The optimism about democratization that rose sharply in the second half of the 1980s and stood strong in the 1990s has fallen to its nadir in 2018. There have been many post mortems at each stage of the descent: some have focused on the reversal of development in Russia and the lack of transition to democracy in many former Soviet republics; others have dwelt on the Middle East from the shattered illusions raised in the Iraq War to the disastrous results of the “Arab Spring.”1 In Southeast Asia the record has been mixed, but supporters of the benefits of democratization have found ample reason for disappointment there, too.2 During the 1990s, expectations were high for how Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia would benefit from ongoing democratization. It would open borders to Japan and South Korea, each of which was prepared to offer generous terms for integrating with parts of Northeast Asia. And it would demonstrate the advantages of both Taiwan and Hong Kong as they set an attractive example for Greater China. ASEAN would find it easier to solidify as a regional organization because of the strengthening democratization among its members. Australia and New Zealand would become less marginalized as they pursued closer ties in Asia. Finally, by the early 2000s, there was talk of India’s new linkages to the east as it rose as the anchor of a democratic network connecting the Indo-Pacific. What lessons should we draw from the setbacks to these high hopes and from what has been revealed about conceptualizing democratization with clear awareness of national identities as well as the advancing realities of great power rivalries?
The debate on democratization in 2018 became embroiled with at least four other debates, the most serious of which was exposed at the funeral remembrances of John McCain, who became the symbol of “strength with values.” On September 1 two past presidents and family members who spoke conveyed an unmistakable contrast with President Trump, pictured as inimical to US traditional values, including support for democratization. This image interferes with promotion of US leadership in values across Asia as elsewhere. Second, triumphal claims about the Chinese model of development without what others recognize as democracy are being newly tested by the loss of confidence in US leadership in values and China’s own narratives. In one case after another, especially in Asia, the Sino-US competition is casting a shadow on the debate. Third, the deepening concern about strategic dangers leads many to prioritize them to a degree that leaves issues of democratization on the margins. Unlike Cold War polarization, when one side was seen as the “free world” and the other as communist totalitarianism, the renewed concern about threats has not yet been clearly reinterpreted as values coupled with superpower rivalry, but the debate on that is beginning. As to the fourth debate connected to democratization, it originates in the region itself, as habits of the “ASEAN Way” and leaving it to Washington to deal with such matters while pursuing a “pragmatic” foreign policy have proven insufficient. Japan’s pursuit of “reentering Asia” and South Korean pursuit of North Korea often have obscured talk of values. We are seeking a framework of analysis to interpret the debate within the region as well as to reach beyond the debates on the US image, China’s role, and linkages to security concerns. The articles that follow are in search of a conceptual framework.
Japan has tried to pick up the mantle of championing a value-oriented coalition of states, even if Abe appears flawed as an advocate, especially in South Korea. Many including Japan wait for the United States to clarify what it means by a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Leadership is wanting on what is to be done in promoting democratization at a time when many prioritize resolution of trade disputes and security challenges. In these circumstances, the academic and think tank community can play an important role in reconceptualizing the issues at stake. That is attempted in the articles that follow, linking democratization to national identity and assessing the foreign policy context.
The Previous Debate on Democratization in Asia
In the Cold War era, analysis of the spread of democracy to East Asia was guided by three basic lines of inquiry: a simplistic version of modernization theory; a bifurcated understanding of the ongoing struggle between two blocs and ideologies; and a surge of interest in what some called Confucian liberalism. Following the Cold War, the list expanded to: sweeping belief in the force of economic globalization; naïve faith in the uncontrollable force of the information revolution; and excessive trust in US leadership using carrots and sticks to steer states in this direction. Few recognized the national identity challenges ahead and the lack of any foreign policy consensus.
Modernization theory was distorted by some who insisted on early democratization as a major prerequisite and others who presumed that finally at a second stage of modernization it would become essential to sustain the process. Arguments for East Asia included that Japan was lucky to revitalize its modernization through US occupation reforms and South Korea and Taiwan, if not then democratized, would have compelling reasons to become so. Counterarguments were that Japan’s modernization, albeit democratized in the postwar era, was not converging with the primary cases in the West in ways that cast some doubt on these assumptions, and that the Soviet Union had found an alternative path to modernization, even if substantial reform was necessary. Universalist generalizations about the commonalities of modernization and the pull of convergence clashed with qualifications that distinct traditions, greater state direction, and different social structure and economic equities could impact if democratization takes place.
