06/01/2020 No. 156
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How East Asians View Democracy (I)
By Andrew J. Nathan, Yun-han Chu and Joanne J. Myers
July 1, 2009

China-U.S. Friendship Exchange, Inc. thanks the Carnegie Council, Madeleine Lynn, Web and Print Editor of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and the three experts and scholars of this talk for generously giving the permission for translating the transcript  into Chinese and publishing both versions on www.ChinaUSFriednship.com. The transcript and author introductions were first published on http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/0085.html on November 10, 2008.



For a PDF of the handout for this talk, please scroll to the end of the document.

· Introduction

· Remarks

· Questions and Answers




JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to thank you all for joining us.

I'm delighted to be welcoming two very distinguished professors, as you can tell by reading their CVs, Andy Nathan and one of his co-editors, Yun-han Chu, to present their findings on how East Asians view democracy.

Few books have been written comparing East Asian political systems and democracy, so when I learned that Andy was working on a volume about this subject, I thought this topic would provide an interesting companion lecture to earlier presentations we have held on democracy promotion.

This book is the first to report the results of a large-scale research project entitled the
East Asian Barometer, in which eight research teams conducted national surveys in five new democracies (Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Mongolia), one established democracy (Japan), and two nondemocracies (China and Hong Kong) in order to assess the prospects for democratization across the region.

Over the next few decades, the area that will be watched most closely in the global struggle for democracy will be East Asia. As this is a region of remarkable diversity and unparalleled economic growth, it is often viewed as a model by many developing countries in other parts of the world. Although some of its most successful countries are democratic, East Asia is also home to nondemocratic regimes that can claim enviable records of both political stability and economic growth. In fact, some of these regimes have helped to launch a global debate about whether
Asian values conducive to growth and stability may, in fact, be incompatible with Western-style liberal democracy.

How East Asians View Democracy, Andy, Yun-han, and their colleagues Larry Diamond and Doh Chull Shin use their expert knowledge to analyze responses to the seven core questions that were presented to inhabitants of the region. While they found that many forces affect democratic consolidation, skepticism and frustration are the ruling sentiments among today's East Asians.

To learn more, please join me in welcoming our guests, Andy and Yun-han Chu, as they provide the results of this survey, which many of you may find surprising.

Thank you for joining us today.



YUN-HAN CHU: My name is Yun-han Chu. I flew over from Taiwan to come to New York for a few occasions, including this one. This is the first time I have walked into this building, but the scenery is actually quite familiar to me, as I watch many important public events taking place in this building through C-SPAN. So I'm truly glad to be here.

I will speak first. I want to say a few words about the survey itself. Then I will turn to Andy, who will lead you through many of these statistical tables and try to highlight some of the major findings based on our survey. After his presentation, I probably will join him, at the end of the presentation, to add a few footnotes.

I would like to call attention to the last slide of this handout. I'm not going to talk about the numbers themselves, but rather about the survey. Here you can identify all the countries that have been covered by our survey over the last eight years. The book that we are going to talk about is primarily based on our first-wave survey, which was conducted in the years 2001 and 2002 for most of the countries, with one exception. That's Mongolia. The fieldwork in Mongolia was not completed until the early part of 2003.

The East Asia Barometer was widely regarded as the first regional initiative to do a systematic analysis of the citizens' perceptions and evaluation of the political system, how the system performs in various aspects, and also their perceptions about authority, about political reform, and about democracy itself. It also drilled into people's belief systems, what kinds of values they hold and what kinds of evaluative criteria they use when they come to assess the success or failure of their democratically elected government.

The project was launched first in the early part of the year 2000. Initially, as Joanne just mentioned, we covered eight political systems in the region, starting from Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, China and Hong Kong.

The focus was placed on the five emerging democracies in the region. Those democracies were established in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was the belief that they haven't really reached a stage of consolidation, meaning that there still is a certain degree of probability that those countries might suffer democratic backsliding, as the new democracy was still not founded on a very robust foundation. It turned out that one of our survey countries, Thailand, a few years later was hit by a
major coup and the Parliament and elections were suspended for more than a year. That tells you that nothing is irreversible in the region.

