of virtually any other country of the world retain their "purity" and unity if confronted with the real world?

Nevertheless, the first signs of change can be discerned. Kim Jong Il, the Great Leader's son and heir apparent, seems to have taken command of day-to-day governance and is surrounding himself with well-educated, technocratically inclined figures. The guerrilla-soldiers of his father's generation are rapidly fading from the scene. Sooner or later, North Korea, inheritor of Korea's historic appellation, "the Hermit Kingdom," will enter the contemporary world.

The Mongolian People's Republic is also showing an increased interest in matters modern and Western despite its overwhelming reliance upon Soviet economic and military assistance, a reliance not likely to be given up as long as the fear of the neighboring Chinese goliath remains so strong. Diplomatic relations with the United States were established in 1987, and the first academic U.S.-Mongolian bilateral conference on contemporary issues took place in 1986.

Vietnam represents the most recent example of how to win a war and lose the peace. The overall economic situation, in the words of Hanoi's leaders themselves, is deplorable. Agricultural production, up briefly a short time ago, appears to have plateaued. Industry is in a state of chaos. Population continues to grow dramatically at an annual rate estimated at 2.6 percent. Only a tolerance for a huge second economy - and a massive Soviet dole - allow Vietnam's economy to limp along. Leaders have been severely self-critical, but their acid comments do not match those of the Vietnamese public at large. A generational change is now under way, with the old veterans of 40 years of struggle giving way to somewhat younger second or third generations. There can be no doubt that even more than the North Koreans, the Vietnamese leaders would like to tap the resources - human and material - of Japan and the West; Japanese entrepreneurs, at least, are willing. But only when Hanoi is willing or able to accept a compromise, ending the drive to control Cambodia and Laos, can Vietnamese leaders focus their attention on economic problems and begin a process of interacting significantly with the market-oriented nations. Discussions take place sporadically on the possibility of a coalition Phnom Penh government and a neutral Cambodia, with all Vietnamese troops withdrawn. Yet little progress can be discerned despite the Vietnamese pledge of withdrawal by 1990.

As the Asian socialists search for new or altered economic strategies, they are increasingly aware of a similar quest by the country from which they drew initial inspiration. The Soviet Union under General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev has once again been set on the path of reform, this time with an earnest realization that unless basic changes are made, the U.S.S.R. will not fare well in the competition certain to mark the 21st century. Far-reaching reforms thus become a patriotic obligation. Gorbachev is not the first leader to appreciate the problems. Nor will he be the last, whatever the results of his efforts.

The obstacles are truly staggering. The Soviet Union is one of the most conservative societies in the world, characterized by rigorous social stratification and restricted consumer gains which limit the socioeconomic revolution that has swept over many nations. Although their living standards have risen in recent decades, Soviet citizens have become increasingly aware that their livelihood lags behind that of a number of states, including most of Eastern Europe, a region their government subsidizes. But is the average Soviet citizen prepared to work more efficiently - indeed, to undertake nothing less than a cultural change, responding to expanded incentives if they are provided - to improve his lot? It is reported that resistance to Gorbachev's reforms comes from below as well as from above. Many industrial laborers do not like to be told to drink less and work harder. Meanwhile, some Soviet elites exhibit concern that their authority and privilege will be eroded, a concern only deepened by the techniques employed by the new leader to expose perennial ills and mobilize the citizenry - and the intellectual community - to turn away from the past.

At root, Gorbachev's glasnost is a weapon against entrenched, frequently corrupt power-holders. But unlike Deng Xiaoping, Gorbachev cannot use as a foil a past event like the Cultural Revolution - an event that produced policies so irrational as to disillusion a great majority of the Chinese Communist Party elites, thereby paving the way for change. The verdict for the Soviet Union is far from being rendered, but we are witnessing the opening stages of what may be the most protracted struggle for the revitalization of the Russian empire since Lenin. The results cannot help but be of significance to Asia as well as to Europe.

To summarize, broad economic developments in the socialist world, including in Asia, indicate three trends of crucial importance. First, out of a recognition that the basic Stalinist model no longer suffices, reform efforts potentially more significant than any previously attempted are - in varying degrees - in progress. These efforts center on experiments to provide a new mix of the traditional centralized, statist economy and the market. For the reformers the critical question is what mix is most efficacious and, indeed, whether a reasonably successful combination is possible.

Second, this experiment cannot be confined to the economic realm - a fact now recognized, sometimes begrudgingly, by the socialist leaders. Liberalism may be anathema, but how does one cultivate economic initiatives while commanding that political man remain fully subservient to state and party? Thus, Asian socialism - like its counterparts in Europe - is on the verge of a major change encompassing all facets of the individual in relation to society. This change, evolutionary in its means, will be profoundly revolutionary in its ultimate course.

Finally, the economic changes under way or contemplated point in the direction of greater involvement in regional and international intercourse, a sphere currently dominated by the market economies. Already the leading socialist societies are seeking entry into Asian regional organizations dedicated to economic cooperation. The internationalization of socialism has commenced, but not in the manner Marx envisaged.


It should not be assumed, however, that economic change and the troublesome issue of an economic strategy appropriate to the future are confined to the socialist states of Asia. These matters are of equal concern to the mixed economies, many of which have set the pace for rapid growth in the recent past.

Look at Japan today, a nation widely and correctly proclaimed as the most successful among the major industrial societies. It would be unwise to gamble against Japan in the primary economic task that lies ahead - continuing the structural changes necessitated by an economic revolution more global, more inclusive and more rapid than any mankind has previously witnessed. At an unprecedented rate, Japanese industries - in whole or in part - are being transferred overseas to take advantage of lower costs of labor or resources, and to fend off protectionism. The domestic savings ratio remains very high, and investment in research and development continues to rise, making Japan the foremost competitor with the United States on the cutting edge of new technologies.

Gone are the days when Japan was merely an adapter, taking the ideas of others and turning them into marketable products. In many of the frontline high-technology fields, Japanese products can now hold their own with the best that Americans and others have to offer. Although the bureaucracy may be retreating somewhat in the face of a strong, self-confident private sector, government and industry still work largely as a team. A premium has been placed upon cultivating a system that encourages sufficient domestic competition to promote innovation, yet provides sufficient protection to sustain the basic economic structure, including its backward elements. In essence, Japan united the authority of the state and the energy and creativity of the citizenry in a manner both different from and more successful than either the modern socialist or old capitalist economies.

