Politics and Development in Asia

1. In what political respects is the developing world truly developing, and in what significant parts of it are not? Discuss and substantiate by giving examples (Focus: Asia)
In understanding political developments in Asia, being the bulk of the world’s developing nations, I begin this paper by looking at the historical developments that have largely shaped and defined the Asian nations. More importantly I focus on the Southeast Asian region of the continent due to its diversity as well as the pervading regional cooperation that has directly affected, if not impacted other Asian countries during the years after World War II. Secondly I would draw three distinctions of how developing nations are truly developing with respects to three vital political areas, mainly: the functions of the government, the electoral process and the participation of civil society. These three aspects would focus on how developing nations in Asia have managed to progress politically after its democracy was established.
Historical Overview

Geographically speaking the Asian continent ps 17 million square kilometers and is home to a population of over 4 billion people. In the past 60 or so years it has largely been host to over a dozen developing nations such as: the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and also to progressive developing or developed nations as well. This balance between developing and developed nations is attributed to the influences and a country’s experience under colonial rule. During this era, Europeans believed that Asians were largely backward both socially and economically and only served for the economic enhancement of its parent nation (Charskykh, 2005), more importantly the locals in these countries served the purpose of being the labor force of their colonial masters. It was through this labor and various instances of social, physical and mental discrimination that many of the Asian countries that had been colonized were forced to revolt.
This sense of nationalism, even at its most infantile stages (as seen in Philippine society) had helped to consolidate and unify the different levels of society to enact political change that would help in the betterment of the country. Revolution being the catalyst for political change in Asia has helped foster the spread of independent governments, however it can also be said that revolution wasn’t the only catalyst for the development of early political change in the region.
It was during the events that occurred after World War II—the Cold War—that further changed the political landscape of the Asian region, the age of multi-polarity in Richard Haas’ article on The Age of Non-polarity (2008) draws a distinction that countries were further developed wherein power of two sovereign nations (the United States and the USSR) helped numerous Asian countries as a means of spreading ideological and political attitudes among different countries. The age of non-polarity as well as the effects of the Cold War helped to consolidate and change the different Asian countries political institutions, structures and the very mechanisms, which are evident in today’s countries.
Political Development
It can be said that countries in Asia, seeing from the events or circumstances that had shaped it historically, is seen as a progressive continent host to many of the world’s developing nations. In recent years, Asia has played a large role in defining East-West relations both politically and economically. With the growing influence and presence of China, the world has turned its eye on the eastern portion of the map and thus, this has helped to bring in numerous investments and interests to the region. However, despite this surge of regional interest, Asia still has many issues to tackle, such as the role of democracy and the democratization process that some countries are sorely lacking, this is part and parcel to the formation of their government, its role and function that should help and aid the people. Secondly, the electoral process, which has served to gauge how democratized a country is to the point that it is willing to progress.
More importantly, the electoral processes in a developing country is often observed and watched because of how it affects the people—being the most basic right to political participation and representation—and by large its effects on a country’s relations with its Asian and global neighbors. Lastly the participation of civil society, in any democratized nation, civil society plays a key role in strengthening and forwarding the issues that are important to the people to the government. More than that, civil society has also played a role in disciplining the government through its “expose and oppose” tactics, tactics that have helped initiate change in the government through the passing of laws and reforms that would protect the basic rights of the citizens.
Functions of the Government
As mentioned earlier, Asian governments being a direct product of independence from the de-colonization process or a product of a bi-polar world order are currently experience what political scientists call the “third wave” of democracy. This third wave according to Samuel Huntington (1990) is essentially characterized by the loss of legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, a growth in economic output, changes in the Catholic Church; regional contingency factors; and external factors (notably the influence of the European Union and the US). Huntington’s Third Wave of democracy enabled many newly independent countries to establish themselves in their region, much in the same way the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Malaysia did after the Second World War and the subsequent years after. Moreover, because of the waves of democratization, these fledgling governments sought to establish their own national identity as well as strengthen its patrimony. Hence we see governments working to abolish and reform parts of their system from colonial influences or vestiges of it.
