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“Breaking the shackles of Western control”: Asian Values and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
A comparison by Morten Pritzkow
This paper was presented as part of the seminar “Decolonization” by Prof. Vincent Houben at the Institute for African and Asian Studies, Humboldt University Berlin, winter semester 2005/06
In this paper I would like to make an attempt to examine a certain kind of Pan-Asianism by comparing the ideology of Asian Values (which rose in the 1970’s and was en vogue in the 1990’s) and the propaganda and ideology of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (which was established by imperial Japan in the 1930’s and 40’s and implemented during the Pacific War; hereafter abbreviated as CPS).
Researching about Asian Values I realized that many of its core convictions already existed during the war, propagated by an imperial power whose former ambitions are nowadays strongly rejected by the very countries which now propagate a similar ideology. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the ideas of Asian Values and the CPS also differ in many points, the former being an ideology of cultural self-determination and the latter being one of imperial conquering. I believe though that the minds of modern-day Southeast Asian statesmen are also conquered by the catchphrases of Asian Values via the vehicles of Japanese economic success and the wish of setting oneself apart from the influence of western powers. In this respect I would like to see both ideologies as progresses of decolonization, as an attempt to reject western influence and the implementation of Western values in the Eastern hemisphere.
For reasons of contrasting the two ideologies, I decided to first mention the Asian Values debate, because it should be more present in the reader’s mind, and to highlight afterwards the similarities, but also the differences, of the CPS. We are in the convenient position that the CPS is an already completed historical episode which has already been judged by history. This might make it easier to judge the historical position of the Asian Values debate.
History of the Asian Values debate
The term ‘Asian Values’ was introduced at an academic conference in 1977 by Singapore, although the term itself was hardly ever used by its state-founder Lee Kuan Yew, who rather referred to ‘Chinese Values’ or ‘Confucian Values’. After Singapore resigned the Socialist International for being criticized as being neither democratic nor socialist, the argument was introduced as a defence and justification for dealing with democracy, human rights and state interest the ‘Singapore way’.
At the heart of Asian Values stands economical progress. Lee summarizes:
All peoples of all countries need good government. A country must first have economic development, then democracy may follow. With a few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries.
Asian Values is an ideology of communitarianism. It stresses the importance of family and kin to the state and puts the people into a position of children and the state as their parent. The importance of the parent-child relationship is being justified by the tradition of Confucianism. Such relationships are also being stressed in Muslim societies and Catholic societies, and not only in Chinese influenced ones, which makes it highly compatible for the idea of a Pan-Asian ideology, but actually also for the whole rest of the world. WM Theodore de Bary criticizes that this reading of Confucianism stands in an ironic contrast to its self-conception, which stresses the importance of voluntary rituals and organisation and not supervision by the state.
From the beginning Asian Values were highly defensive arguments. Not only were they the topic of heated debates but they also drew their justification from an atmosphere of danger, what Michael Moore coined a ‘culture of fear’. After Singapore’s break-away from the Malaysian Federation in 1965 a phase set in that is described by Cahn Heng Hee as a ‘politics of survival’, with Lee Kuan Yew declaring that Singapore must create a ‘rugged people’ and ‘tightly knit society’. He explained that Singapore was now ‘a dangerous place in the world and we must breed a rugged generation to ensure its survival’. From this ‘culture of fear’ the Singapore state derived its raison d’être throughout the Cold War. Even nowadays several conflicts with mainland Malaysia and the fear of Indonesian intruders keep the safety argument alive.
Also, the argument became known in a global context during the 1990’s, in a time when the Western economies were booming and celebrating a victory of democracy after another. At the same time the Asian economies were very successful as well and perceived argumentations of their human rights abuses, as advocated by the Clinton administration for example, as hypocrisy intended to mar their newly-found successes. This threat was required to be fought against by reminding the advocates of liberalism of not applying cultural universalism, a tactic which should cause some serious headache for any true democrat.
