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This edited volume explores the key characteristics, and shortcomings, of democratic governance in Northeast Asia. It focuses on three case studies: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.



1. Measuring the Quality of Democratic Governance

This chapter introduces variables related to the quality of governance in Northeast Asia democracies (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan). It is critical of the prioritization of macroeconomic well-being over social or political development by the neoliberal project and by states in the region. It posits that “good democratic governance” as opposed to merely efficient governance, is that set of policy prescriptions and practices which prioritizes the interests of the most vulnerable sections of society, and that the most foundational interests of these individuals can be found in newly emerging human-centric discourse in the fields of both security and development. It introduces a broad spectrum of views on democratic governance in both theory and practice, as well as containing short previews of the chapters which follow.
Brendan Howe

2. The Deterioration of South Korean Democracy

This chapter evaluates the current state of democracy in the Republic of Korea. Korean democratic development is acknowledged as one of the most successful cases of the third wave of democracy, recently passing the crucial two-turnover test, as well as experiencing rapid economic development. While not rejecting such assumptions, this chapter argues they are biased in their top-down evaluations, almost exclusively of formal institutions. This study takes an opposing bottom-up view on the quality of formal institutions and their actual effects on democracy. To do this, the analysis focuses on four major areas where democratic quality is most saliently challenged: representation (interest advocacy), administration (governance capabilities), integration (social capital and welfare), and participation (civil liberties).
Hannes B. Mosler

3. Migrant Workers in South Korean Society

This study seeks to assess the quality of democracy in Korea from the perspective of migrant workers as the most vulnerable social groups. Korean democracy is seriously flawed in terms of citizenship rights for migrant workers, who face migrant-specific risks. First, economic and social rights are not equally guaranteed for migrant workers. Second, their right to education and cultural diversity are not fully acknowledged in the public education system. Third, public agreement on common citizenship without discrimination is unsatisfactory. Finally, the freedoms of association and right to collective action are relatively unrecognized. Korea is thus faced with a double challenge: achieving second step democratization for its own citizens on the one hand, and making a more “hospitable democracy” for its vulnerable groups on the other.
Hakjae Kim

4. Japan: A Superficially Democratic State?

Japan is the region’s oldest, and, debatably, most robust democracy. Nevertheless, Japanese democratic governance has been bedeviled by accusations that the elites govern in their own interests, and only superficially in the interests of those who are governed, let alone with a truly democratic degree of accountability. This chapter, therefore, addresses the structural and political culture impediments to good democratic governance in Japan. It finds that the qualitative depth of Japanese democratic governance leaves a lot to be desired, with Japan perhaps only bearing a superficial resemblance to a “true” democratic state. Furthermore, this chapter identifies forces in the current government administration which perhaps seek further to undermine the quality of democratic life in Japan.
Brendan Howe, Jennifer S. Oh

5. Non-regular Workers in Japan

This chapter examines the deficiencies of Japanese democratic governance through the perspective of non-regular workers. In Japan, organized labor unions, the labor policymaking system, and electoral competition serve to secure the rights of regular workers at the expense of non-regular workers. As a result, non-regular workers, who constitute nearly 40 percent of the total employed labor force, are excluded from the very institutions that should represent and empower them. The case of Japanese non-regular workers demonstrates that procedurally stable and strong democracies can systematically disempower and underrepresent a large section of the population.
Jennifer S. Oh

6. Taiwanese Democracy

Taiwan is widely acknowledged as one of the most democratic countries in Asia. Notwithstanding, scholars and political observers remain concerned about a democratic rollback. Although the new regime’s policies have already shown evidence of negative impacts on democratic development in Taiwan, this has mostly been neglected in internationally respected surveys, such as those conducted by Freedom House. The definition of democratic governance in this chapter therefore goes well beyond the classical large-scale, state-centric, aggregate measurements of government and electoral efficiency. It endeavors to measure the quality of Taiwan’s democracy by analyzing the conceptual differences of political leaders and other intellectuals in promoting democratic development, identifying the role of the international community in shaping Taiwan’s political development, and conceptualizing the changing patterns of civic democratic activism.
Christian Schafferer

7. Debating “Unpopular” Issues in Taiwan

Previous research has identified the perhaps unfortunate and possibly unique linkage between different notions of liberal democracy and national identity as a major obstacle to deepening democratic processes in Taiwan. This chapter further elaborates on the negative dynamics of the identity conflict by looking at the domestic political discourse on a number of issues, such as transitional justice, the death penalty, establishing a national human rights commission, and nuclear energy policy. It also addresses other political and social factors preventing a democratic discourse on “unpopular” but important issues.
Christian Schafferer

Conclusion: Old Flaws and New Challenges

This concluding chapter teases out some of the shared concerns of the authors of this volume with regard to the pre-exiting “old flaws” of Northeast Asia’s democratic societies; the identity and needs of vulnerable groups within South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, whose interests are not adequately defended by regional governance; and the new authoritarian challenges to be found across all three countries. It assesses problems related to political culture and the use of language and rhetoric. It explores common structural impediments and the weakness of opposition parties. It looks at which vulnerable groups are being failed by democratic governance. Finally it addresses the rise of the new authoritarianism in Northeast Asia.
Brendan Howe


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