Hence, governments in Asia are functioning however to use the standards of many Western nations, there are countries that are still in need of further development. Governments in this continent are developing in the sense that immediately after their independence they had begun instituting change, the passage of laws that would be favorable to its people and not to its foreign neighbors or former colonial masters. More importantly, it was the passing of their own constitution, which embodied their own ideals and aspirations.
Besides that being a democratic country, governments have taken into effect the very thing that they weren’t able to have under colonial rule, their rights and privileges. Like any other democratic country, the government as well as its branches is tasked with the preservation of their constituent’s basic human, political and social rights. Moreover the governments of Asia during this third wave of democratization have largely distanced itself from the use of its military to coerce the people into action, as seen in the case of the political upheavals in Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Philippines that help restore civilian rule and enact legislation that places all decision-making processes of the military under civilian authority.
Hence, the role of the government and its development in the political landscape of Asia is essentially characterized by the waves of democracy that had followed after numerous political and social upheavals that had happened in the region that had allowed for democracy to proper. Moreover, the political development of Asia is largely attributed to the national identity that had been formed prior to their independence as well as the belief that civilian authority should pervade in all aspects of the government structure.
Electoral Processes
The electoral process of Asia and by large any democratic country for that matter has been part and parcel of strengthening the democratization of any country. More importantly the electoral processes is seen as the establishment and legitimizing of a government that would adhere to the standards of different political watchdogs, media and Western governments that have investments in a particular Asian country.
Electoral process as a measure of political development in developing nations usually stems from the desire to fulfill some of the promises of democracy or change the democratic landscape to as fulfill the problem of diminished and failed expectations of democracy as embodied in Mark Warren’s article on democratic participation (p. 679, 2002), drawing from the experiences from the Asian countries such as Thailand; democracy through its elections has failed to address the needs of its people. This has led to the disillusionment or disenfranchisement of voters that have led citizens to become critical of their government.
Elections in Southeast Asian countries strengthen the political participation of different levels of society by allowing greater sectoral participation as well as the existence of party-list systems that aim to bridge the gap between the government and civil society itself. More importantly elections are a way for allowing a wide-range of issues and platforms of dialogues to be tackled and addressed so as to initiate reform and change within a system that a citizen may no longer believe in. It is because of this most basic political aspect that citizens are duly empowered to create an environment that would allow them greater representation and for their issues to be heard because the electoral processes in any democratic country is an avenue for change.
Civil Society
Through the efforts of electoral processes in developing nations, civil society also plays a larger role in the development of democracies in the continent. Civil society is the representation of the people to the government; they serve as the platforms of dialogues as well as the source of political lobbying and confrontation. Such as the case in Myanmar where various civil groups protested against government action levied by the military junta against Aung San Suu Kyi, in China the protestation of their freedom to express themselves freely has been an issue that had led to the pullout of some international companies that had censured their content.
Besides these all too familiar modes of political confrontation, civil society also lobbies for issues that marginalize a certain group of people. They represent and voice out the concerns of societies that the government may have neglected to address. Secondly civil society also exposes and opposes those people in the establishment of their crimes. Governmental crimes that range from graft and corruption to other irregularities in the system that seek to create inequality or those that would benefit only a certain individual or group of people that would directly benefit from such a malfeasance.
Another aspect of civil society in Asia is that it is vibrant, in the sense that these groups are constantly vigilant of the government’s movements, procedures and every minute detail that would affect the people. One could say that the government cannot move without some group or party noticing it. Because of this vibrancy there is a wider range of perspectives and opinions that the government has to address to allow equality and participation of the people and the groups that represent their interests.
Politically speaking, the developing nations in Asia are truly developing albeit at a slow pace, however these countries face numerous problems such as the prevalence of cacique democracy, patron-client relationships, the growing incidence of graft and corruption as well as the lack of accountability and transparency. Besides these institutional problems, Asian countries are quick to act using means that would question the legitimacy of a government (i.e. People Power revolutions both in the Philippines and Indonesia).
