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Singapore, China, and the "Soft Authoritarian" Challenge

Author(s): Denny Roy


Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Mar., 1994), pp. 231-242
Published by: University of California Press
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SINGAPORE,CHINA,AND THE "SOFT
CHALLENGE
AUTHORITARIAN"

___________ Denny Roy

Northwestern University'sJung-enWoo, writingin


1991,complainedthatEast Asia's domination by theWest,particularly the
UnitedStates,leftitwithout "thelanguageandpsychology forself-assertion"
or the means of expressing"a distinctive regionalperspective."Instead,
Western-derived "liberal,free-marketdiscourseis thehegemonicdiscourse."
OtherAsian commentators lamentedthatWesternassumptions dominated
perceptionsand discussionsof Asian politics,even amongAsians them-
selves,and wondered"whether therecan be a politicallanguageto capture
theuniquenessof theAsianpoliticalethos.... Are Asianscapable of pro-
vidingthatalternativelanguageand ideology?"'
The answermayhavearrived.FrancisFukuyamasees RobertScalapino's
modelof "softauthoritarianism" as an increasingly popular"potentialcom-
toWesternliberaldemocracy."Fukuyama'
petitor s renderingof softauthori-
tarianismhas twodistinguishing First,it combinesa market-
characteristics.
orientedeconomicsystemwith"a kindof paternalistic authoritarianismthat
persuadesratherthancoerces." The resulting regimeis economically liberal
quasi-authoritarian.
butpolitically Second,softauthoritarianism is communi-
tarian,emphasizingn] conformity to groupinterests overindividualrights."2
Here softauthoritarianism revealsthe influenceof Confucianvalues that
championorder,a strong butmoralstate,andtheneedsof societyas a whole
overpersonalfreedoms and limitations on government.

Denny Roy is Lecturerin PoliticalScience,NationalUniversityof


Singapore.The viewsexpressedare solelytheauthor'sanddo notnecessarily depart-
represent
mentalor University
opinion.
? 1994 by The Regentsof theUniversity
of California
1. Jung-en Woo, "East Asia's AmericaProblem,"WorldPolicyJournal,8:3 (Summer1991),
pp. 472, 457; ChengShoongTat,"WesternMedia's Coverageof Asia is Wide OfftheMark,"
StraitsTimes,December11, 1991,p. 20; Asad Latif,"Give AsianPoliticsa BetterNameThan
Democracy,"SundayTimes,May 10, 1992,p. 24.
2. FrancisFukuyama,"Asia's Soft-Authoritarian New PerspectivesQuarterly,
Alternative,"
9:2 (Spring1992),pp. 60-61.

231
232 ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994

Asianproponents arguethatthismodeloffers a better


framework forpolit-
ical andeconomicdevelopment,andone moreconsistent withAsia's circum-
stances,thanWesternliberalism.Softauthoritarianism'sgrowinglegitimacy
maysignala majorchangein theWest'srelationship withEast Asia. One of
thestrongestproponentsof Confucian-style
government is Singapore,which
closelyfitsFukuyama'ssoftauthoritarianmodel. This articlewill examine
Singapore'schallengeto Westernliberalism-includingitsdefenseof China
againstoutsidedemandsforpoliticalliberalization-inan attemptto under-
standthenatureand implicationsof Confuciansoftauthoritarianism.

of Soft
Singapore'sArticulation
Authoritarianism
The softauthoritarian challengebegins,muchliketheWest'straditional Ori-
entalistscholarship, withthepremisethatAsia and theWestare fundamen-
tallydifferent.But thistimeAsia turnsthetablesby makingtheWest its
Other,contrasting favorable"Asian" traitssuch as industriousness, filial
piety,selflessness,and chastity,withcaricatures of negative"Western"char-
acteristics."By adverse,undesirable influenceofWesternculture," said for-
merDeputyPrimeMinisterandnowPresident Ong TengCheong,"we mean
theirdrugtaking,and theirpayingtoo littleattention to familyrelationships
butstressing individualism, theiremphasison personalinterest and notpay-
ing muchimportance to social or nationalinterest."3In additionto those
mentionedby Ong, sexual promiscuity and laziness roundout the list of
"Western"traitsmostcommonly criticized.Singapore,in contrast, owes its
successlargelyto itsAsianroots,sayofficialssuchas former PrimeMinister
andnowSeniorMinister Lee KuanYew whospeaksof "coreculturalvalues,
thosedynamicpartsof Confucianculturewhichif lost will lowerour per-
formance.4
As Westernvaluesdiffer fromAsianvalues,so Western politicalconcepts
it is
and institutions, argued, are notnecessarily appropriate in an Asian set-
ting. For one thing,theWestconfusesmeanswithends,says Lee, adding
that"whilstdemocracy andhumanrightsareworthwhile ideas,we shouldbe
clearthatthereal objectiveis good government." Lee identifiesthesocio-
economicprerequisites ofdemocracy as politicalstabilityandadequatelevels
of educationand economicdevelopment.But mostof theworldlacksthese
preconditions.In theirabsence,democracyproducesonly chaos. Prime
MinisterGoh ChokTong chastiseswell-intentioned but"ignorant American