Secondly, the Singaporean society is a highly diversified one with a Chinese majority in traditionally Malay lands. Asian Values might pose a social model which expresses, as DeBary puts it, the need for solidarity and work ethic in such a society. The advocates of Asian Values believe, and the positive examples are as diverse as the negative ones, that only an authoritarian regime can secure economic growth. Mahbubani gives the example of post-war Japan by saying that only an undisputed head of government in the form of General MacArthur, the head of the Allied Forces in Japan, who was not bound to democratic processes, could implement such fruitful economic measures which resulted in the enormous Japanese economic growth and prosperity.
Out of the situation which arose around 1968, when students in America and Europe were protesting against a conservative society as a whole and the Vietnam War in particular, Lee Kuan Yew started to lead a debate on conservative and family values, which he never grew tired of until today. The basic motivation might have been fear of a similar society-bending revolt on Singaporean soil, but Lee soon identified family values (including obedience towards elders and authorities ) as a core value of his set of Asian Values. In a newspaper article in the Straits Times (1983.02.19) he says:
“One sometimes gets the impression that the last days of Pompeii are being re-enacted in these societies. Every traditional virtue and value has been insidiously and systematically undermined – be it patriotism or fidelity to marriage partner [sic], or consideration for children and women, or respect for the aged and temperance of any desire.”
I’m going to relate later on to this conservatism of values, when talking about the argumentation of the Japanese in WWII.
An atmosphere of fear and conspiracy against the East affects even more the politics of the other inventor of Asian Values, the Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mohamad Mahathir. He sketches a world which consists of rich, western, fully developed countries on the one side and poor developing countries on the other. His basic assumption here is that the former colonial powers grieve about their lost power in the East, so they do everything they can to sabotage the development of the former colonies. In many speeches he constructs arguments like: in the first place the developing countries are being raided by the colonial powers and now they try to tell our workers about unions and tariffs to retard our economy. Or: First they raid our natural resources and now they lament about environmental protection and our modern use of land.
The western auditor can’t help but feel shocked by such argumentation, but Dr. Mahathir is said to be a very convincing spokesman and some of his arguments are not completely deniable, leave alone the understandable fact that the people and leaders of developing countries find them very appealing. Michael D. Barr agrees upon this by writing that “the fact that ideas with such a narrow, remote base of origin” have spread so widely across East and Southeast Asia “suggests that the concept reflects widespread Asian cultural concerns and legitimate aspirations of which Western critics should take notice.”
One case circles around the large British plantation company Guthrie in Malaysia. In an attempt to nationalize more industries in Malaysia, the company was bought by the Malaysian state, which prompted outrage and embarrassment in London and prompted the London stock market to introduce new rules to exacerbate take-overs. Seen from today’s viewpoint of globalization the British reaction is incomprehensible and one might indeed assume a conspiracy against Asia. Mahathir reacted by issuing a ‘Buy British Last’ policy, stating that from all goods acquired by the Malaysian state British ones will only be bought if there is no alternative at all.
Mahathir soon became a spokesman for the Third World, even bonding with African states and inspiring African economies to the argument of ‘Economy first, then democracy might follow’. What resulted is a kind of new Asian chauvinism, which believes in the inevitable downfall of western countries, its rotten morals, counterproductive work ethics and conspiring against Asian countries. These are summarized in statements such as:
“Their [races in the East] methods of developing their countries have brought greater success and we do not want to copy those people who have failed.”
In another speech he feels convicted that history is now shifting away from the West towards Asia.
His bonding with other Asian countries though, does not go as far as sacrificing a part of his own country for the good of others: In the early 1970’s he repeatedly threatened to shoot Vietnamese refugees on Malaysia’s shores.
Being an admirer of economic success, Mahathir always praised Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for their work ethic. In spite of the fact that the South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan was a Military General who acquired his post through the virtue of a coup d’état and who maintained an authoritarian military regime in Korea, he praised the ‘attitude towards work, loyalty and discipline’ which made Korea a technologically advanced nation and which he saw as the merit of Chun’s leadership.