A second line of dispute over democratization centered on how to conceive of two blocs in the forefront of the international system. Some were inclined to disregard any nuances, insisting that totalitarianism and the free world were locked in a zero-sum struggle, where all on the latter side were or were destined to become democratic and that the communist side stifled the universal quest for democracy, which could be overcome through showing off consumer successes and penetrating the iron curtain with information. It did not seem to matter what variations existed in communist-led states apart from the openings available due to the legacy of civil society in some. Outside the two blocs were states pressed to choose one side or the other with little regard for the complexities of democratization that would still be present. Not part of this mainstream thinking were some who pointed to colonial legacies, the struggle of newly liberated states, and lingering historical grievances as forces relevant to democratization.
In the 1980s a wave of writings considered Confucianism as a force that could alter the linkage between modernization and democratization. They drew on three lines of argument: 1) there are elements of meritocracy, bureaucratic order, and respect for social limitations on the state in the Confucian tradition, especially in what can be called “reform Confucianism”; 2) countries where that tradition dominated were democratizing or taking innovative approaches to bring democratic elements into their governance; and 3) distinctive characteristics of their economic growth suggested that they would not converge in important ways with countries in the West. Japanese assertiveness about the exceptionalism of Japan’s continued rise drove some of the discussion, but critics saw temporary features in its economy and in its way of democratization.
The 1990s brought an upsurge in confidence about spreading democratization amid a sharp divide on the extent of convergence. Often missing, however, was a clear sense of how to keep democratization moving forward in light of the backlash linked to national identities. Simplistic notions of democracy misjudged how its elements fit together; crude approaches to identity did not account for lingering challenges to democratization in its multiple dimensions; and foreign policy was dominated by exaggerated images of globalization rather than the persisting rivalries that shaped the prospects for democratization. Only, in stages, through the 2010s, there was a basis for a comprehensive framework encompassing all of these factors constructed in the literature.
Guidelines for Analysis
Four threads intersect to inform our analysis. First, there is growing awareness of the messiness of sustaining democratization even if it has partly taken hold. Conceptual rigor requires that it be treated as a continuum with clarity about its interlocking nature and vulnerabilities. Second, the study of national identities has evolved in shedding light on how various dimensions can be disputed and reconstructed with far-reaching implications for democratization. Comparisons of national identities and contestation over them build a firm foundation for close analysis of the forces shaping democratization. Third, renewed attention to ways of undermining democracies, especially “sharp power,” as well as to the weight of economic dependency on political decision-making exposes linkages between contested elements of national identity and rhetoric on social media and elsewhere that can be manipulated to call shared values into question. We need to study these potentially subversive forces in relation to their intent and their impact. As our fourth thread, we introduce the struggle between two clashing models of values, development, and international order. During the Cold War, democratization could not be divorced from the struggle between two camps, and, once more, we have entered a period when one country is using its model of organization and development in stark opposition to democratization, in this case bolstered by considerable economic clout, while a US-led coalition advocates building closer ties among democratic states and assisting more states to enter that camp despite inconsistency in pursuit of those objectives given other priorities, whether balance of power, trade, narrow interests, or the most recent presidential idiosyncrasies.
To make the project distinct, we start with five intentions: 1) clarifying that democratization is a continuum, which is reversible and linked to national identity, which may support or undercut democratization; 2) developing conceptual frameworks in pursuit of a common framework with awareness of variations; 3) drawing lessons from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the long-term evolution of China, conscious of struggles for democratization still ongoing amid national identity issues related to unification and great power competition; 4) stressing how emerging competition with China in Asia is shaping the way democratization is unfolding with linkages to the BRI and sharp power and considering the impact of US policy and the promise of a free and open Indo-Pacific; and 5) focusing on Southeast and South Asia in the case studies to follow. In the sections below exploring conceptual frameworks, we draw arguments from the first two of the planned endeavors and search for some factors that help to fit the four articles together.