3. Quoted in GaryRodan,"Singapore'sLeadershipTransition:Erosionor Refinement of


Authoritarian 1992),p. 10.
Rule?" BulletinofConcernedAsianScholars,24:1 (January-March
4. "ChineseCultureOutsideChinaChangingwiththeGenerations," SundayTimes,August
11, 1991,p. 21.
DENNY ROY 233
officials"who have createdpolitical"disasters"by pressuring ThirdWorld
governments to liberalize.In Iran,forexample,whentheShahfacedinternal
pressureforreform, "insteadofleavinghimto deal withthesituation firmly,"
theAmericansforcedhim"to introduce in IranAmericandemocratic ideals
of power-sharing and electedrepresentative government." These "irrelevant
Americanideas andculturalvaluesworsened[Iran's]upheavals,andeventu-
ally contributed to the overthrowof the Shah" and the ascension of
Khomeini.5
Fromthe standpoint of the softauthoritarians, the fruitsof democracy,
even in theWestitself,are dubious. Accordingto theSundayTimes,these
include"chaos, unequaldistribution of wealth,seriousunemployment and
economiccrisis." HengChiangMeng,a memberof Singapore'srulingPeo-
ple's ActionParty(PAP),judgestheUnitedStatesbyitsownstandards."To
walkthestreetswithreasonablesafetyis themostbasic ofcivilliberties," he
writes. "Yet millionsof Americansdare not step out at nightand some
scarcelydareto venture by day.... In everyAmericancitypupilsare as-
saulteddailyand somekilled."6Lee Kuan Yew also lamentsconditionsin
theUnitedStates,whichhe says are caused chieflyby a systemthatgrants
''excessiverightsof the individualat the expenseof the community as a
whole." He contrasts Singapore'sdrugtesting program, in whichpoliceand
immigration officersare authorized to subjectany"suspicious"personsto a
urinetest,withthe absenceof effective drugtestingin the UnitedStates,
whichhe attributes to a misguidedobsessionwithprotecting theprivacyof
individuals."So in theU.S. thecommunity's interests
have been sacrificed
because of thedrugtraffickers and drugconsumers."7In short,Singapore
portrays theWestas a place withdemocracy butwithout good government.
Singaporeofficialsdistinguish thisWesternor "liberal"democracyfrom
"Asiandemocracy," or softauthoritarianism. The latter,in theirview,com-
binesthebestof boththeWesternand Asianpoliticaltraditions. The model
softauthoritarian stateis the Asian newlyindustrializing country.These
NICs, saysSingaporean politicalscientist andformer U.N. Ambassador Chan
Heng Chee, "have producedthe good life and a wholesomesociety,eco-
nomicand socialprogressand a politicaland social systemthatis consonant
withthevaluesand traditions of theirsociety."8

5. SundayTimes,November22, 1992,sec. 3, p. 7; StraitsTimes,November21, 1992,p. 31,


and June1, 1988,p. 14. These are Singapore'stwo mostwidely-read newspapers,bothcon-
trolledby thegovernment.
6. Cao Yunhua,"SingaporeAs a Role Model,"SundayTimes,April12, 1992,p. 22; Straits
Times,May 28, 1988,p. 20.
7. "Be Preparedto Intervene
Directly,"StraitsTimes,November21, 1992,pp. 30-31.
8. Chan Heng Chee, "WhatComes First?"SundayTimes,November22, 1992,sec. 3, p. 6.
234 ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994