Even though, he never pretended to appreciate liberal democracy. Being a driving force of the foundation of ASEAN, Malaysia never held an objection to the incorporation of Myanmar for the good of its economic development, which in the end might be better for the people of Myanmar than the EU’s boycott. The former Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in his book ‘Can Asians Think?’ which was hugely successful in Asia, in a similar way: At least the advocates of Asian Values do not play by double standards, which seems to be the way of the western diplomacy. He writes:
“…given their [the Western powers] powerful vested interest in secure and stable oil supplies from Saudi Arabia, Western governments have not tried to export their standards of human rights or democracy to that country, for they know that any alternative to the stable rule of the Saudi government would very likely be bad for the West.”
And he gives another example:
“The reaction of the West to the military coup in Algeria illustrates the moral and political ambiguities. Nominally, most Western governments have condemned the coup. However, in reaction to the questions posed by the citizens of France, Spain and Italy as to whether democracy in Algeria is good for their own countries, most Western governments have quietly welcomed the coup, a sensible pragmatic decision based on Western interests. In the eyes of many Third World observers this pragmatic application of moral values leads to a cynical belief that the West will only advance democracy when it suits its own interests.”
This is not to say that the pragmatic abandoning of moral values was not good for a country in terms of diplomacy and economic interest. I think the point Mahbubani is making here is that Western governments are preaching water and drinking wine. This we can not say about Singapore or Malaysia, because they are quite clear about their rejection of liberal democracy and Western moral values. On the other hand, can these countries call themselves a democracy, just because democratic institutions per se exist, but a democratic discourse is being suppressed? The use of ‘democracy’ here is probably as irrelevant as in ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ or ‘German Democratic Republic’. After all, democracy is a Western invention and any country calling itself a democracy should be modelled after a Western democracy.
It appears as if Mahathir reacted not as harsh towards the second imperial power conquering Malaya after the British. He was full of praise for the Japanese and what they have achieved. In the course of his ‘Look East’ policy he even exempted Japan from the group of ‘economic-imperial powers’ working against a proper Asian development and stated that Japan was a partner of this policy, because it suffered from the same complot of developed countries trying to shut their markets from Japanese products. He went as far as assuring the people of Malaysia of the future economical prosperity by saying that history was now shifting towards Asia, as one could see by the example of Japan. And because Malaysia and Japan are both countries of the Pacific Rim, they would have despite differences in ethnicity, language and culture enough similarities (such as political philosophy, economic thrust ) to share the same future. In many ways, Japan acts as a psychological trigger, showing all Non-western countries that an Asian country CAN MAKE IT.
The ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’
Maybe Dr. Mahathir realized, or maybe he chose to ignore the thought, that Japan already established a similar ideology to that of Asian Values sixty years earlier.
After the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05, when Japan defeated Russia in several naval battles, Japan became an accepted imperial power, almost equal to the western ones. Great Britain was so full of praise for the young military power that it signed a contract of cooperation with Japan. The British’ hope was that Japan could counter-balance China, which was still feared despite being in chaos after the Opium Wars 1839-1860 and after being defeated by the Japanese already in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895-96.
However, as soon as the 1920’s, Japanese left-wing intellectuals developed the idea of a free Asia, free from colonial control and influence. Generally cited as the founder of such an idea in form of a ‘Co-Prosperity Sphere’ is Prince Konoe Fumimaro, a member of the imperial family and also a left-wing intellectual, similar to Lee Kuan Yew, who used to be a left-wing advocate turned conservative statesman. The idea was, after having already conquered Korea, Manchuria and Taiwan and establishing them as Japanese colonies, to unite a large part of Asia, as far as India and the South Seas, under the guidance of Japan and the Japanese Emperor and thereby ridding it of Western control. In order to win the cooperation of all countries concerned, an idea stressing the similarities of all Asian people needed to be established, something that DeBary called a ‘hybrid-ideology’ to identify with in order to resist Western control. That such a stance was not unproblematic was being realized instantly by many political figures, for instance the Navy Ministry, which voiced its scruples by saying that the Japanese would cheat the Asian peoples and that such a fraud would backfire on the Japanese people.