“Democratization, National Identity, and Foreign Policy in Southeast Asia”
Aurel Croissant weaves together the three variables in our project into an integrated conceptual framework, which he applies to the richly diverse cases in Southeast Asia. He questions if a consensus on national identity is a prerequisite for successful democratic consolidation, arguing that the implementation of democratic practices in Southeast Asia has helped to manage national identity problems, while the levels and quality of democracy have also been affected by issues of national identity. A first transition opens up space for democratizing national identity, but failure of the second transition to fully consolidate democratic regimes, complicates shared agreement about identity, resulting in conflicts about its content and comprehensiveness, and its impact on domestic and foreign policies. Croissant offers a model of “embedded democracy,” assuming a set of rules and institutions that can be analytically disaggregated into different partial regimes that each fulfill specialized tasks. He sees democratizationas a process of continual adjustment over rights and relationships in a political regime: from autocratic governance to the installation of a democratic government, and only then, toward democratic deepening and consolidation. He treats national identities as empirical constructs, imagined communities (and beliefs about what characterizes such communities and makes them unique), finding that while some treat national identity as the independent variable and democratization the dependent variable, few treat how democratization affects national identities. He cites the view that insufficiently consolidated democracies are vulnerable when effective checks and balances are replaced with ‘‘nationalist outbidding’’ among domestic actors, making foreign policy concessions virtually impossible.
Croissant describes Southeast Asian nations as creations of Western colonialism, first imposing centralized and unified territorial states and then generating the anti-colonial movements which imbued the populations with stronger national loyalties. Political entities they created masked many internal differences in their colonies. The consolidation of colonial rule kindled nationalist movements generally from four historical sources: religious and cultural movements, spawning movements of ethnic minorities secular nationalist movements often led by western-educated students and intellectuals, social radicals and communist movements, and civic movements that defined the nation as an association of people with equal and shared political rights. Whereas in many states national identity was defined through an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle, in Singapore from 1965, the government promoted a “citizen multi-culturalism,” a culturally neutral concept of citizenship, acknowledging the legitimacy of each of the ethnic identities.
In the mid-1980s, almost no state in Southeast Asia had successfully solved its “national identity problem” as needed for (successful) democratization, but authoritarian regimes were replaced with democracies. Other states joined after the financial crisis of 1997 or recently. The elites of the past often dominated the transition or, at least, negotiated significant political concessions. Continuity in the military, civil service, and the judiciary meant that old power structures and established patterns of interaction between the state apparatus and society often remained to a large extent unchanged. Southeast Asian democracies were weakly institutionalized, “illiberal,” and vulnerable to political polarization. It is only in Singapore that there is no relevant social group that does not accept the nation-state as legitimate. Croissant finds that the transition from authoritarian rule to electoral democracy is possible without prior agreement on what national identity specifically means to different people, but democratization creates new political and societal spaces for renegotiating national identity, which can lead to tension, as in Indonesia, where struggle over the relationship between Islam and national identity is intensifying. National identity problems were and still are an obstacle for successful democratization in Southeast Asia. Indonesia (1998-2000), Thailand (since 2004), Myanmar (especially since 2016) and Timor Leste (in 2006) experienced a sudden outburst of ethnic violence and armed unrest during or shortly after the (incomplete) transition from authoritarianism to (liberal) democracy. Yet, we are told, outbursts of armed conflict in democratizing nations of Southeast Asia are not caused by political liberalization and democratization but are triggered by democratization that destabilizes the authoritarian order, failure of old nationalisms, and economic crisis, among other factors.
In the 1950s-80s, ideology was a primary engine of inter-state conflict in the region, but in the post-cold war era, there has arisen a new nationalism in Southeast Asia, centering on issues of national pride, territorial integrity, and national sovereignty. The prime object of animosity is no longer one’s own government, but governments and elites in other countries, especially China (Malaysia, Vietnam) and the United States (Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand)—indicative of rising tensions, amplified grievances, and worsening prospects for continued peace and prosperity in the wider region. As the rise of a new nationalism correlates with the wave of political liberalization and democratization that swept through Southeast Asia, some have asked if there is a relationship among democratization, nationalism, and foreign policy, Tuong Vu sees democratization as a trigger (though, not a “deep cause”) for the rise of nationalism in the region. It is not only the democratizing nations there that have seen “a post-cold war surge of nationalism.” Vietnam has seen a notable rise of (anti-Chinese) nationalism in recent years. Similarly, authoritarian governments in Thailand (since 2014), Cambodia, and Laos seek to legitimize their rule by intensifying nationalist sentiments and channeling popular anger and animosity into a form of pro-government nationalism. One can even argue that nationalism and nationalist foreign policies are more frequent in authoritarian regimes than in the democratizing countries is a conclusion that Croissant draws from his comparative study of the countries in Southeast Asia.