One such"tradition" is thepremisethatorderandprosperity areincompat-


ible witha highdegreeofpersonalfreedom, hencetheeconomicdeclineand
socialturmoil prevalent in theWest. Everysocietymustfinditsownbalance
betweensocietaland individualinterests.ConfucianEast Asians,theargu-
mentgoes,aremoreinclinedthanliberalWesterners to acceptconstraints on
individualrightsin exchangeforstability andeconomicgrowthin societyas
a whole. An illustration of thistradeoff is Singapore'sInternalSecurityAct,
whichprovidesforarrestand indefinite incarceration without trial;this,says
DeputyPrimeMinister (and sonofLee KuanYew) Lee HsienLoong,is "one
reasonwhyourstreets aresafeandjoggersarenotsubjectto mugging."The
authorof a letterto theeditorof theStraitsTimes,identified onlyas "True-
Blue Singaporean,"putsit thisway: "So whatif a few laws are slightly
irritating? It is a bitirritatingto use condomstoo butdoes one wantto get
AIDS?"9
Rulersare expectedto exercisetheirbroadpowerswithmoralrectitude.
The Confucianoriginsofthisprinciple areexplicitly recognized.PrimeMin-
isterGoh Chok Tong envisions"the ideal politicalleaderas a Confucian
gentleman, ajunzi, someonewhois upright, morallybeyondreproach, some-
one people can trust. . . committed to thepublicgood." Goh contrasts the
ConfucianapproachwiththeU.S. systemof institutional limitations on lead-
ershipby quotingFreemanDyson: "The AmericanConstitution is designed
to be operatedby crooks." Softauthoritarian governments requirethepress
to be deferential, not"watchdogs."The media'sroleis "to inform peopleof
government policies"ratherthanto questionthesepolicies.10
Another characteristic of softauthoritarian systems is thata singlepolitical
party,suchas thePAP, is perpetually dominant.In Singapore'scase, critics
say thePAP oppressesits opposition, whilethegovernment says theruling
partyconsistently maintains a broad-based popularmandate.One-party rule
is also justifiedbythehighpremium placedon politicalstability, as a recent
incidentillustrates. In 1988 theSingaporegovernment accusedan American
diplomat,E. Mason Hendrickson, of encouraging local lawyersto runfor
politicalofficeagainstPAP candidatesin thenextgeneralelections(theU.S.
deniedanywrongdoing by Hendrickson).Goh,thendeputyprimeminister,
arguedthatHendrickson's activitiesthreatened to "set in motiona trainof
eventswhichcould... breakup thecohesionofoursociety.... Thirty years
ofbondingandbuildinga nationwouldcometo naught."Goh reasonedthat

9. Ong Ming Seing,"ISA Has HelpedMake S'pore a Safe Society,Says BG Lee," Straits
Times,May 18, 1989,p. 21; "Do We WantS'poreorSome OtherPlace?"StraitsTimes,May 28,
1988,p. 24.
10. Goh ChokTong,"WhyWe Had No Choice But to React,"in ibid.,June1, 1988,p. 15.
The quoteon themedia'sroleis fromDeputyPrimeMinister Lee HsienLoongin "Media's Role
'To InformPeople of GovtPolicies,"' StraitsTimes(overseasedition),June16, 1990,p. 2.
DENNY ROY 235
numberof opposition-party
if a substantial "professionals,lawyers,[and]ac-
countants"made it intoParliament, "politicswill becomecontentious with
each groupvyingforpower,and in trying to do so, appealingto gutfeelings
of race,language,religion,culture."If thishappens,saysGoh,Singapore's
multiethnic societywill becomedivided,and "we shall end up like many
ThirdWorldcountries"1 1-i.e., poor and chaotic. Once again,the general
interest and prosperity
in stability is overriding.
Is sucha systemdemocratic?The answerdependson whosecriteriaare
used. In theSingaporean view,theminimum qualificationof a democracy is
freeperiodicelections,whichSingapore holds. These elections, says Lee,
ensurethatthegovernment willbe "carefulnotto abuseourpowers."By the
standards ofWesternliberals,ofcourse,freeelectionsarea necessary butnot
a sufficientconditionfordemocracy. But the PAP would be quick to add,
"Americanor Europeanstandards of the late 20th century cannot be univer-
sal."12

