Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 13:48 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 13:48 | SYDNEY

Asian values redux


Malcolm Cook

16 January 2008 16:25

On Monday, the People’s Daily in China published an opinion piece arguing that 'the post-election crisis in Kenya is a product of democracy bequeathed by Western hegemony; and a manifestation of values clashing when democracy is transplanted onto disagreeable land.' Unsurprisingly, this has led to raised eyebrows in Africa, including in Malawi, which just changed diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. This opinion piece, of course, ignores that much of the anger in Kenya is over too little democracy and certainly not too much. The same goes for Zimbabwe, another troubled African country whose present regime has close links to Beijing.

More interesting for Australia and the Asia Pacific region is the piece’s echoes of the 1990s Asian Values debate, in its simplistic representation of democracy as a destabilising, colonial import, and its appeal to supposed primordial, collectivist cultural values. In the early 1990s, China was secondary player in the Asian Values debate led by political leaders in Singapore and Malaysia, and that debate was largely killed off by the Asian financial crisis. If China, the new global superpower, takes the lead in a re-run of the Asian Values debate, this anti-democratic, culturalist view aimed at Western universalism may live longer, have a greater global spread and make more difficult Australia’s position of emphasising the economic complimentarities with China while downplaying our political differences.