We should not be mistaken from our observer’s seat of history which generally condemns the Japanese’ engagement by believing, that the idea would not have found many friends in Asia. Imperialism and arms diplomacy was much more the spirit of the times than it is today and there was nothing wrong in the eye of the beholder if Japan struck a militaristic, chauvinist pose. In a German book of 1933 on Japan’s foreign policy the author writes:
“[…] vom Gegenstand (Objekt) der Fremdmächte im Pazifik in seinem zuletzt erschlossenen Winkel zum stärksten Subjekt (Träger) des Selbstbestimmungsgedankens ‚als Rückschlag gegen die Europäisierung der Erde’ im westpazifischen und ost-eurasiatischen Erdraum mit einer erdumspannenden Machtstrahlung“
Out of this statement speaks on the one hand a certain Schadenfreude about the Western European power’s loss of their colonies (which Germany was not able to acquire itself) but on the other hand also a genuine admiration of Japan’s overwhelming drive to power, which any other power would have liked to share.
The difference here was that this was not another Western power trying to occupy another Western power’s colony. Those were Asians and their engagement would mean finally liberation from Western colonialism and for the first time in each country’s history the foundation of a republic, be it Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam or ever-wary Thailand, which quickly cooperated with Japan to keep France and Britain away from its doorstep. Chinese nationalist Sun Yat Sen was enthusiastic about the idea and went to meet with Prince Konoe to discuss the below-mentioned bloc of ‘Sinitic Heritage’. Opposition leaders like Sukarno in Indonesia were going to owe a great deal of their future political influence to the Japanese’ strengthening of nationalist movements.
In the first place, the idea was of a ‘Sinitic Heritage’ which should mould a Japan-Chinese-Korean bloc. Later, out of a rather ‘spontaneous decision’, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific was added to the plan for the alleged bond which the peoples of these areas shared. Some wanted to go as far as adding India but in reality Burma became the westernmost territory.
Japan described itself as a friend to the other countries. The alleged aim was that the ‘people should develop their skills in an atmosphere of security’ (that is: under administration of Japan) and ‘every country shall have its own position, the hearts of the people shall be united under the guidance of the Tenno’, the Japanese Emperor. Europeans in turn are ‘armed bandits’ robbing Asia of its valuable raw materials, but ‘Japanese are brothers, relatives.’ Japan will lead Asia from “the white men’s bloc towards independence and blooming prosperity”.
Thus was the official language of persuasion. The argumentation is very similar to the Asian Values argument: Asia is under threat and needs to be secured by a strong authoritarian regime. And secondly, the threat comes from ‘European bandits’ (a term which also could have been coined by Mahathir) who want nothing but belittle the Asian people and rob them of their valuables.
Even in Japanese-language propaganda, directed towards the motherland, the slogan was: “Eight corners [of the world] under one roof” (Hakkō ichiū) and the general self-perception was one of “being in charge for East Asia’s security”
Similar to the promise of a ‘Golden Age’ which was the inevitable fate of East Asia, because ‘power is shifting away from the West towards Asia’ as Dr. Mahathir predicted, the Japanese strongly made use of local myths by making promises of a better future, though less sophisticated. For example according to a modern legend on Java ‘a yellow warlord from the north’ will come and drive the Dutch intruders away. This was of course Japan, whose military leaders were aware of the legend. Similarly a Japanese General with remote family bonds to Burma was made the leader of the expedition to Burma, which prompted the propaganda to speak of a ‘Burmese Prince’ who comes to save the Burmese people.
Just as the Asian Values argument, the Japanese promoted the concept of Confucian communitarianism as a distinctly Asian one. The Japanese military leaders were overall very supportive of religious sentiments in order to win the trust of the people. Especially Buddhist
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
“All the countries of Great East Asia shall work together, building an order of Great East Asia, building the trust and harmony of GEA, uplifting the culture of GEA, increasing the wealth of GEA, contributing to the progress of the world.”
Taken from a series of tables forming a book for propaganda purposes; made by Iwao Yamawaki for the Defence Ministry.