Alliance
A Rhetorical
If Singaporeis theprototype state,Chinamustbe classedas
softauthoritarian
an aspiringsoftauthoritarian. The Beijingregimehas embracedmarket eco-
nomicsand Confuciancommunitarian values,butit rules(in thosepartsof
China still underits control)primarily throughcoercion,not persuasion.
Nevertheless, Singaporeand China have respondedin similarways to the
challengeof Westernliberalism.They are, in effect,allies in a rhetorical
battlewiththeWest. Like theirSingaporeancounterparts, Chineseleaders
affirm the superiorityof Asian overWesternvalues: "We mustconstantly
resistand criticise. . . Westerncapitalistconceptsof philosophy, politics,
journalism,literature and art,"at thesame time"combating theideologyof
nationalnihilismwhichcompletely culture."13
rejectsChina's traditional
Like thePAP leadership, theBeijinggovernment claimsa single-party
sys-
temis requiredto maintainstability and unity.Without"upholdingleader-
shipby theCommunist Party,"saysLi Peng,"therewouldbe no stability in
our countryor unityof the people." A RenminRibao commentator adds:
"Without leadershipby the[communist] party,peoplewillbecomedisunited
like grainsof sand;thecountry will be divided;economicconstruction and

11. Goh, "WhyWe Had No Choice,"p. 14.


12. Lee KuanYew, StraitsTimes,November21, 1992,p. 30; Tan Sai Siong,"Good Govern-
mentDependson theSupportit Receives,"SundayTimes,May 16, 1993, sec. 2, p. 2; Chan,
"WhatComes First?"p. 6; "WhySingaporeis China's FavouriteModel-Mr Lee," Sunday
Times,August11, 1991,p. 21.
13. "Li PengDeliversGovernment WorkReportat NPC Session,"ChinaReport,April-June
of the40thAnniversary
1990,p. 211; "JiangZemin'sSpeech at theMeetingin Celebration of
theFoundingof thePeople's Republicof China,29 September1989," ChinaReport,January-
March1990,p. 107.
236 ASIANSURVEY,VOL. XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994

reform and openingto theoutsideworldwill be outof thequestion;and so


will social stabilityand people's well-being."14 Besides,theChineseCom-
munistParty(CCP), like the PAP, alreadyclaims a popularmandateand
democratic representation (formally through theNationalPeople's Congress
and informally through Mao's principleof themass line).
In responseto criticism fromtheUnitedStates,Chinaassertsitsown con-
ceptionof humanrights, one thatreflects thesoftauthoritarian emphasison
orderand economicwell-being.A recentstatement by PartySecretary Jiang
Zeminlays out China's position.Jiangfirstchallengestheapplicability of
Westernvalues to Asian circumstances. "Due to differing social systems,
levels of economicdevelopment, historicaltraditionsand culturalback-
ground," he says,"itis naturalthatChinaandtheUnitedStateshaveseparate
conceptsof humanrights."Nexthe explainsBeijing'sconcept:"to ensure
food,clothing, shelter,transportation, education,employment andculturalac-
tivitiesforitspopulation."He adds: "For a country of over 1.1 billionpeo-
ple, it is an arduoustask." Withoutthe bias of Westernassumptions, he
concludes,China's humanrightsrecordis admirable."We are makingcon-
stantefforts to improvethequalityof lifeand have realizeduniversally ac-
claimedachievements whichhavepromoted notonlyin Chinabutin
stability
Asia and theworldat large."15
It is fromthisstandpoint thatChinadefendsitselffromWesterncriticism
overthehumanrightsissuesof Tibetand Tiananmen.In thecase of Tibet,
theChinesearguethattheWestis farmoreguiltythanthePeople's Libera-
tionArmy.A Britishforceof 10,000troopsinvadedTibetin 1904,say es-
tablishment Chinesehistorians, and "notonlyruthlessly slaughtered Tibetan
soldiersandcivilians,theywantonly lootedculturalrelics." In contrast,PLA
troopsentering in
Lhasa 1951 got "a warm welcome from local officials
and
people." Before the communist revolution, Tibetharbored a "feudal serfsys-
tem"in whichthemajority ofthepopulation "sufferedfromunbearable polit-
ical oppression,economicexploitation and mentalenslavement."But as a
of
result Beijing'sreforms, Tibetans today"enjoypersonalandreligiousfree-
dom." The Tibetan independence issue has been manufactured by hostile
Westerners seeking to divide and weaken China,says Beijing.16
In thecase of Tiananmen, theCCP claimsit movedresolutely againstthe
fewinstigators of chaos to protectthemajority of societyfromtheperilsof
disorder."Iftheunrestis givenfreerein,"wrotea BeijingRevieweditorialist
beforethe PLA violentlyterminated the demonstration, "China will be in
continuous turmoiland genuineefforts at reform and thecreationof a pros-