“The Mediating Role of National Identity in Democratization and Lessons from Post-Cold War Foreign Policy in Northeast Asia”
Given an intensifying struggle over democratization in Asian relations with China and Russia on one side against the United States, Japan, and other US allies, this article draws attention to some linkages between national identity and democratization, proposes a framework for analyzing how democratization proceeds within today’s foreign policy context, and draws lessons from hopes for advancing democracy in Northeast Asia after the Cold War ended. It treats democratization as the establishment and deepening of a cluster of elements (not always in synch with each other or reinforcing), setbacks to democratization as the weakening of any or all of them, national identity as a conglomeration of dimensions any one of which can become linked to the advance of democratization but, more likely, can be cited as inimical to democratization, and the current foreign policy struggle in East Asia as identity oriented between China and the US-led bloc.
When national leaders or popular movements hold aloft the flag of democratization they do so against the backdrop of what is considered to be a nation’s shared understanding of what makes it unique and exceptional. There is no blank slate wiping away past assumptions. In Northeast Asia communist regimes had long perfected the means of inculcating a version of the national identity, which could not easily be superseded. Present was the legacy of Confucianism, ingeniously embedded into people’s sense of nation and civilization. Memories of colonialism and imperialist aggression had been intensely cultivated during the formative stage of modern nationalism, becoming parts of national identity. Sinocentrism and Japanese imperial thought are also examples of ideological forces with continued impact. The ideological dimension of identity has impacted democratization throughout Northeast Asia, for the most part looming as a barrier but with room in some settings to be coopted in support of that process. Each country’s national identity has distinct characteristics, but identities share dimensions in common beyond ideology.
To the extent that an obsession is cultivated over historical forces at odds with democratization—as done by the Communist Party of China with its distorted glorification of a brutal history and by deniers in Japan of the brutality in its imperial expansionism—identity serves as a barrier to democratization, at least in a more mature form. In cases of showcasing the past, it can become a negative force by demonizing any who seek reconciliation or more pragmatic moves rather than intolerant targeting in perpetuity. History plays a large role in East Asia, as in Confucian thought, communist orthodoxy, and anti-colonial causality. When there is a spike in identity as countries claim to have a harmonious order, an economic miracle, a populace well organized hierarchically to maximize national goals, etc., democratization may be brushed aside. Conversely, when there is loss of confidence in such claims, the search for external models and globalization may give rise to a backlash insisting on going back to one’s roots. Democratization means checks on the state, but identities that treat the state as the protector and embodiment of the nation may target such checks as real threats. Communism or Confucianism may leave serious hurdles in the way of democratic checks on the state. Anti-colonial legacies may envision the state as the heir to the independence movement, complicating checking its authority. It is easy to depict globalization in zero-sum terms with national identity, democratization being inseparable from turning outward. It is not just national identities that matter, but also the identity gaps that shape bilateral relations.
The Russian Far East was viewed not only as part of the democratic wave under Yeltsin, but as capable, under the impact of extensive decentralization, of a lead role in further democratization. Isolated and facing deepening poverty, North Korea was in South Korea’s sights for democratic transformation along with economic reform on the path to reunification. If Tokyo and Seoul did not expect to advance democratization on a large, regional scale in the near future, each focused on a small part of the Russian Far East, wielding economic clout and striving for its own national identity goals while holding aloft the banner of democratization. Primorskii Krai centered on Vladivostok and the Southern Kuril Islands within Sakhalin Oblast were targets—vulnerable due to deepening economic hardship and new feelings of abandonment by the central administration in Moscow. But the external appeal to press for greater democracy was overwhelmed by appeals to defend national identity, viewing “universal values” as a false smokescreen. Democratization was attacked as harmful to a contested Russian identity, which turned out to be much beholden to the Soviet legacy.
South Koreans and Japanese were optimistic early in the 1990s that they could advance democratization and forge a new, special relationship with these neighboring areas of great interest. Their economic and humanitarian assistance was abused, their motives were impugned, and their sponsorship of forces supportive of greater democracy tarnished many they had sought to help. Talk intensified as early as 1993 regarding what had caused the “crisis” of the Russian Far East and what was to be done. Liberal voices had punctured the once tight censorship but made few serious inroads into demolishing much of the identity of the communist era. Pride in Russocentrism, suspicion of what was called imperialism, and survival of key tenets of socialism centered on dependency on top-down guidance were deeply engrained. Symbols were invoked resistant to de-Stalinization and abandonment of old tenets. The ideology of free markets, fully free elections, and a free society gained some adherents, but few benefits followed, and loss of security contributed to a backlash. Russians were ill-disposed to clashing viewpoints, not only because they came with unwelcome territorial aspirations, but because they threatened, including by pressing for democracy, the pillars of the lingering national identity. The appeals to Russian civilization on the structural dimension of identity, or to a dominant state, on the vertical dimension, proved stronger than the appeals to democratic values. Democratization of North Korea will have to deal with its national identity, even if many expect to wipe that slate clean and open the door to South Korea’s identity. It will have to deal also with the polarization over the place of democratization in North Korea’s transformation among the interested countries.