The project involved the participation of a country team. All together, we are talking about 30-some collaborators. They are all most experienced political scientists and social survey researchers from the given locality. After we completed the first-wave survey, we were very fortunate to be able to raise enough funding support to go into a second-wave survey, which was implemented during 2006 and 2007. Actually, one of the laggards in our survey has just completed its fieldwork in the recent past.

If you look at this last slide, you can also identify those newcomers to this regional survey, which include Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. With the addition of those Southeast Asian countries, it really broadened the scope of this regional survey project, in two senses. One, it now covers all the major political systems in the region, except those countries where survey research is simply not feasible, countries like North Korea, Brunei, and Burma. Secondly, it now covers democratic regimes, those kinds of hybrid regimes, and also nondemocratic regimes. So it gives you really a big variety in terms of how democratic or how authoritarian those systems can be.

So that enabled us to entertain an important and interesting intellectual agenda. Some of those topics will be briefly covered by the remarks that Andrew Nathan is going to deliver. Andy?

ANDREW NATHAN: Yun-han came from Taiwan. I have terrible jet lag. I came from New Jersey.

This is a survey. I have enjoyed participating in it very much because it is survey research, which allows you to put your hands on real data from individual respondents in Asia. But survey research also has its shortcomings. The data have to be interpreted and they don't always answer all the questions that you might like to ask people. People only answer whatever is on the survey, and sometimes we don't know exactly what they mean. And you have to look at tables. That's what it's all about.

So if you would pick up your tables, I'm going to comment on them, not in the exact order in which they are stapled together, but the first one I want to talk about is on top, "Regime Support and Democratic Support in Asia." As Yun-han said, what I'll be telling you about is the first wave, so we have eight political systems.

The top two rows are the ones I want to draw to your attention, which we label "Regime Support: Do you agree or disagree: Our form of government is the best for us? " which is a way of asking people how much they support the regime in this country, the form of government. What should jump out at you here is that China has the highest level of satisfaction. Ninety-four point four percent of our respondents said that "Our form of government is the best for us,?while the various democracies in the region are performing at a significantly inferior level on that measure. In particular, in Japan, the oldest, established, and stable democracy in Asia, the people don't believe that "our form of government is the best for us.?

Now, one may always ask, with a survey, how reliable the answers are. Are the Chinese telling the truth? I'll save that for the Q&A. But we do think that the Chinese respondents are telling the truth to our surveyors, who are retired middle school teachers. They are not foreigners, they are not government agents, and we are offering confidentiality to the respondents.

The second question, "How satisfied are you with the way democracy works in our country? " might seem to be a strange question to ask, say, in China, but it does make sense to Chinese respondents, because the Chinese government has claimed to be a democratic government-their Chinese-style democracy.

In fact, we find in other questions that we have asked that the Chinese people by and large accept that their government is a kind of democracy. We did not define democracy for people and say, "
Freedom House says your country is not democratic. What do you think?" We didn't do that in the survey. You could do that, but we chose not to, on purpose. We wanted to know what the people thought without our defining the term for them.

Here again, with China, 81.7 percent expressed that they are satisfied with the way democracy works in their country, which is the second-highest number. In Japan, again it's the lowest number, 49 percent.

What we come away with from this first table is a kind of paradox that is not expected by most social science theory in the United States or by the theory of democracy promotion that has been prevalent in the American government since
Reagan's Westminster speech in whenever it was-1982, I think-that we should promote democracy. We find that a government that is authoritarian by our political science standards, and according to Freedom House is popular and is considered by its own people to be as democratic as they want it to be or to be behaving in a way that's consistent with their own concept of democracy, and the various real democracies in the region are more or less in trouble, from the point of view of public support.