Yet today Japan faces challenges more grave than in many years. The current growth rate is approximately two-and-a-half percent, bringing the nation down from its exalted heights into the company of other advanced industrial states. Unemployment has risen to three percent, high by Japanese standards, as traditional smokestack industries like iron and steel, shipbuilding and textiles feel the competition from new arrivals, especially South Korea and Taiwan, but with China and others on the horizon. With the graying of the Japanese population, moreover, the demand for social services will surely grow. Yet the present Japanese tax system is inadequate and the government budget is regularly in deficit. Moreover, the phenomenally high and steadily rising cost of land inhibits a major expansion of housing, a key to unlocking constraints on domestic demand and improving the quality of life. Japan desperately needs a second land reform, one that requires a fundamental change in agrarian policies in their broadest dimensions, from subsidies to taxes.

The goals for the future are coming into focus among Japanese planners: a rapid advance into high technology and service industries, accompanied by ever greater interdependence with foreign economies; the expansion of the domestic market to alleviate the trade imbalance; the further opening of financial as well as commercial markets for the same purpose, together with cooperation in finding an appropriate exchange rate for the yen. The 1986 Maekawa Report spelled out this general course.

Although these goals are being implemented in varying degrees, uncertainties remain. Japan is confronted with the need for nothing less than a sweeping cultural change. Having become a global economic power, it is now being asked to adopt truly internationalist attitudes and policies - and in the shortest possible time. The impediments to such a course are considerable. Japanese society is still governed largely by hierarchical principles, and if hazardous generalizations are permissible, the Japanese people are basically introverted, most comfortable within a small, intimate group living and acting in accordance with long-established rules. The tolerance, the openness, the "turning out" in a psychological as well as an economic sense required of a cosmopolitan people is yet to be widely acquired.

For many Japanese, moreover, there is no particular reason to alter economic practices for the benefit of others. Is not Japanese success the product of hard work and sacrifice, with material gratification often postponed? In comparison, is not Western Europe verging on decadence, and the United States like the adolescent who threatens his health by various excesses? Given such attitudes, Japan poses in severe form a problem common to the democratic societies of this era. Whatever the rationalizations for clinging to the status quo, rapid structural changes are essential, as are new policies to fit the unfolding international environment. Experts, generally speaking, know what should be done. But politicians are governed by what can be done - without severe political penalty. Can public opinion be mobilized quickly and directed toward making certain sacrifices when necessary? Can the cumbersome mechanisms of government and the complex culture-driven structures and policies of the private sector be reoriented to support basic changes in the economic system? Never has the premium on timing been so important; the leisurely pace of previous times will no longer suffice.

Japanese officials know, at least generally, what is required. The reluctantly accepted readjustment of the yen represents a major step forward, and other commitments - if properly implemented - will improve the Japanese standard of living as well as benefit Japan's position in the world. There is reason to assume that a decade hence, Japan will have made a generally successful transition to a new order. With official encouragement, the private sector is already involved in an extensive internationalization. Industries are being shifted overseas, foreign investments are proliferating, and Tokyo is becoming a major global financial center. Economic change is preceding cultural change, creating tensions at home and abroad, but the general course is set. Before the end of this century a new Japan will have emerged, one forced to take on a range of responsibilities undreamed of a few decades ago and, in the process, giving new meaning to the term "revolution."


The NICs of Asia are also being forced to face up to new circumstances. In the Republic of Korea, for example, dependence on foreign borrowing is progressively giving way to the encouragement of foreign investment, requiring a measure of liberalization beyond that palatable to portions of the private sector. The Korean bureaucracy often compounds the problem by various types of obstruction. Asia's concerns regarding American protectionism should not be allowed to obscure the fact that protectionism in diverse forms is alive and well in many Pacific-Asian states. Indeed, in some countries it is growing rather than receding, making the issues of fairness and reciprocity salient to Americans. Certainly a case can be made for import substitution policies at certain stages of development, and virtually every state has pursued such policies in some degree. But there is no reason why such states should assume a lofty moral attitude and point the finger of blame solely at the United States.

On this matter there is sufficient blame to touch all parties. However, there are good reasons to believe that under various pressures the NICs will make continuous adjustments in their international and domestic economic policies in the years immediately ahead. Moreover they are likely to prosper. Their per capita income will approach that of today's southern Europe by or before the end of the century, providing two conditions prevail: political stability at home (a very special consideration in the case of Hong Kong and possibly Taiwan); and the avoidance of a protracted global recession brought on by the inability of the advanced industrial states to manage their economies in a rational manner.

For the Asian states in earlier stages of development, the challenge ahead appears more daunting. Recent events proved a rude shock to the states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brunei excepted. After a period of accelerating growth in most cases, troubles descended with little warning. A combination of factors was involved: decelerating Western growth, a steep fall in primary commodity prices, questionable economic strategies, and for some, a sharp decline in oil prices. The Philippines presented a medley of problems in their most acute form: mismanagement, misplaced nationalism and massive corruption. Yet each of the ASEAN states has had to rethink its strategy under difficult circumstances. To some leaders it seemed to be "damned if you do, damned if you don't." States avidly pursuing import substitution policies with nationalist banners flying found their course costly in economic terms. But the states that sought to reemphasize agriculture, including cash crops and agribusiness, found world prices dropping.

The adjustments under way are beneficial. The shift from a heavy reliance on foreign borrowing to greater emphasis on foreign investment is progressing, notwithstanding bureaucratic and nationalist obstacles. Some retreats from governmental dominance and a greater reliance on the private sector are under way or pledged, with the requisite training of management experts and technicians acknowledged to be important. Gradually a pool of such individuals is developing, some drawn from officialdom into the private arena. Lower-level education is progressing, although gains are uneven. And the all-important issue of population planning is being given greater attention in most states. Efforts have even been made to tackle the problem of "capital centrism" by attention to provincial and community development and the networking of regions as transport and communications expand.