14. "Li Peng DeliversGovernment WorkReport,"p. 190; "New HistoricalMissionand the


Communist Partyof China,"RenminRibao,July1, 1992.
15. "PartyChiefon Seven Hot issues,"BeijingReview,March22-28, 1993,p. 8.
16. BeijingReview,February1-7, February 11-17, 1993.
22-28, and January
DENNY ROY 237
perousChinawillcometo nothing."Another observedthat"demonstrations,
protests,class boycotts,hungerstrikesandotherformsofpetition haveupset
social stability,
and will nothelpsolveproblems."17 In essence,China's ar-
gumentis thatwhatWesterners call a humanrightsabuse was actuallya
humanrightsvictory.BothChineseand Singaporeans arguethattheUnited
Statesshouldcease "imposing"itsvalueson China. "Today,you see West-
ernpowersfeelingverycocky,"says Chan. "We are constantly challenged
by theirvalueson humanrights, democratization, freepress,etc. Thereis a
tendency, an arrogancein theWestwhichsays,'Our valuesare superiorval-
ues. You mustbe like us."'-18
On thehumanrightsissue,thesametwoarguments comefrombothChina
and Singapore:U.S. pressure is (1) hypocritical,and (2) ineffective.China's
criticismof the UnitedStatesforthe latter's"armedsuppression of black
people struggling forbasic humanrightsand theanti-Vietnam war demon-
strationsstagedby students" is mirrored by Singaporean commentators who
assert"treatment oftheAmericanblackcommunity is nothingto be proudof.
Have theAmericansforgotten theshootingof students at KentStateUniver-
sityand thehumanrightsviolationsduringtheVietnamwar,includingthe
shootingof innocentchildrenand women?"19Similarly,ChineseForeign
Minister Qian Qichen'swarning that"no one whoattempts topressureChina
intochangingits social systemwilleversucceed"is secondedby Lee Kuan
Yew: "You can't changea Chinesecivilisation of 4,000 yearsby an act of
Congressor cancellingMost FavoredNationstatus."20Given theirown
viewson good government, it is notsurprising thattheSingaporeauthorities
lackenthusiasm forpromoting democratic reform in China. "Thenewgener-
ationofChineseleaders,likethepreviousgeneration, willwanta stronggov-
ernmentthat can maintainstabilityand order,"says Goh with evident
empathy."Theyare notclosetdemocrats.Theydo notwantChinato de-
scendintochaos,and neither does therestof Asia."'2'
Americaninterest in China'sdemocratization is basedlargelyon thebelief
that the Chinese public desires political liberalization(e.g., the 1989
Tiananmendemonstrations), andon theliberalexpectation ofpositiveconse-
quences,whichincludepoliticalstability internallyand peace in theinterna-

17. Ibid.,May 1-7, p.9, and May 9-June4, 1989,p.15.


18. Chan Heng Chee, "What'sin Storein theNew WorldOrder?"Petir,June1991,p. 21.
19. RenminRibao commentary, as "Anti-China
reprinted ClamourCannotIntimidate
Chinese
People,"BeijingReview,July17-23, 1989,p. 15; Yap Kim Sang,"US Will Need China'sHelp
to BringAboutStable,PeacefulWorld,"StraitsTimes,May 15, 1993,p. 36.
20. Beijing Review,October9-15, 1989, p. 8; "Push forDemocracyin Asia by Clinton
WouldBe a Big Mistake,Says SM Lee," StraitsTimes,January 20, 1993,p. 3.
21. Goh ChokTong,"DroptheStick,GrowwiththeChinese,"International HeraldTribune,
May 21, 1993,p. 6.
238 ASIANSURVEY,VOL. XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994
tional environment stemmingfroma democraticsystem.The Singapore
government, however,does notsharetheseassumptions.Accordingto Min-
istryof ForeignAffairsDeputySecretary KishoreMahbubani,"fewChinese
intellectuals
believe thatChina is readyfordemocracy."Rather,theyare
"afraidof chaos and anarchy."Singapore'sofficialinterpretation of the"so-
calledpro-democracy movement" in TiananmenSquareis thatit was "a bat-
tle betweensoft authoritarians and hard authoritarians." The protesters
wanted"an end to inflationand corruption, and . .. a betterlife"(i.e., good
government and materialprosperity,areas in whichthePAP has succeeded
so well).22
FromSingapore'svantagepoint,forcedpoliticalliberalization in China
mightresultin fractionalization,
neo-warlordism, class or ethnicconflict,
economiccrisis,a massiveoutflowofrefugees, andotherproblemswithneg-
ativeconsequencesforSingapore.Like Beijing,Singaporefavorseconomic,
butnotpoliticalliberalization
inChina. Singaporeis tellingtheUnitedStates
notonlyto stopcriticizing theChinese,butalso to give themtheeconomic
assistancetheywant. Amid worriesabout the consequencesof China's
growingpower,Lee encouragesthe West to continueto investheavilyin
China,lestit become"a xenophobic, chauvinisticforce,bitterand hostileto
theWestbecauseittriedto slowdownor abortitsdevelopment."23 All told,
a recommendation to WesternpolicymakersmorefavorabletowardChina
could scarcelyhave been writtenby theChinesegovernment itself.