Thirdly, political developments in an Asian country has only helped to serve the elites of society by creating laws that would greatly benefit them or help them stay in power. And lastly there is the proliferation of political dynasties and the existence of bureaucratic powers that have limited the progression of democracy and equality in the government. 2. Are the main political trends experienced by the developing world in recent decades summed up best by increasing diversity or alternatively growing convergence? Discuss extensively (Focus: Asia).
In today’s globalized world, political trends have been largely varied in different parts of the world, yet each of these trends have helped in the establishment of strong governments and a vibrant civil society. The growing political trend of today’s developing world is the use of media as a platform of dialogue and garnering a wider influence that ps not just local but international borders as well.
Secondly, the sudden rise of terrorism and the increase of regional and global security at the onset of the 21st century, has made steady grounds in the discussion of what could and should be done to address political upheaval brought about by the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Thirdly, the further strengthening of regional and international economic and political cooperation, with respects to China, Singapore and Japan as emerging economies of the 21st century and how this has affected Western influences in the continent.
As mentioned earlier in my introduction, one of the prevailing political trends of the developing world is the use of media—in all its forms—to further the cause of both civilian and the government. In this highly globalized world, the media is at the forefront of providing information that would either help or discredit a politician or the government. In recent years, the prevalence of media in all aspects of society was seen through the formation of websites designed for greater interaction (Web 2.0) that allows ordinary people to post, comment or critique on issues that are miles apart.
During the 2008 US elections, media helped to bolster the presence of candidates running for the presidency, using new technologies that allowed ordinary people’s opinions and questions to be heard and also to evaluate these candidates based on their answers. Hence, in Zaller’s paper titled “A Theory of Media Politics” (1999)
“For politicians, the goal of media politics is to use mass communication to mobilize the public support they need to win elections and to get their programs enacted while in office. For journalists, the goal of media politics is to produce stories that attract big audiences and that emphasize the “Independent and Significant Voice of Journalists.” For citizens, the goal is to monitor politics and hold politicians accountable on the basis of minimal effort”.
Another instance of the use of media to change or forward opinion and movement was during the elections in Iran that were heavily critical of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to the presidency of Iran. His re-election served as a catalyst for media and the Internet to react and criticize what the public perceived as the massive fraud and failure of elections that was happening. On Myanmar, during the events that led to the arrest of an American that had “trespassed” opposition leader’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s home led to a media storm that called for the violation of human rights of both the leader and the American.
Thus, media as a political trend is vastly critical in denouncing governmental actions that it perceives as the limitation of political movement (freedom of speech and expression) as well the protection and advancement of issues that p borders. It is evident that through the Internet and other forms of media that political issues are now known globally, that one portion of the world can already actively participate in issues that are important to them.
Security and Terrorism
Even before the events of September 11, 2001 terrorism and security in the developing world, specifically the Southeast Asian region of the world, had been experiencing increasingly high levels of terrorist activities due in part to the movement of terrorist cells that had existed during the height of the Cold War and after the fall of Communism in 1991 led to the establishment of different Islamic terrorist groups in Central Asia then would later branch out to the different regions of Southeast Asia. According to Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco in his speech titled “Islamist Terrorism in Southeast Asia” (2003) he mentions that the movement of these splinter groups led to the formation of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist cell which has been operating in different parts of Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.
The terrorist group has played a large part in redefining internal security in the region due to its attacks following the events of 9-11 such as the 2002 Bali Bombings and other campaigns of terror done by the JI in Indonesia,. More importantly, Yuchengco stressed on the growing problem that this groups are privately trained and funded by Middle-Eastern groups such as the Al Qaida network. This has led to a crackdown of terrorist and militant groups as well as the pressuring of the United States of respective SEA governments to crackdown on suspected militant groups, individuals and organizations (Vaughn, B., et al, 2009).
Regional and International Cooperation
With the bulk of developing nations concentrated in the Asian regions as well the various emerging economies in Asia, it is evident and imperative that one of the political trends in developing nations is the bolstering of regional and international cooperation both economically and politically.
The bolstering of these two types of cooperation is vastly seen in the scope of Foreign Policy goals as both milieu and direct national goals. Milieu in the sense that these Asian nations are doing not for the self-interest of their country but rather “nations pursuing them are out not to defend or increase possessions they hold to the exclusion of others, but aim instead at shaping conditions beyond their national boundaries”. And secondly, direct national goals those that focus on national dependence, or national/collective security or the enhancement of trade relations and negations between two different nation-states (Wolfers, A., 1962).