There is no reason for euphoria. Miracles are not in store, and for societies like the Philippines and Indonesia the road ahead promises a period of slogging. Moreover, external factors beyond the control of the regional states will remain critically important. Yet the basic natural and human resources exist for a level of growth that will place much of Southeast Asia among the pacesetters of the coming decades. Even Vietnam could show significant, sustained economic gains if its priorities - and its economic strategy - were altered.

The fact must be faced, however, that in the process of development some states will be left behind. Certain ministates of the South Pacific, for example, simply do not have adequate resources. In South Asia, one cannot avoid apprehension about Bangladesh, given its huge population and relatively meager resources. Nepal also raises doubts; its known resources are exceedingly limited. In these areas, the international task is to fashion assistance programs that provide necessary basic support without destroying local incentives.

Other states - and India is a striking example - will develop in a highly uneven fashion, with certain regions moving ahead rapidly, others lagging behind. The vitality of southwest India in comparison with the poverty of Bihar presents just one example. In another continent-sized country, China shows a similar trend of regional economic development: growth in Guangdong-Hong Kong, Shanghai and its relatively affluent hinterland (and possibly Fujian-Taiwan) is spurting ahead of much of the interior, bequeathing political and social issues of substantial dimensions.


What economic generalizations relating to Asia as a whole have greatest significance for the future? First, on the average, growth rates will continue to exceed those of other regions, albeit with the major variations just noted between and within states. This vast area is undergoing accelerated socioeconomic growth that will not reach its peak until well into the next century.

The first phases of that revolution were characterized by the rapid extension of governmental authority over the private sector (Hong Kong being virtually the only exception); an increased centralization, with the national capital becoming the center of economic planning and fund dispersal; a strategy combining import substitution and its companion, protectionism, with an intensified drive to emphasize exports and, in many cases, a growing dependence upon foreign borrowing. These policies, derived from both the traditions and the current realities of Asian societies, cut across diverse ideological-political systems while varying significantly in degree.

In the years ahead, economic strategies will be continuously recast. Reliance on the private sector will increase, along with the effort to bring the creativity of the society into fuller play. A complete acceptance of laissez-faire economics is not on the horizon, to be sure. Official authority will remain strong, but the neomercantilist policies of the past are undergoing major change. A powerful second economy, moreover, will continue to operate independent of official control, especially where the process of change is too slow. It is already a major element in India, China and the ASEAN community.

There will also be a sustained effort to establish a better balance between central and decentralized programs. Economic and political necessities will dictate greater emphasis upon provincial and rural development, resulting in the growing homogenization of city and countryside. As noted earlier, backwater areas will persist, but the reach of the modernization drive will be swiftly extended. With some exceptions, moreover, the quest for foreign investment and technology transfer will advance rapidly, with the requisite environment created, although not without stout resistance from groups benefiting from exclusivity and protectionism. Out of protracted battles will come a new mix tilting toward ever greater economic interdependence, once again cutting across political lines. This in turn will soon require greater institutionalization.

While the developmental possibilities of the Pacific-Asian region are indeed promising, optimistic predictions will not be realized automatically by some "natural" process. Their attainment depends heavily upon human decisions. Never in history has so much hinged upon the ability and the will of men and women, individually and collectively, and especially political and economic elites. They must act - and act correctly as well as in a timely fashion. The process will permit only a limited number of serious mistakes, and there will be a heavier penalty for procrastination than in earlier years. For Asia the next several decades will correspond to several centuries in terms of changes in livelihood, values and awareness - the elements that make this such an extraordinary era and test to the limit the mettle of those who must lead.


It is in this context that a second overarching issue confronts Asia. Tension is rising between the need for political stability and the demand for political openness. The former is a requirement appreciated most by those who govern and must take responsibility for the tutelage that hopefully will sustain rapid economic and social development. The latter represents the insistence of newly emerging elites, rapidly increasing in numbers, for greater political freedom and fuller participation in the process of making those decisions that will affect their lives.

Contrary to the views of some foreign observers, these new elites are not truly middle class in the Western sense. The commercial-industrial representatives, conscious of the importance of stability and supportive of strong governments applying neomercantilist policies, are rarely in the vanguard, though their ultimate support or acquiescence, like that of the military, may be crucial. The initiators are generally student-intellectuals backed by journalists, professionals and, in some settings, religious elements - all of whom are tenuously connected primarily by education, a degree of "westernization" and a standard of living that has elevated them above poverty, hence enabling them to assign a higher priority to political rights.

One should treat this dramatic struggle with the complexity it deserves. Virtually all Americans are trained to place a supreme value on human freedom, with limits on governmental power and safeguards on the rights of speech, press, assembly and religion. In our political culture rights often seem nearly absolute for individuals and interest groups, responsibilities greatly limited. Correspondingly, governance is more difficult, but the benefits that accrue lie in the fact that error or malfeasance in the public area is ultimately exposed, often in time to enable corrective measures to be effective.

In the political culture of Asia, much that is traditional still holds sway. Rarely is the highest premium placed upon the rights of the individual or special interest group. Nor has majority rule been a valued form of decision-making. Why should 51 percent impose their will on 49 percent? Consensus sought through various processes is the desired route. But there is a corollary with opposite implications: those who cannot be conciliated must be treated as enemies. There is only minimal tolerance for those who insist upon taking a different stance, and this is what makes the effectuation of genuine parliamentarism so difficult. Democracy requires an acceptance of the rights of both the majority and the minority, providing their actions are carried out within legal bounds. In the definition of legal bounds, moreover, lies another set of ambiguities. In Asia, the application of the law is frequently arbitrary, costing governments their legitimacy. On the other hand, oppositionists often take the law into their own hands, resorting to the streets as an alternative to the legislative chambers or the courts.

It is a mark of our times that all Asian governments without exception pay homage to democracy while interpreting it in radically different ways. Political modernization at root has consisted of substituting secular for religious dominance, paying homage to the rule of law equally applied, moving toward specialization (bureaucratization) in the public as well as private sector, and accepting (or insisting upon) mass participation in politics. In each of these trends, however, the past makes itself felt. In certain settings, such as North Korea, ideology is religion; in others religion has reentered the political arena with a strength born out of the decline of secular ideology. Law, including fundamental law in the form of a constitution, remains an ideal, not a command to be rigorously enforced. And despite bureaucratization the dependence upon strong leaders remains, underwritten by the weaknesses of political institutions or the psychological insecurities that go with a transitional age. Some of these circumstances, incidentally, are not absent from other regions, including the advanced industrial West.