“India! Now it’s time to stand up!”
The dagger reads: Great East Asian Holy War
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Source : http://www.worldclass.net/toolbox/worldwar/pres/imageasia.htm
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Source : http://www.worldclass.net/toolbox/worldwar/pres/imageasia.htm
clerics and students were given great support and were being invited to Japan, which was invented as the centre and cradle of Buddhism with the Tenno as its head.
The West was generally perceived in a decadent way as promoting “egoism” (jikōshugi), “greed” (butsuyokushugi), “self-centrism” (jiga chūshin shugi) and, which was perceived in a negative way in these times as it is perceived today, “liberalism” (jiyūshugi) and “individualism” (kojinshugi) . These supposed Western virtues were expected to lead to the inevitable decline of Western culture on the one hand, but on the other hand they were feared to infect Asian soil and damage the Asian people’s progress. Instead, the Japanese state asked its people to “reject this liberalism and individualism and realize its lethal effects, as well as throw away egoism and greed…” and to promote across Asia “Japan’s spirit and the spiritual frame made up of the spirit of loyalty and filial piety (chūkōseishin)”. Thus, Japan and its people’s ethics were “unsurpassed in the world”.
Put simply, both the concept of Asian Values and the one of the CPS are Pan-Asian movements, motivated by the wish to bar Western powers from influence and thus return ‘Asia to the Asiatics’.
Nicholas Tarling adds: “The emphasis was on control (in administering), but also on leadership, consensus, solidarity and harmony.”
Nevertheless, both concepts of a Pan-Asianism are defiant in character and rather motivated by the wish to stand against the West, than by a genuine wish to cooperate internally, like the EU for example. As during the Cold War (and today in the case of the Islamic countries) the concept of a ‘West’ acts as a Feindbild which in consequence creates a consensus among the East Asian countries. Without the West, which stands as a contrast to the virtues of the East, the Schicksalsgemeinschaft of East Asian countries would most probably collapse. What supports this thesis is the fact that the more developed Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which are serious competitors in the global market, do not participate in the discourse and take a rather critical stance toward such a thing as ‘Asian Values’, because there is no reason for them to act as a victim of the Western market force.
It’s fairly easy to see the parallels between the language of Japanese propaganda and the language of Asian Values. The fear of liberalism, its supposed inhibiting chaos, and the necessity to establish a strong authority to lead the people. The generalization of a decadent West and a virtuous East as a kind of ‘Reverse Orientalism’ and the suspect of a Western conspiracy aimed at sabotaging the East.
In essence, I believe the invention of Asian Values is an ideological tool born out of the fear of loosing grip of the people, which in turn might stem from the genuine interest in economically developing one’s country. Lee Kuan Yew’s abhorring of young people questioning elder people’s authority in the West is a clear indicator of a man, who is afraid to see his life’s work questioned. Also, both Malaysia and Singapore carry the burden of a highly ethnically heterogeneous society (which might necessarily soon be the case in Western Europe as well; another reason why we should examine this debate and its solutions carefully) which had its share of ethnic unrest and which is required to be kept together if the country should not become just another riot-ridden Third World-country. To this extend, it’s in the interest of the state not to allow too much self-distinction.
And this is just the situation the Japanese faced in the 1940’s: the winning-over and keeping-together of a highly heterogeneous group of peoples. Their tool was the invention of an ethnical-ideological bond and a common fate as well as the instrumentalisation of Confucian values and conservatism to demand respect and obedience and to suppress the questioning of existing authority. Both concepts share the idea of a Pan-Asianism defying Western tutelage. But is this wise in times of inevitable globalisation? In another, less dogmatic and rigorous, form Pan-Asianism might be a future model like the European Union is and it remains to be seen, whether such a world order, which would develop out of the bonding-together of whole regions, supports cooperation or rather ideological wars.
BARR, Michael D.: Lee Kuan Yew and the ‘Asian Values’ Debate, In: Asian Studies Review Vol.24, Nr.3, Sept. 2000, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
Ibid: Cultural Politics and Asian Values: the tepid war, London: Routledge, 2002.