Conclusions
Singapore'sbold philosophicalbreakfromtheWest,its defenseof China
fromWesterncriticism, andAsia's interest
in softauthoritarianismcarryim-
portantlessonsand implications.Singapore'soutspokenness in challenging
theWest'spoliticalagendamayarisefromanyorall ofseveralfactors.First,
thegovernment underLee KuanYew wasjustlyproudofhavingtransformed
a poor,politically
contentiousimmigrant societyintoa wealthy,modernme-
tropolisfamousforits orderand cleanliness.Second,Lee is by naturea
blunt-speakingpoliticianwhorelishessharinghisviewswithforeign govern-
mentsandjournalists.Finally,thecity-stateenjoysthediplomatic advantage
of smallness;its leaderscan speak boldlywithoutcausingthe restof the
worldto feelthreatened.
Thereare bothculturaland realpolitikbases fortherhetoricalalliancebe-
tweenSingaporeand China. Culturally, bothsocietiessharetheinfluence of
Confucianpoliticalphilosophy.The genuinenessof Singapore'sbeliefin

22. KishoreMahbubani,"The Moral Superiorityof theWest: Justa Myth,"SundayTimes,


March7, 1993,p. 7; StraitsTimes,editorial,
June5, 1989,p. 22.
23. Han Fook Kwang,"Asia Will Focus on Defenceif US Withdraws,"StraitsTimes,May
16, 1993,p. 1.
DENNY ROY 239
Confucianassumptions is backedup by itsstakein China. Singaporefirms,
withstronggovernment encouragement, are investingheavilyin the PRC.
Singaporerecently agreedinprinciple tobuildan entiretownship for600,000
people in Suzhou,billedas "a mini-Singapore in China." The government
presumably wantsto protecttheseinvestments and evidently sees continued
authoritarianism, notliberalization, as thebestway to do it.
Froma moreMachiavellianperspective, thePAP and the CCP may be
cooperating againsta commonenemy. The perception of U.S. pressureto
liberalizeexistsin Singaporeas well as Beijing. Considerthe following
statement:"US interference is unpardonable. No sovereigncountry can tol-
erateanyinterference fromanyforeign government." Thismighthavecome
outof Beijingin thesummerof 1989,butit is actuallyPAP Parliamentarian
Lau Teik Soon's reactionto theHendrickson episode.24In bothcases,strong
reactionto pressureis understandable: an obviousand immediateeffectof
politicalliberalization would be to jeopardizethe rulingparty'slock on
power. The fearof losingcontrolthusprovidesbotha rationaleforrejecting
theWest'spoliticalagendaand a basis fora rhetorical unitedfrontbetween
Chineseand Singaporeanpoliticians.
The riseof softauthoritarian rhetoric mustalso be understood as a reaction
to the recessionof U.S. powerand influencein Asia and elsewhere.The
declineof globalAmericanhegemony has causeda corresponding declinein
thehegemony of American ideas. Politicalpower and control over knowl-
edge are closely linked. Among the privileges historicallyenjoyed by the
reigninghegemonis thepromotion of a particular politicalideology.This
exerciseis at once politicaland cultural, forit bothsupports thehegemon's
controlof theinternational systemand reflectsthevalues dominantamong
thehegemoniccountry's people. Uniquelyempoweredto coerceothergov-
ernments to behave in accordancewithits own values,the hegemonalso
dominatesinternational politicaldiscoursethrough itsdisproportionate influ-
ence in themedia,academia,and international organizations, infusing them
withthehegemon'sagenda. Finally,would-behegemonsmayvoluntarily try
to emulatethedominant country in hopesof obtaining similarresults.Con-
versely,as a hegemondeclines,it loses coercivepowerin bilateralrelations,
its dominanceof thechannelsof discourseweakens,and it loses prestigein
theeyes of risingcontenders seekinga modelforsuccess.
The perception oferodingU.S. hegemony helpsexplainwhy,as Fukuyama
observes,softauthoritarianism's "strength and legitimacy is growingdaily."
The East Asian states,particularly thosewitha strongConfucianheritage,
have reasonto considerthemselves risingstarsin thetwilight of America's