“The Chinese Model of Law, China’s Agenda in International Law, and Implications for Democracy in Asia and Beyond”
Referring to the long-emerging “pull” of the Chinese model of law, Jacques deLisle notes that a record of economic growth and transformation has given the model luster in developing countries, especially with authoritarian rulers. At home, reticence to promote a Chinese model of development has faded. A striking indication of this are Xi Jinping’s remarks in his report to the 19th Party Congress: “Socialism with Chinese characteristics [is] blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization [and] offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.” China is challenging the claims of the Washington Consensus and some law-and-development theories that the rule of law or rule by law is important, and perhaps indispensable, for economic success.
DeLisle cites the notably undemocratic content of Chinese law, including: the absence of legal requirements and procedures for direct democratic elections of representatives beyond the most basic units of governance in the rural areas; the failure to implement fully the modest democratic requirements of the village election law; and the special legal status (including leadership over the state) accorded to the Chinese Communist Party. Suppression and deterrence of heterodox opinions and dissent, including advocacy for democratic change, often is achieved through means outside the legal system: incarceration in the form of “reeducation through labor,” detention in “black jails” of petitioners traveling to Beijing or provincial capitals to complain of law-violating abuses by local officials, and other informal modes of detention.
Thus, the China model is a rival template in law and politics (and, more ambiguously, economics) to the liberal or neo-liberal democratic rule-of-law model favored by the United States and like-minded states and institutions. And its relative rise in influence may undermine prospects for legality and democracy in affected countries. Law has been relied upon to support development of an economy that has transitioned from Soviet-style socialist planning toward the market, from international isolation to global engagement, and from poverty to relative prosperity. Economic policies that support these transitions have been cast heavily and, for China, unprecedentedly in legal form. Yet, that remains far from the rule of law.
Early Xi-era promises to undertake bold legal reforms to deepen economic liberalization have proven particularly hollow. Policies and practices favoring state-owned and state-linked enterprises, and foreign criticisms of rising Chinese protectionism and playing fields increasingly tilted against foreign firms (by China’s aggressive use of national security and anti-monopoly review, coerced transfers of intellectual property, and industrial policies that favor Chinese technology firms, among other measures) have been features of the Xi years. They represent a turn within the party-state to a more Leninist conception of law as a tool for enforcing discipline and making the party-state apparatus more responsive to directives from above; and in society, a turn toward threat-suppression (not redressing party-state-linked behavior), concludes deLisle.
Forms of participation in China are low-level, atomized, or weakly institutionalized—and, thus, not strongly democratic. They can provide aggrieved constituents with steam-valves for expressing discontent, authorities with information about public sentiment that can make authoritarian rule both more effective and modestly responsive, and the broad citizenry with law-based mechanisms that may partly satisfy and undercut what would otherwise become demands for democratization. The Xi leadership has sharpened its predecessor’s rejection of liberal and democratic ideas related to law as not suited to China, notably in an early debate on constitutionalism which rejected limited government and separation of powers, and a Central Committee document that denounced pernicious, mostly law-related ideas (including Western-style constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, and so on). Law may serve—at least over some relatively extended period—as a complex but viable substitute for democracy. The suggestion that this is so may resonate with rulers and other influential groups in developing countries who are inclined toward authoritarian politics, and it may be more potent as China has become both less chary in asserting that others may learn from its example and more influential economically and politically in potentially affected states. China’s model is now looming larger.
For much of the reform era, China’s engagement with international law has generally followed a path of largely accepting the established order and many of its principal norms. another long-standing and persisting Chinese position on international law: claiming that China’s favored interpretations—often undemocratic or anti-democratic ones—are part of existing law. China increasingly has sought to shape the rules and institutions of international law and in ways that suit its interests. One of the most pointed expressions of this more muscular approach came early in the incumbency of Xi and the fifth-generation leadership, when the 18th Central Committee’s “rule of law” plenum proclaimed that China must “vigorously participate in the formulation of international norms” and strengthen its “discourse power [huayuquan] and influence in international legal affairs.”