Regional and International cooperation has since become a trend due to the growing number of emerging and so-called “Tiger Economies” that have helped attract the interests of Western nations in the continent, this has helped to bring in foreign direct investments. More importantly the cooperation isn’t just focused primarily on nation-states economic agreements with one another but also the existence of international NGO’s aimed at developing different parts of developing countries. These NGO’s sole purpose is to help achieve sustainable development and provide livelihood and to help alleviate poverty and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor (Todaro, M., 2008).
Increasing Divergence or Alternatively Growing Convergence
From the effects of globalization it is evident that the through the political trends of the media, security and terrorism, and regional and international cooperation among developing and developed nation-states there is an alternatively growing convergence. Through the events following the end of the Cold War as well as numerous political upheavals in Asian and European countries that have led to countries being democratized, there is a convergence of political trends.
Convergences in the sense that the factors mentioned earlier have been able to establish significant changes in the internal political structures of a country, which have ultimately affected its relations with its neighboring countries. This convergence of political trends enables countries to share the same ideas and perspectives regarding key issues that would help or empower their country and other countries as well. Because of the strengthening of key issues, there are greater levels of cooperation and dialogue that helps in the advancement of relationships between nation-states.
3. Identify and discuss the internal (domestic) and external factors that contributed to the democratization of a developing world. After identifying, discuss the comparative importance of both factors in the process of democratization. (Focus: 1 Asian country).
The Philippines has long been considered to be the bastion of democracy in the Asian continent, moreover it is also its oldest democratic country. In nearly a century, the Philippines has progressed democratically internally through the following aspects: democratic transitions after Marcos’ regime, the existence of constitutional reforms. On the other hand the external factors that contributed to the democratization of the developing world are: the Philippines’ relations with former communist countries and its relationship with the Islamic countries
Internal Factors
Internally, the Philippines contributed to the democratization of the world by showing exactly how it transitioned democratically from an authoritarian regime to that of a democratic one. It was the events of People Power I and thereafter that showed how much progress the Philippines had made during its darkest days. The People Power revolution showed that when the government becomes a problem, as specified in some of the categories when a democratic government is no longer a democratic one when its people has lost its trust on the government, it destroys the community order and many more.
These distinctions helped to unify the people to action because of the belief that democracy should fulfill and meet the expectations of its people. In the context of Philippine society, Marcosian rule helped to create a vibrant civil society hence Clifton Sherrill (2006 p. 224) states, “the need for such groups is critical given the existing social order.
Because the traditional elites dominate society, only through mass organization can the lower class establish an audible political view”, in this statement it was evident that political participation by the people were severely limited. In any democratic country, civil society allows for the people to voice out their concerns, that Mark Warren (2002 p. 681) states that when the government has failed to realize the promises it had set out to fill, the citizens become critical of their government, thus the establishment is seen as “incompetent, untrustworthy, and even corrupt”.
More importantly civil society drawing their experiences from the Martial Law period has opted to stay on the streets, since civil society is composed of different groups each with varying opinions “these groups have consistently played a crucial role in mobilizing civil society to defend the democratic transition and to check authoritarian tendencies on the part of political elites” (Eaton, K., 2003, p. 487). Hence it can be concluded that from our experiences under Marcos’ rule we have managed to create a democracy that is more critical and observant of the movement of the government. It is able to discern
Another aspect of democratic transitions after Marcos’ rule are the constitutional reforms enacted, mainly the creation of a multi-party/party-list system and the safeguards embodied in the constitution against authoritarian tendencies. Firstly the 1987 Philippine constitution allowed and introduced provisions that were “designed to widen democratic space and allow for greater participation of other sectors in Philippine society” and more importantly the inception of the party-list law was to serve as the mechanism for proportional representation in the different marginalized sectors of society (Teehankee, n.d. p. 180; p. 182).