StraitsTimes,May 9, 1988,
24. "EightMPs ExpressDismay,Outrageand Disappointment,"
p. 12.
240 ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994
power. While the West,the embodiment of liberalphilosophy,declines,
practitioners
ofAsianphilosophy arethriving. East Asia has modernized at a
remarkable rateandcontinues to lead theworld'sregionsin rateofeconomic
growth.China and Singaporein particular have reasonto be "feelingvery
cocky"because theyhave achievedsignificant successwithoutthepolitical
liberalization(and itsattendantdangers)thathas accompaniedeconomicdy-
namismin othercountriesin the regionsuch as Japan,SouthKorea, and
Taiwan. China,withitshugepopulationand rapiddevelopment, is a candi-
dateforsuperpower status.Singapore,although too smallto everbe a major
playerin worldpolitics,sees itselfas a modelofnation-building andefficient
government, admiredand studiedthroughout the world. These successes,
combinedwiththe apparentfailuresof the West,exoneratethe "Asian"
model and emboldenproponents of softauthoritarianism. Theirarguments
wouldnothave carriedthesame forcein theearlypostwaryearswhenthe
UnitedStatesaccountedforhalfoftheworld'sproduction, mostofEast Asia
remainedunderdeveloped, and many WesternscholarsconsideredCon-
fucianisman obstacleto modernization. Now,boastsGoh,Westerners who
admireAsia's economicdynamism "arebeginning to studyConfucianism as
a rival ideologyto Westernliberalism."25If East Asia becomesthe new
centerof worldpower,East Asiandiscourse, possiblyincludingsoftauthori-
tarianism,will becomethehegemonicdiscourse.
Cooperation betweenSingaporeandChinain promoting thesoftauthorita-
rianagendahas important implications forboththeregionandtherestofthe
world.First,theissueilluminates a consensusin SoutheastAsia. In thepast,
Lee Kuan Yew has frankly recognizedthat"thereis always thatlurking
doubt,suspicion,uncertainty in themindsof ASEAN membersthatbecause
Singaporeis 75% ethnicChinese,therefore Singaporecan be easilymanipu-
latedbyChina,andwillsidewithChina." Consequently, Singaporehas tried
to avoidtheimpression ofan alliancewiththecommunist Chinese,maintain-
ing throughout the 1980s thatit would establishdiplomaticrelationswith
BeijingonlyaftertheotherASEAN statesdid so (Singaporerecognizedthe
Beijinggovernment in 1990). SingaporeansupportforChinahas notbeen
unconditional.AfterTiananmen,forexample,Lee said he was "shocked,
horrifiedand saddened"by the Chinese government's behavior,and the
StraitsTimescondemned "thetruculence of old menunwilling andunableto
contemplate even themeresthintof a threatto theirirongripon thecoun-
try."26Yet thepoliticalliberalization issuefindsSingaporenotonly"siding