CAUQUELINE, J; LIM, P.; MAYER-KÖNIG, B. (ed.): Asian Values – Encounter with Diversity, Richmond: Curzon Press, 1998.
CHUA, Beng Huat: Asian Values: Is an Anti-Authoritarian Reading Possible? In: Beeson, Mark (ed.): Contemporary Southeast-Asia, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
DE BARY, William Theodore: Asian Values and Human Rights – a Confucian Communitarian Perspective, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
EIZAWA, Kōji: [The Philosophy of the ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’] 栄沢幸二： 「大東亜共栄圏」の思想 Tokyo: Kodansha, 1995.
HAUSHOFER, Prof. Dr. K.: Japans Werdegang als Weltmacht und Empire, Berlin: Walter deGrunter & Co, 1933.
HILL, Michael: ‘Asian Values’ as Reverse Orientalism: The case of Singapore, Wellington: Victoria University, 2000.
KHOO, Boo Teik: Paradoxes of Mahathirism – An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad, Oxford: University Press, 1995.
KO, Bun Yu: [The spirit of the ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’] 黄文雄： 大東亜共栄圏の精神 Tokyo: Kobunsha, 1995.
LEBRA, Joyce C. (ed.): Japans Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in World War II, selected readings and documents, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975.
MAHBUBANI, Kishore: Can Asian’s Think? , 3rd Edition, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Intl. (Asia) Private Ltd., 2004.
TARLING, Nicholas: A Sudden Rampage - the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941 – 1945, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.
 LEBRA, p. XIII
 BARR 2002, p.31
 Ibid, p.36
 De BARY, p. 13
 BARR 2000, p. 316
 All in BARR 2002, p.32
 BARR 2000, p. 313
 DE BARY, p.3
 MAHBUBANI, p.59
 Michael D. Barr writes that in its purest form, family-focused communitarianism and state-focused communitarianism are rivals. The state-focused kind is clearly authoritarianism and the citizen is required to put state-interest over family-interest and therefore replace the family as the centre of social good and authority, which in turn might sooner or later lead to social unrest (BARR 2000, p. 328) Lee Kuan Yew is thereby walking a thin line by declaring the importance of family while at the same time putting state-interest over anything else.
 BARR 2000, p. 320
 Or as Kishore Mahbubani puts it, in an ironic way: ‚The West and the Rest’.
 KHOO, p.77
 BARR 2000, p. 310
 Ibid, p.55-6
 DE BARY, p.4
 KHOO, p. 66
 Ibid, p. 67
 Ibid, p.68; A view shared by many western observers during the 1990’s, before the Asian crisis.
 KHOO, p.77
 KHOO, p. 68
 MAHBUBANI, p. 60
 Ibid, p.61
 KHOO, p.63
 In many of his publications, beginning with ‚The Malay Dilemma’ he was less sure though, that the Malays would be able to develop such ‚thrust’.
 KHOO, p.68
 Comparewith MAHBUBANI, p.56; The slogan for Malaysia’s 2003 Independence Celebration was ‘Malaysia Boleh’: Malaysia Can [do it]
 ‚We know a similar example in Germany’ said the civilisations researcher Gunnar Heinsohn in ‘Das Philosophische Quartett’ (ZDF), relating to the former German Minister of Interior, Otto Schily.
 DE BARY: p.2
 TARLING, p.127
 HAUSHOFER, p. 102
 LEBRA, p.XIII
 TARLING, p. 127
 EIZAWA, p. 95
 EIZAWA, p. 93
 See also: LI, Narangoa: Japanische Religionspolitik in der Mongolei 1932-45, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1998.
 EIZAWA, p.93
 Ibid, p.94
 Ibid, p.95
 LEBRA, p.37
 TARLING, p. 146
 HILL, Michael: ‚Asian Values’ as Reverse Orientalism: The case of Singapore, Wellington: Victoria University, 2000.
- Quote paper
- Morten Pritzkow (Author), 2006, "Breaking the shakles of Western control": Asian Values and the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere - A comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/110041