It is in this setting that one must view ongoing events. For the Leninist states of Asia, the struggle between elitist authoritarianism and greater openness is clearly destined to be protracted, with mixed advances and retreats. Recent developments in China are instructive. The student demonstrations of late 1986 stemmed from diverse grievances. In the background lay unhappiness about university conditions: a rapid expansion of enrollments without a corresponding expansion of facilities, and the innate conservatism of China's higher education as exemplified by backward conditions in libraries and instructional methods. The students, mirroring the larger community of which they are a part, were also disturbed by aspects of the post-Mao economic reforms, especially those measures that have given rise to inflation, wage distortion or corruption. But grievances or demands focused in this instance on a vague, at times naïve, request for political reform, including the fulfillment of pledges already made by the authorities for genuine choice in local elections and a fuller flowering of ideas, even iconoclastic views.

The interesting aspect of the recent Chinese student demonstrations was that, contrary to official claims, they were not guided by "external sources," although undoubtedly among the stimuli was news about political developments elsewhere, including South Korea. The Chinese student actions were essentially spontaneous, leaderless and poorly focused in terms of immediate objectives. It is true that a few individuals such as Fang Lizhi, then vice president of the China Science and Technology University in Hefei, provided immediate inspiration through public speeches and writings. The Voice of America, moreover, simply by reporting the initial demonstrations may have assisted in spreading them. But the messages contained were indigenous, and they will come forth again, with only the place and time uncertain. Some of the students and older intellectuals serve as spokesmen for an urban constituency that now questions the political values as well as the economic system implanted by the old soldier-politicians who still cling to power.

Not all intellectuals, to be sure, supported the recent demonstrations. To some, they were the type of ill-timed, purposeless displays that gave the conservatives an excuse for assaulting the more forward-looking elements in the leadership, including former General Secretary Hu Yaobang. Even among the experimentalists, there is a recognition that these are delicate times, with the future balance of power at the political summit - along with the broad direction of policy - uncertain. Deng Xiaoping, it must not be forgotten, is a modernizer but also a Leninist, Chinese-style. He is committed to "turning out," but steadfastly opposed to "bourgeois liberalization," and thus profoundly worried about the political side effects of China's increasing internationalization. He and his colleagues are concerned about the loss of faith in Marxism that now affects a sizable proportion of the younger generations - including their own children.

The youth of China do not believe. And in not believing, they cast a profound shadow over those who have spent a lifetime keeping the faith. Cynicism and a quest for material gain typify many of the doubters, although within the younger generations the predominant political sentiment would appear to be nationalism, a desire to see the advent of a powerful China, respected in the world. The element of naïveté is indeed strong in youthful formulations, with a simplicity of views that is only slightly touched by the complex realities of the world, including those of China.

The general situation evokes comparisons with the past. For more than a century, China's rulers have sought to borrow Western science while retaining Chinese values. Once those values were represented in Confucianism; now they are encased in sinicized Leninism - both intended to preserve order in a potentially disorderly society where factionalism derivative of kinship ties, strong egalitarian strains and regional divisions abounds.

Despite nearly four decades under a Leninist system, the political institutions of contemporary China - even those within the supremely important Communist Party - are weak. It is enormously revealing of the current situation that during the recent crisis, a leading intellectual would assert, "We must depend upon Premier Zhao Ziyang to persuade Deng that another campaign against the intellectual community would cause great damage to China's modernization effort." Zhao must persuade Deng! Here, there was no reference to the National People's Congress, the governmental body supposed to represent the people, or the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the legal repository of supreme party authority, or even the Politburo, the body from which ultimate power allegedly flows.

In its heavy dependence upon personalities and its scant reliance upon those political institutions to which official homage is paid, China is at one with much of Asia. Political institutionalization is a largely unfinished task. For the most part traditional institutions have been cast aside, but despite arduous efforts, new ones suitable for the times and for the special characteristics of these rapidly evolving societies have not been discovered. Leninism has served the purpose of imposing an elitist order by fiat, but its long-term effect is as stultifying politically as it is economically. Yet Western-style liberal institutions, culture-specific and not fully reconciled to the demands of the late twentieth century even at home, do not travel easily.

The other Leninist societies of Asia, being governed by different circumstances, do not currently face the issue of political doubt in the same form or degree as China. But their time will come. As noted earlier, the issue of "turning out" for North Korea contains troublesome political implications. Nowhere in Asia has political indoctrination under conditions of isolation for the average citizen taken more extreme forms. Monarchical-style absolutism has been combined with the organizational-propaganda techniques borrowed from Leninism seemingly to provide the "iron-clad unity" about which the government boasts. Kim Il Sung, the "Great Leader," and his son, Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Comrade," take precedence over all institutions, with the cult of personality carried to heights difficult to imagine possible in this age. The unity sought through the appeal to follow omniscient leaders is underwritten, moreover, by a powerful military force. And in impersonal terms, the call to the Korean people (South as well as North) is to cultivate an all-embracing nationalism. Here as elsewhere in the socialist world the triumph of nationalism over Marxism is virtually absolute.

Yet the very intensity of North Korea's social order (comparable only to that of Japan and Germany in the 1930s), combined with the air of unrealism hanging over it, suggests a potential fragility. Who can replace a sun-god? What comes after a paradise on earth (except disillusion)? If, as seems likely, economic considerations will dictate greater involvement with the external world, the current political order will sooner or later be unsustainable.

In Vietnam, war and the massive military force necessary to sustain it holds a discouraged people together, but even nationalist exhortations cannot eliminate the growing discontent with old leaders and policies. Indeed, the regime has been forced to initiate or allow changes in both personnel and programs at all levels. Unlike the North Koreans, many Vietnamese have known different times and alternative systems. They have not been so thoroughly isolated, and they cannot be so easily seduced by words. Political discontent finds contemporary expression in cynicism, antisocial behavior and indifference to ideological appeals together with the yearning of many intellectuals to have greater contact with their Western counterparts. Here too, when conflict ends, political changes of an important nature are likely.