Through the introduction of such a provision, this allowed for greater civic participation of the people, the allowing of different marginalized groups help to put key issues of concerns such as: development, rights and those that have minimal representation or who have no voice in society (i.e. the unborn). On the other hand, the framers of the constitution also included specific portions in the constitution that would limit the powers of the president and the military. Some of the basic safeguards is the often cited principle of “checks and balances” but more than that, the constitution also implemented provisions such as the declaration of martial law with the concurrence of the congress, the creation of the Sandiganbayan to curtail graft and corruption within the government (De Leon, H., 2001).
External Factors
Externally the Philippines has contributed to the democratization of developing countries by pursuing a foreign policy that is mutually beneficial to both parties. In this portion of the paper I will be discussing how the Philippines in a p of 50 years or so years has maintained diplomatic and democratic relations between Islamic countries and former Communist countries. These external relations done by the Philippines shows how democracy has helped the country establish important economic and political linkages with many of the world’s fledgling democracies and maintain cordial relations with international organizations with regards to its own internal conflicts. I begin by looking at the Philippines and its relation with the Islamic countries, then by looking at the Philippines and its relations with a communist country, particularly that of China.
The Philippines and the Islamic countries relationship has long been a colorful one, it stems from the Philippines’ relations with other Islamic nations. A relationship that had relied heavily on global interdependency in the Middle East, due to the large supply of oil in the region, the need to expand the markets of the Philippines, and the growing number of OFW’s in the region (Wadi, J., 1998). It was because of these key factors that the Philippines has remained strong diplomatic relations with the other Islamic countries, this type of relationship was geared towards a mutual interdependence both financially and economically. However, the Philippines had also play a significant role with regards to its special relationship with the United States.
This relationship with the US as well as their influence over the Philippines’ foreign policy had alienated other countries, particularly Pakistan after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. It was only in 1973 during the Arab oil boycott that the Philippines “embarked on an unprecedented diplomatic offensive to recognize almost twenty countries in the Islamic world in the 70s”. This form of action helped to bolster the presence of the Middle East not just in the Asian continent but also help in the growth of their presence in the Southeast Asian region. The pursuit of mutual interdependence is largely seen as an effort to democratize relations between former colonial countries as well as to establish strong cultural and economical linkages that would help the Philippines in tackling many of its internal problems, notably the conflicts in Mindanao.
The second aspect is the relationship of the Philippines with other communist countries notably the People’s Republic of China (PRC) during the 1970s when it was advocating for the implementation of the “One China Policy” in the UN. The relationship of the two countries are strongly linked with our earlier formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan, during the height of the Cold War, the Philippines had maintained a decisively strong anti-communist stance and thus resolved to deal mostly with Taiwan, which at the time was the duly-recognized Chinese country.
Our foreign relations with the ROC (due in part to the influence of Americans) were primarily focused on maintaining a strategic military advancement within the region as well as the curtailing of the spread of communism within the region. However, much in the same way that the 1973 Arab oil boycott affected the country, under the presidency of Marcos, the country began establishing more formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. A relationship that was to help the Philippines sustain growth by accepting oil shipments from them in exchange for the PRC to import Philippine products such as coconut oil, lumber sugar, copper ore, and other metals. Hence in the years that followed, even after the fall of communism, the country’s relationship with China has been economically and culturally focused (Lim, B., 1998).
Comparative Importance
The comparative importance of the two factors is seen in their reciprocation towards one another. In the context of Philippine politics and society, internally we face numerous problems that hinder our growth and development, especially after numerous political and social upheavals that have constantly marred our progress and image towards other Asian nations. However, through the enactment of certain reforms internally, we are thereby creating a political landscape bereft of anomalies and other discrepancies that would otherwise hinder the maturation of the country’s political system.
It was because of the events of Martial Law and the People Power Revolution during the early 70’s and the late 80’s that we have managed to transform the country into one that is highly critical of the actions of the government and yet allow it to function within the rule of the civilians as opposed to the rule of the military. More importantly, through the advancement of civic participation within the country, the Philippines is able to garner a wider perspective and opinion on the issues that it needs to tackle. By creating a strong society, the country is able to externally project itself as able to handle different and vital political relations that would be beneficial to the establishment of a stronger society both politically and economically.

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