Co-organizers: Joanne Bauer, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International
Affairs; Donald K. Emmerson, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Discussants: Joseph Chan, University of Hong Kong; K. S. Jomo, University of Malaya; Xin Chunying, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Larry Diamond, Hoover Institution; Donald K. Emmerson, University of Wisconsin, Madison
This round table brings together scholars from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the United States to analyze the lessons of the "Asian values" debate.
What is the debate? In 1992 a Singapore foreign ministry official, Kishore Mahbubani, published in The National Interest a reply to Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis. In 1989 in the same journal Fukuyama had argued that the Cold War had ended in what amounted to a permanent victory for democratic capitalism-permanent in the sense that from then onward the combination of accountable governance and free commerce would have no serious rivals. Mahbubani disagreed: It was time "the West" learned from "the rest," notably from East Asian societies that had successfully put economic development before human rights and effective administration before liberal democracy.
A full-scale debate ensued. It has involved Americans, Europeans, and Asians. Several of the latter drew up and defended the superiority of certain reportedly "Asian" values such as thrift, diligence, harmony, rectitude, community-mindedness, respect for authority, and the centrality of the family. These virtues were often contrasted with perceived Western (especially American) vices such as profligacy, crime, pornography, divisiveness, harmful individualism, cynicism toward government, and neglect of the family. Although the most vocal proponents of this viewpoint are Singaporean officials, it appears to have significant resonance among intellectuals in other parts of Asia.
What lessons might be drawn from the debate? Many answers are possible. For example: (1) There are no lessons to be drawn from the debate. (2) Because there are no distinctively Asian or Western values, Asians should not try to emulate either kind. (3) The question "what values should people have?" should not be answered by Asian or Western governments or scholars, but only by "the people" in the sense of morally autonomous individuals making free choices. (4) Coming demographic, ecological, economic, and cultural challenges and crises will require Asian and western governments and scholars to help "the people," in the sense of a morally and physically sustainable community, to decide what values they ought to have. (5) Fukuyama was right: Democratic capitalism, and the originally Western values necessary to make it work, are the inescapable future of the human race. (6) Certain values (but not others) are more generally favored in certain Asian countries than in certain Western countries, and some of those particularly Asian values (to be specified) are worth retaining while others (to be specified) are not. (7) Asians should realize that value differences within and among their societies are every bit as great as within and among Western societies. (8) There is a distinctively neo-Confucian path to modernity and Asians should follow it. (9) "Asian values" must be rejected lest their pursuit trigger the "clash of civilization" feared by Samuel Huntington. (l0) Its uniquevalues are helping East Asia to become the center of gravity of the world economy in the 21st century: merely to remain competitive, Americans must adapt if not adopt them. (11) Americans should ignore Asian values not because they are bad but because Americans are not and will never be Asians. (12) The coming "Asianization" of Western values will mean the abandonment in the U.S. and other Western countries of liberal democracy based on absolutely inalienable individual rights and freedoms, or at least their substantial curtailment. (13) Because "Asian values" are a parochial response to increasingly global problems of rapid socioeconomic and cultural change, it is time to engineer and popularize a new world culture appropriate to their solution. (14) The Asian side of the debate is a thinly veiled rationalization of dictatorship that Asians should reject in favor of human rights and liberal democracy now. (15) Asians should recognize "Asian values" for what they are: mere nostalgia for disappearing traditions. (16) Being culturally distinct and unable to rely on America, Asians should support Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's proposed non-white East Asian Economic Caucus. (17) By promoting "Asian values," Asians can reduce the risks of crime, consumerism, and loneliness that have so damaged the quality of life in the West. (18) Human nature is everywhere the same. (l9) Human nature is not everywhere the same, but we must pretend that it is in order to spread respect for human rights throughout the world. (20) None of the above.
The panel draws upon the work of the Carneige Council's multiyear research and dialogue project, "The Growth of East Asia and its Impact on Human Rights." The project aims to understand how the societies of the region, undergoing such rapid social and economic change, are coping with the idea of human rights. The project calls upon Asian nationals to locate justifications for human rights within their own societies and to analyze the realities (cultural, historical, political, legal, and economic) within countries that may give rise to competing conceptions of human rights. The panelists of this roundtable are members of this project and recently attended the second workshop in Bangkok on "The Cultural Sources of Human Rights in East Asia."