The fashionable thesis of some decades ago that over time liberal and socialist societies would converge politically is almost certainly in error. However, trends in Asia and elsewhere suggest that the Leninist societies have embarked on an evolutionary adventure, with the general movement away from "totalitarianism" (a condition never possible to achieve in complete form) to an authoritarian-pluralist order. The latter system is characteristic of many states today: a politics governed by the dominance of a single party or small elite, military or civilian, but with varying degrees of political expression permitted and with a private sector comprising economic and social organizations having some independence from state control.

If Leninist states seem destined to gravitate in this direction (and Gorbachev's U.S.S.R. provides a further indication), what of the states already in this category, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia? It is precisely here where the issues of stability and openness are currently joined in their most dynamic form. Virtually without exception the governments of these countries are pledged to a process of democratization, to include free, competitive elections and greater freedom of speech and press, and other civil rights. Yet an ambivalence exists, sustained by doubts as to whether power can or should be shared, fears of social disorder and, on occasion, concerns relating to national security.

South Korea provides an excellent case in point. The dramatic events of the recent past are still unfolding, and flat predictions are hazardous. Yet the significance of what has just taken place should not be minimized. After months of indecision marked by alternate flexibility and rigidity on the part of the primary contestants and mounting crises spearheaded by massive street demonstrations, broad concessions were made by the government.

There may well be further difficulties and unexpected events. Given South Korea's political culture and the history of the past four decades, an uneventful transition to democracy from this point would constitute a miracle. But there can be no doubt that while much is still uncertain, an element of compromise has finally entered the political scene, possibly inaugurating a new era. The concessions rendered by the government, to be sure, were the product of another "people's revolution," although the circumstances were much different from those of the Philippines. Whether the men who hold power are prepared to play by the rules of the democratic game remains to be tested. It also remains to be seen whether the main opposition force can remain united and act responsibly in the crucial months ahead. However, for the first time in modern Korea's stormy history, cautious optimism is warranted regarding the democratization process.

In Taiwan also, the movement toward greater political openness is much more rapid than most observers had envisaged. Here too a genuine political opposition has been permitted to organize. In time its leaders may constitute a viable alternative to the Kuomintang, providing the citizenry with a meaningful choice. Political freedoms have been expanded and martial law has been rescinded. Once again, one should avoid flat predictions. Uncertainties abound. The statesmanship of government and opposition alike will be sorely tested in the period immediately ahead. But recent developments have made it increasingly difficult to turn back to an older political order. A huge native Taiwanese population (85 percent) is now a critical factor in the political arena, as it has long been in the economic realm. Mainland refugees and their children (15 percent) still dominate the political and security heights, but a major transition is under way. Approximately 70 percent of the membership of the Kuomintang itself are Taiwanese, and an increasing number of cabinet posts are in Taiwanese hands, as are virtually all local and provincial positions of governance.

The process of Taiwanization cannot be stopped, and President Chiang Ching-kuo, wisely foreseeing developments, has sought to cultivate rather than to alienate this force. Yet he will soon pass from the scene, and the future leadership - as well as the broad political trends - remains in doubt. Will both government and opposition act responsibly in the delicate situation that lies ahead? And will international circumstances be conducive to moderation? The independence movement worries both Mainland Communists and Taiwanese Nationalists. It is strong, and growing. Yet the odds favor the continuance of de facto independence, rather than a move to establish an official Republic of Taiwan. The latter course would risk P.R.C. retaliation and receive very limited support from the major states, facts presumably understood by most Taiwanese spokesmen. No one can predict the longer-term future of Taiwan, but recent events on both the economic and political fronts are, on balance, hopeful.

In Indonesia a political transition from military rule is moving more slowly, reflective of earlier trauma, the persistence of deep social and economic problems, and the effectiveness of the political arrangements created by President Suharto. Nonetheless, the Indonesian military has gradually stepped back from rule under conditions approximating martial law, experimenting with "supervised openness." The political extremities - the fundamentalist Darul Islam and the Indonesian Communist Party - were decimated in earlier separate events. Moreover, surveillance over both Islam and embryonic Marxist movements is constant, with draconian measures occasionally taken. Regulated opposition is allowed and elections possess an element of competition, but Suharto's forces are in full control. Issues are aired, but with the injunction that official ideology be supported by everyone. The indications are that the system of military-technocratic governance is likely to continue through the Suharto era and beyond. Yet in Indonesia as in other quasi-authoritarian states, the instruments of greater political openness - opposition parties, competitive elections and quasi-independent social organizations - exist in embryonic form. At a later point, they will become more prominent.

Thailand is further advanced down the parliamentary road, but the civilianization of Thai politics continues to be challenged by successive military men who aspire to be political leaders. A gulf remains between the military and the civilian politicians, epitomized by the strongly indigenous, patriotic, uncomplicated values of the former and the more cosmopolitan, complex values of the latter. Recurrently, military spokesmen - young and old - level charges of corruption and waste against their civilian counterparts and the party system. Thus culture and morality become intertwined issues. The monarchy serves as a supremely important final arbiter. Indeed, Thailand and Japan illustrate how important a traditional, personalized institution can be in easing the trauma of modernization if royal prerogatives are not abused or too frequently employed. Thailand will probably continue with a hybrid military-civilian system for the near term at least, but here too it would be difficult if not impossible to resurrect monarchical absolutism or military dictatorship for a protracted period of time.

Pakistan and Bangladesh are also societies where the civilianization process has met with repeated roadblocks. The economic circumstances of these two societies differ greatly. Pakistan has a strong growth record, notwithstanding major regional disparities. Bangladesh is one of Asia's economic calamities, as we have noted, heavily dependent on external assistance. But in contrast to India's secularism, both states share a powerful religious foundation. Indeed, the unified Pakistan of the past was established on theocratic principles, with the Koran to be the supreme authority. A bent toward authoritarianism lies here. Moreover, imbedded in the tribal culture, especially that of Pakistan, is a pervasive military tradition, one which the British found useful to cultivate.

Nevertheless, the contest between martial law and openness, authoritarianism and parliamentarism, continues ceaselessly in both states, with fluctuating trends. Here as elsewhere, military leaders pledge greater democracy and on occasion seek to "civilianize" themselves, thereby contributing to a course they continue to regard with ambivalence. It is this paradox that so graphically epitomizes the contemporary Asian quasi-authoritarian state.