If you would look at Table 1.8, "Support for Democracy," this is a set of questions that we asked in the survey to measure people's attitude toward what we call "the D word," democracy-again, without saying what it is. It's as if you were to ask people, "Do you like Kleenex?" or, "Do you like some brand name?" Here's a brand name-democracy-without saying what it is in our opinion.

But whatever you think it is, "Do you like it? Do you think it's desirable for our country now? How desirable is it on a scale from one to ten, not at all desirable to totally desirable?" We found that democracy is very popular in Asia. People have different ideas about what it is, but they do think it's desirable. Here, the Chinese are not the most committed to it. It's only about three-quarters of the population who think that it is desirable, and there is a significant minority who think it's not desirable right now.

"Is it suitable?" Again, throughout the region, it's pretty high. In every country, the number that thinks it's suitable is lower than the number that thinks it's desirable. So it might be desirable, but it's not quite ready, is the consensus-not a consensus in the sense of a majority of people, but it's a trend in the region.

"Would it be effective in solving the problems of society?" Again you see a falloff, and in some cases that falloff is very, very marked: in China, from 72 to 60; in Hong Kong, from 87 to 39. It would be desirable, but it wouldn't work, the Hong Kong people are saying. This is an attitude throughout the region.

"Would it be preferable to all other kinds of government?" Here again, by and large, one sees another step down.

So the attitudes toward democracy as a brand name are kind of layered in. It has a lot of prestige, but the more you bring it home to the person-it's a great idea, but do you want it? Could it hack it? Is it the best-then people sort of lose confidence step by step, and their commitment to it is not as deeply rooted.

Then, if you do ask them for a forced choice, "If you had to choose between democracy and economic development," those who would say that democracy is equally or more important are even fewer, and if we gave you the numbers only for those who said it was more important, that would obviously be fewer even than this. So it goes down again.

So that's a prevalent pattern across Asia, this step-down attitude toward the brand name, with the lowest commitment coming when you give them a forced choice between democracy and something else important.

If you try to do a comparison across countries, one way to do that is the mean number of items supported. There are various ways to play with the numbers, but this is a rough, sort of accessible way to do that, for these five measures that we gave-esirable, suitable, effective, preferable, and equally or more important than economics-hose five things.

The Thais, on the average, would pick four of those things, if you see the last row, 4.0. The Chinese are at 2.9. The Chinese are more committed to democracy than people in Taiwan, for example, where you do have democracy. But, of course, Taiwan has been suffering from a lot of economic problems. The Chinese have been having an economic boom, so in a sense, they don't feel that [they have to] trade-off as intensely.

So that's a picture of support with democracy.

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Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. His teaching and research interests include Chinese politics, foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. Nathan received his degrees from Harvard University: B.A. in history, summa cum laude, in 1963; M.A. in East Asian Regional Studies in 1965; and a Ph.D. in Political Science in 1971. He has taught at Columbia University since 1971; prior to that he taught at the University of Michigan (1970-71). In addition to publishing several books, he has also published articles in World Politics, Daedalus, The China Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Asian Survey, and The New York Review of Books. His current research involves collaborative survey-based studies of political culture and political participation in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Asian societies.

Yun-han Chu is Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science of Academia Sinica and professor of political science at National Taiwan University. The coordinator of the East Asian Barometer Survey, Chu is an associate editor of the Journal of East Asian Studies, and his recent publications include Crafting Democracy in Taiwan, China Under Jiang Zemin, and The New Chinese Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities After the Sixteenth Party Congress.

Joanne Myers is Director of the Carnegie Council's Public Affairs Programs (formerly Merrill House Programs). She is responsible for planning and organizing more than fifty public programs a year at the Council, many of which have been featured on C-SPAN's Booknotes.
Before joining the Council, Myers was director of the Consular Corps/Deputy General Counsel at the New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol, where she acted as the liaison between the mayor of New York and the consulates general. Myers holds a J.D. from Benjamin C. Cardozo School of Law and a B.A. in international relations from the University of Minnesota.
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