Moves to create new, Chinese-led institutions and initiatives (such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or the Belt and Road Initiative) augur still-greater capacity for China to influence international legal rules, especially for the adjacent region, and primarily in economic affairs, but with implications for matters that include political democracy. The correlative decline in US influence and, especially since Donald Trump came to power, interest in sustaining prevailing international law and related institutions, reinforces China’s potential influence. Chinese views include: support for a robust notion of sovereignty in international law; a non-democratic perspective on international human rights; and the implications, in the context of the BRI, of its emphasis on treaties and state-based international institutions as favored sources of international law. China may become more assertive in shaping international law or press legal norms in ways that undermine contrary status quo views or erode the coherence of international law, deLisle warns.
“Democratization in Asia: Lessons from the Americas”
Louis Goodman’s article defines democracy and differentiates its moral and functional bases, while noting different forms it can take. The article traces the post-colonial history of politics in Latin America, emphasizing the forms of governance that have evolved in the region as well as the processes of which they have been part. The final section attempts to identify themes and lessons of relevance to democratization in other regions, especially in Southeast Asia.
When elites began to be challenged by middle class groups in the early 20th century they closed ranks in support of established privilege and conservative positions. With the engagement of the United States and European powers with Latin American economies in the early 20th century, foreign influences competed to shape their political character. This was particularly true for Latin America’s armed forces. Since the withdrawal of the military from politics in Latin America electoral democracy appears to have been well established. It has been buttressed by a variety of regional factors, most notably the Inter-American Charter adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2001, which obliges all 34 members of the OAS to take specific actions in the case of "an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state." The actions include suspension from the OAS of a nation experiencing such an “interruption” and the imposition of an economic embargo by the 34 OAS members.
A phenomenon of regional import, explains Goodman in listing positive forces, has been the reformation of national macro-economic practices due to the negative experiences of Latin American nations during the 1970s and 1980s. Another positive factor has been improved civil-military relations. No longer are the region’s civilians and military living in completely separate worlds. It is rare that an active duty military officer is a nation’s minister of defense. Defense ministries are now populated with civilian defense professionals. A further factor mitigating against retreat from democracy has been the resolution of border disputes between countries and the ending of intra-country civil wars. One more factor impacting democratic consolidation has been respect for the rule of law. Also positive has been increased transparency. Overall, however, there are reasons to be concerned about the depth of commitment to democracy as a system of government in Latin America. There has been a clear decline in support for some elements of democracy in recent years; between 2014 and 2017 abstract support for democracy as a form of government declined sharply as did trust in political parties, and support for coups against national executives increased. In contrast, support for elections as a way to select leaders remained stable, and support for the expression of minority viewpoints in politics increased. One way to interpret these findings is that citizens are frustrated with their political systems’ inability to provide citizen security, to prevent corruption, and to generate economic development.
Will China follow the United States in Latin America and attempt to impose its hegemonic will on its southern neighbors? Vietnam, like Mexico, has a centuries-long history of fearing and combatting incursions from its huge northern neighbor; the Philippines, like Cuba has a narrow stretch of ocean separating it from its larger neighbor but, curiously, its history of having been occupied is with the United States, not China. Public statements against such hegemonism aside, Goodman sees China’s foreign involvements, including BRI, involving expanding its influence to become a regional, if not a global player, and he concludes that the asymmetry of Chinese power will be perceived by other nations as a new colonialism unless China takes extreme measures to collaborate with and support economic development with its partners. The impact of the reduction of grain purchases in Latin America, of Sri Lankan indebtedness, and of details of contracts with Malaysian authorities has not created the impression that China’s bilateral power will be qualitatively different from those of previous international powers.
Goodman proceeds to list threats to democracy applicable to Southeast Asia as to Latin America, including the heterogeneity of identities (undermining a coherent national identity supporting a national project), organized crime, corruption, and sharp power, as new technologies, especially social media, have enhanced the capacity to create “alternative facts” used to undermine the credibility of political opponents and/or to create safe silos in which political partisans are not exposed to alternative positions. Another list is introduced on how to reinforce or improve democracy, e.g., democratization will be more sustainable if national interest cleavages are cross-cutting and if nations anticipate that they will be operating in a multiplex world. Such lists contribute to the search for a broader conceptual framework joining the findings of the articles