Existing alongside the Leninist and quasi-authoritarian polities of Asia are the Western-style democracies. Making allowance for variations of type, one can place Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, India and Sri Lanka in this category at present, along with some of the new states and ministates of the Pacific (treating Australia and New Zealand as Western enclaves, not included in our analysis).

Several generalizations regarding Asian democracies are in order. First, the strong tendency has been that of a dominant party system, with alternation in national power via elections rare. Thus political competition has not produced serious instability, although shifts in control at regional and local levels within the country are more common.

Second, the role of the key leader has been supremely important. His personality, his political style and his policies make a vital difference, notwithstanding the substantial power of the more permanently entrenched bureaucracy. East or West, our times put a premium upon the individual at the apex of the political pyramid. His task is to discern the requirements for the society and then to activate citizens and officials to pursue the goals established. The precise traits required will vary with the culture and circumstances of each country, but contrary to the views of theorists of the past, specialization and the heightened authority of bureaucracies have not lessened the need for effective political leadership. On the contrary, leadership is frequently the central variable determining success or failure.

Finally, despite rhetoric to the contrary, democracy in its Asian variations does not necessarily represent the culmination of a nation_s political evolution, providing a political system fixed in perpetuity. We have witnessed numerous movements away from parliamentarism and the politically open society. Note the brief martial law era imposed by Indira Gandhi in India, the much longer period of authoritarian rule under Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the collapse of parliamentarism at earlier points in Burma and Indonesia, among other societies. One of the chief threats continues to be the profound racial, religious and geographical cleavages that abound throughout contemporary Asia. When freedom represents a license to manifest powerfully divisive prejudices, it jeopardizes the very existence of the state.

How do these generalizations apply to the current Asian democracies? Unquestionably, Japan is the most stable democracy in the Pacific-Asia region. Some observers have challenged the description of Japan as a democracy, arguing that since power has not alternated via elections in decades and since officials rather than elected politicians dominate policymaking, it would be more accurate to refer to the country as an authoritarian-bureaucratic state.

Whatever the insights of this argument, it minimizes the fact that the Japanese people regularly have a political choice between widely differing parties under conditions of complete political freedom. Moreover, while career officials continue to play a vital role in the decision-making and implementation process, private interest groups - and even public opinion as measured in polls - are increasing in influence, as suggested earlier. This heightens the importance of the professional politician. The basic determinant of the Liberal Democratic Party's dominance, moreover, has been the success of its policies. Given the uncertainties that lie ahead for Japan both at home and abroad, the possibility of greater political instability in the years ahead cannot be foreclosed. But if competition within the present political groups is to sharpen, the primary alternative - the Japan Socialist Party - will have to acquire a degree of realism hitherto absent, and cease to relish its role as the permanent opposition.

In the Philippines, democracy is being given a second chance, operating with the assets of a deeply sincere, honest leader and a people who have had lengthy experience with electoral politics. Yet everyone recognizes that the economic and social problems of this nation are huge and not susceptible to quick or easy solutions. Both the will and the way to basic reforms must be found, and in time. Moreover, there is little likelihood that those groups who are committed to operating outside the democratic framework will change their strategies. In addition, the long years of martial law have greatly increased the power of the military, making it available if chaos threatens or democracy proves unable to cope. Thus the present Philippine experiment acquires an importance for the region of more than symbolic significance.

Singapore and Malaysia, each in its own way, underline the degree to which leadership makes a difference, especially in newly created nations. Lee Kuan Yew showed consummate skill for many years in guiding a predominantly Chinese city-state existing in the midst of a Malay sea. His magnetic personality - authoritarian, colorful and brooking no nonsense - backed by forward-looking policies, provided a needed tutelage. Sadly, Singapore has advanced beyond Lee. His cranky paternalism no longer suits a people grown to greater political maturity. There comes a time in politics to go, and it is the perennial problem that others, but not the principal, recognize that time. Lee's successors are in place, and some of them, including his son, are competent individuals. When will they get the chance?

Malaysia from precarious beginnings developed remarkable stability, partly because it enjoyed a succession of nonthreatening, consensus-building leaders. They were able to unite Malay and Chinese moderates into a dominant coalition, one that supported racial coexistence and rational economic policies. Dangers were never absent given the near equal racial balance. The Chinese had to accept certain restrictions relating to opportunities for higher education and governmental service in exchange for economic primacy and personal liberty. One major racial outbreak occurred, and resentments continued within both principal racial groups. On balance, however, the system worked.

Today, apprehension is warranted. Race relations, far from improving, are deteriorating. In Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, moreover, the nation has a confrontational leader who has been unable to preserve a consensus even among the moderate Malays. The Chinese part of the ruling coalition has also been plagued with leadership problems. An upswing in the economy would of course help, but alone it will not suffice.

Throughout Southeast Asia - and in the Pacific island states also - racism is rampant. The deep cleavage between Chinese and Malays has just been noted, but there are other serious fissures - between Burmans and such hill people as the Shan and Kachin; between Thai or Lao and Hmong; between Indonesians and the Melanesians of West Irian - the list is endless. Nation-building has a very long way to go throughout the region, and various prejudices will long outlive present generations.

The same situation, with at least equal complications, plagues the South Asian democracies. Indian democracy must be regarded as a tribute to both British tutelage and the capacities of successive Indian elites to maintain the ideas bequeathed them. This vast, heterogeneous society lacks many of the requisites commonly assumed necessary for a successful democracy. Too large, too poor and too diverse, India has nevertheless retained parliamentarism for more than four decades with only one interlude despite recurrent crises. Why? Various reasons can be assigned: the continued commitment of the political elite, from Congress to Communist; the coexistence of a single national party and diverse regional parties speaking for separate local constituencies; the innately secular quality of Indian culture, despite the importance of religion throughout the society; and the subordination of the military to civilian leadership, product both of tradition and training.

No one can doubt, however, that Indian democracy faces continuous challenges and remains in jeopardy. The line between beneficial regional autonomy and harmful separatism is constantly being tested. Religious and linguistic divisions, together with other manifestations of distinct subcultures, result in open conflicts that undermine stability. The question is recurrently asked: Can India afford Italian-style politics? Economic divisions grow even as the society spawns a broad, new "middle class" that is politically more active. It is not surprising that Rajiv Gandhi is in trouble today. But anxiety regarding his ability to lead India is warranted. The honeymoon is over, and he has not yet been able to garner able advisers, reshape the doddering Congress Party or implement some of the key policies that he once boldly proclaimed. Excuses can be offered, but they will not suffice unless improvements in his performance are forthcoming. As at a critical point in his mother's career, Rajiv Gandhi and, in larger measure, Indian democracy face troublesome times. Nevertheless, the likelihood is that the latter will survive even if the former does not.

Meanwhile, in nearby Sri Lanka a tragedy wends its inexorable way. Racial strife tears the state apart as two ethnic groups, disproportionate in size but with a historically inverse economic position, engage in a savage struggle. Political separatism is understandably unacceptable to the Sinhalese majority, yet many of the Tamil minority have long been dissatisfied with their political position as well as their social status. With a vast Indian hinterland geographically (and emotionally) behind them, the Tamils' most militant leaders demand triumph or death. Democracy can operate only very partially under such circumstances.


In any survey of the Asian political panorama, these broad trends stand out. First, the accelerating socioeconomic revolution has presented challenges to each of the three political systems currently operating within the region. The Leninist states, however reluctantly, are being forced to move from rhetoric to practice in permitting more meaningful public participation in politics and greater openness in the society at large. In the years ahead, they will move from imperfect totalitarianism to join the ranks of the authoritarian-pluralist societies.

The latter states will generally continue a process already under way from military to civilian rule, from restricted to more open politics of the parliamentary mold. However, not all experiments of these types will be successful, and the pace of change will vary greatly. Even in those situations where democracy is successfully institutionalized, moreover, a dominant party system will usually be preserved by one means or another. In very few settings will elections precipitate power changes in the near future.

The current democratic states, as noted, are by no means immune to change, especially if social tensions produce prolonged violence or if a failure of leadership opens the door to government by fiat. Economic trends represent another crucial variable.

Abrupt systemic change, however, will be the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, political revolutions of the classic type - whatever their direction - are over in Asia. The coming revolution, as indicated, lies in accelerating socio-economic change. While this can and will affect politics significantly over time, most political changes will be evolutionary.

Without exception, leadership will remain a critical variable in the political equation. Political institutionalization will be a slow process; and even where new institutions take root, individuals who can personalize complex issues, who possess the talent to capture the public's imagination and the wisdom to sense the essential needs of their society, together with the political acumen to pursue these effectively, will spell the difference between success and failure. Ours is an age that will continue to lean heavily upon charismatic leaders.

Meanwhile, a process of stretching governance will continue in Asia as elsewhere. On the one hand, increased attention will be given to expanding the rights and responsibilities of localities and regions, with the recognition that capital-centric policies do not suffice to build a strong nation. On the other hand, a network of regional organizations beyond the nation-state will be strengthened despite various obstacles in order to give greater voice to individual units and to tackle problems beyond the capacity of a single state.


This latter development bridges domestic and foreign policy, and leads to the third set of issues confronting Asia today. How should one nation relate to others? By what means does a state - and particularly a state preoccupied with developmental problems - safeguard its security, obtain the necessary economic and technical assistance, and make certain in other respects as well that it is a part of global "progress" rather than being left in the backwaters?

One of the most pronounced trends within the Pacific-Asian region in recent times has been the emergence of regionalism. ASEAN has been joined by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the South Pacific Commission and the South Pacific Forum. Even in Northeast Asia, where political circumstances preclude a formal organization, a soft regionalism - primarily economic in character but possessing political and strategic components - with Japan its vortex has come into existence. These regional units, moreover, are buttressed by the activities of the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and, at the international level, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as well as a host of wholly private undertakings.

By such means new states long separated by different colonial experiences are becoming acquainted and confronting common problems. Not all is or will be sweetness and light. Both similarities and differences within regional groups present difficulties. ASEAN, for example, has made limited progress in achieving common economic measures despite some recent hopeful signs. The continuing suspicion of Japan by both South Korea and China poses a serious obstacle in Northeast Asia. India's insistence upon the prerogatives of a major state in South Asia represent a constant irritant to other participants in SAARC. At some point Indonesia could create similar anxieties within ASEAN, although Jakarta has been very careful thus far to avoid cause for suspicion. The special problem of Vietnam and its drive for hegemony over Indochina has been a source both of unity (ASEAN) and division (Southeast Asia as a whole).

Nonetheless regionalism, both in terms of specific subunits and the entire Pacific-Asian area, is the wave of the future. Implicit in this fact is a process of "Asianization" - namely, the development of ever more complex, integral relations among and between the Asian states themselves, apart from external involvements. Some of these relations are hostile, portending long-term tensions (many of which were previously suppressed by colonial rulers). Most are benign, with cooperation on many fronts taking place. These developments, it should be emphasized, do not signal the advent of an exclusivist Pan-Asianism. Asia, now and for the future, is inextricably linked to the larger world of which it is a part. Its economic, political and strategic ties with the rest of the world, including the superpowers, are indispensable.

The latter fact, however, is a matter of continuous reexamination in the midst of certain changes affecting international relations on a global scale. The evidence is now overwhelming that the major powers without exception must give prior attention to serious domestic problems, social as well as economic, that will not wait. This requires a lower-risk, lower-cost foreign policy, and the great powers, including the United States and the U.S.S.R., are moving in that direction, albeit in the uneven fashion that always characterizes major transitions. Only Japan, with its low profile of the past and its phenomenal advances in national power, is being pressured to move along an opposite course. But the resistance within the Japanese public to increasing foreign policy risks and costs, as we have suggested, is testimony to the difficulties encountered in effecting this policy.

Under these circumstances the major states must necessarily be more cautious in making commitments of a security as well as of an economic nature. Traditional spheres of influence, to be sure, may well engender firmer commitments. The Soviet Union will not abandon its special position in Eastern Europe. The United States can be expected to become more rather than less concerned about Central America and Mexico as troubles mount in this region. China will not forget its interests both with respect to the Korean peninsula and Southeast Asia. And there may well be "special emergencies" where risks (vis-à-vis minor states) are taken, such as in the Middle East. Yet the Guam Declaration of 1969 is symbolic of a new age. In that declaration, it will be recalled, the United States couched its commitments to Asian allies with caveats: air and sea support but not large ground forces; defense against external aggression but not involvement in civil wars. Other major states have issued no such explicit pronouncements, but from the very travails that have beset them (the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan), the trend obtains reinforcement.

The United States and the Soviet Union are not the only large states readjusting their policies. Note the major alteration in Chinese foreign policy during the early 1980s. Previously, Deng Xiaoping had called for a global alliance against Soviet hegemonism, an alliance in which China would play its role. After national priorities were focused upon economic modernization, however, China shifted to a proclamation of nonalignment. Political identification was again sought with the Third World. Such a course currently serves China's national interests. But official pronouncements must not be taken literally. China's nonalignment is distinctly tilted, and the tilt is toward Japan and the West, especially the United States. Despite criticisms and complaints, China counts on the advanced industrial world, whether the measurement be economic, cultural or strategic. This should not be surprising. With its two principal concerns being security and development, China's foreign policy necessarily looks to Japan and the United States for assistance. While an additional aim is to reduce tension with the U.S.S.R. - and Sino-Soviet relations can be expected to improve, particularly if the Indochina and Afghanistan conflicts can be resolved - geopolitical factors will impose continuous limitations. Ten years from now, Sino-Soviet relations will be normal but not trusting or intimate. The two empires, differing greatly in culture, stage of development and degree of power, will continue to press against each other, with no buffer state system to separate them.

Japan will strengthen its economic role regionally and globally, creating the most genuinely international economy among the major states. But the picture of Japan as a key political-military actor in the Pacific-Asian region by the end of the century is greatly overdrawn. The inhibitions within Japan to any such course remain truly formidable, notwithstanding the growth of a new nationalism. The Asia of the 1980s, moreover, is not the Asia of the 1930s. Japan's role is destined to follow a unique course without precise parallel. Policies will continue to be governed largely by market opportunities, with the private sector taking the lead, although in various situations the government will use its economic instruments for specific political purposes.

Since U.S.-Japan relations rest fundamentally upon economic interdependence and strategic dependence, they will survive current and future storms.

Japan's relations with the U.S.S.R. will be strongly influenced by the fate of Soviet domestic reforms, but even under the best of circumstances they will be restrained for the foreseeable future. A century of hostility cannot be quickly dissipated, especially with a territorial issue unresolved and the existence of a massive, close-in Soviet military presence. Japanese-Soviet economic relations, however, will grow, and under certain conditions they could become highly significant.

Sino-Japanese relations will be more meaningful, especially in the economic sphere, but here too, reservations will continue to be present on both sides. Japan would prefer a slowly developing China. China worries about Japanese-style Gaullism.

What is the logical response of the less powerful Asian states to these broad trends among the major nations? The propensity for regionalism has already been noted. In addition, the general direction will be from alliance to alignment. Just as the commitments of the large states will be more conditional and in certain respects more limited, so the allegiance of the minor states will be less absolute. The trend is already well established. One has only to look at the current alliance structures headed by the United States and the Soviet Union respectively, East or West. With rare exceptions, the quotient of independence within diverse bilateral and multilateral relationships has expanded, in some cases in such a fashion as to change the very nature of that relation.

In sum, the old, largely exclusive alliances are undergoing fundamental alteration, with implications difficult to exaggerate. In-depth consultations, consensus based on compromise and multifaceted contacts - official and unofficial - extending across ideological-political lines are enroute. Developments in the Pacific-Asian region give eloquent testimony to these facts.


On balance there is reason for cautious optimism with regard to the future of Asia. The basic ingredients for development are present or being acquired: second- and third-generation post-revolutionary leaders willing to place the highest premium upon domestic development, not greatly troubled by ideology; a growing number of trained managers and skilled workers in both the public and private sectors; and a rising appreciation of the importance of working with, rather than against, human nature - hence a renewed emphasis upon the market and grassroots development.

The advantage of pragmatic approaches to political issues deserves special emphasis. Rigidly ideological views have lost ground, making compromise easier. Deep-rooted ethnic, racial and regional tensions constitute a worrisome factor and, as has been indicated, these may be intensifying rather than diminishing in some states. This weighs heavily on the negative side of the ledger. Moreover, certain of the basic rules that govern the successful operation of a politically open society must be learned. They are not indigenous to the cultures of Asia. In any case, each society will adapt its political system to its own needs and nature. On balance, however, the odds favoring a largely peaceful evolution are lengthening.

Security issues must be viewed in their multiple dimensions. The gravest threat in most cases will come from internal conditions. A government that loses its legitimacy presents a target of opportunity both at home and abroad. No doubt terrorism and small wars in their many forms will be with us for the indefinite future. Violence will remain very much a part of the Asian scene, fed by unresolved - in some cases unresolvable - social and economic problems as well as the irrational actions of political contestants. But the risks of a large-scale conflagration in the region are lower than at any time since World War II. A preoccupation with unprecedented domestic challenges affects foreign policies everywhere. Moreover, a recognition that large wars can no longer be won is almost universally acknowledged by those in a position to start them.

It is to be hoped that we are entering a period when major power cooperation can be extended beyond arms limitations to the type of concerted action necessary if localized or regional trouble spots are to be eliminated or contained. In Asia this points to the need for sustained efforts to work cooperatively on the tensions of the Korean peninsula, the Philippines, Indochina, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Indian relations with Pakistan and China. Not all of these problems, to be sure, are susceptible to useful external cooperation, but in the majority of cases such an approach holds promise.

Despite the unresolved problems, the war clouds that hung over major state relations during most of the last century have greatly lessened in the Pacific-Asian area. Asia will enter the 21st century without the awesome threats that accompanied the dawn of the twentieth. This condition will permit greater attention to the issues of social, economic and political development, utilizing the abundant talents in this extraordinary region.

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  • Robert A. Scalapino is Robson Research Professor of Government and Director of the Institute for East Asian Studies of the University of California at Berkeley. He is a coeditor of Asian Survey and the author of Modern China and Its Revolutionary Process, Major Power Relations in Northeast Asia, and other works.
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