25. Michael Richardson,"East Asia SpurnsWest's CulturalModel," International Herald


Tribune,July13, 1992,p. 1.
26. Leo Suryadinata,
Chinaand theASEANStates: The EthnicChineseDimension(Singa-
pore: SingaporeUniversityPress,1985),p. 112; StraitsTimes,June6, 1989,p. 1, and editorial,
June5, 1989,p. '22.
DENNY ROY 241
with China" but actingas Beijing's debatingpartneragainstthe United
States. ThatSingaporefeelsfreeto openlydefendChineseauthoritarianism
indicatessupportamong its SoutheastAsian neighbors.On this issue,
China's fightis also muchof ASEAN's fight.(Vietnamand Myanmarmay
also be added forgood measure.)
Second,and moreimportantly, therhetorical alliancebetweenSingapore
andChinasuggeststheformation ofa new,perhapsglobalideologicaldivide.
Even in thepost-ColdWarera,politicalanalystsoftenperpetuate thecapital-
ist/communist dichotomy by speakingof the"lastholdouts"in Asia: China,
Vietnam,and NorthKorea.But theriseof softauthoritarianism makesthis
dichotomy increasingly irrelevant."Communist" statessuch as China and
Vietnamand "capitalist"statessuchas Singaporeand Malaysiaare converg-
ing undertheauspicesof softauthoritarianism. Chinaperhapshas, or will
soon have morein commonwithSingaporethanwithNorthKorea. What
separatesthe softauthoritarian partof East Asia from"hard"authoritarian
NorthKorea is capitalism.The former has "tradeditspoliticalrightsforthe
rightto makemoney."27NorthKoreanspresently have neitherpoliticalnor
entrepreneurial freedom, butAsiancommunism is close to extinction.If lib-
eralismhas notprovedtriumphant, capitalismhas.
Despitethenewassertiveness of softauthoritarianism, itslong-termfuture
is uncertain.On one hand,thereis considerablesupportforthe model in
muchof Asia. Malaysia'sPrimeMinister MahathirMohamad,forexample,
is a strongcriticof theliberalagenda,asserting thatdemocracyhas abetted
moraldecay,drugabuse,homosexuality, and theerosionof thetraditional
familystructure in Westerncountries."Let us notbe slavesto democracy,"
he says. "If by practising certainaspectsof democracywe runtheriskof
causingchaos in our partyand country, we have to choose our partyand
country above democracy."28 A conference on humanrightsheldin Bang-
kokduringthespringrevealedsimilarsentiments amongdelegatesfromMy-
anmar,Indonesia,Thailand,andVietnam.EvenJapan,homeofAsia's oldest
liberaldemocracy, disappointed manyin theotherG-7 countries by its un-
willingnessto maintain post-Tiananmen sanctionsagainstChina. Earlyin his
tenure,PrimeMinisterKiichiMiyazawasaid he opposed"applyingan ab-
stractyardstick of humanrightsto foreignaid."29

27. Woo, "East Asia's AmericaProblem,"p. 459.


28. "Mahathir CautionsAgainstBeingSlaves ofDemocracy," BusinessTimes,May 31, 1993,
p. 1; KalimullahHassan,"UnlimitedFreedomDangerousforMulti-RacialCountry:Mahathir,"
SundayTimes,May 30 1993,p. 18.
Axis AgainstHumanRights,"New Perspectives
29. Lin Binyan,"The Beijing-Tokyo Quar-
terly,Winter1992, p. 32. Recently,however,the Japanesegovernment has suggestedthat
humanrightsconsiderations maybecomea stronger factorin Japan'sforeignaid programs.
242 ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXIV,NO. 3, MARCH1994

Moreover,themodel's potentialappeal is notlimitedto East Asia. Lee


Kuan Yew has alreadyrecommended hisprinciples of "good government" to
non-Confucian developing regions such as countries of Africa. The idea of
stateschoosingalternative stylesof government based on theirown circum-
stancestaps into the widespread resentment among developingcountriesof
pressure fromWestern states and watchdog organizationsoverallegedhuman
rightsabuses. As Western liberalism once battledcommunism forthehearts
and mindsoftheThirdWorld,perhaps itmust now contend with softauthori-
tarianism.
OtherConfucianEast Asian states,however,such as Taiwan and South
Korea are movingawayfromsoftauthoritarianism towardgreater liberaliza-
tion. And even among its strongestproponents, the staying power of soft
authoritarianism is not self-evident. Both Singaporean and Chinese officials
have said politicalliberalization can be expectedto followeconomicdevel-
opment.Scholarlyanalysissuggeststheyare right.30Withitshighlypros-
perouseconomy,Singaporemaynotbe able to resistliberalization forlong.
One analyst,notingSingapore's"consistent recordof outstanding economic
achievement," findsitcuriousthat"Lee's government stillactsas ifall these
achievements are fragile,as ifit is underimminent threatof subversive con-
spiracy,and as if suchhard-won prosperity couldeasilybe lostin a moment
of carelesspoliticalliberalisation."31
Chinafacesa longjourneyto prosperity butwilllikelymeetsimilarpres-
sureseventually.Some dissidentvoices in ASEAN alreadysay the Asian
backlashagainstWesternideals of democracyand humanrights"is all a
politicalploy by certainrulingelitesto preservetheirexistingmethodsof
rule."32Such indigenous dissentmaygroweitheras a naturalresultof con-
tinuedprosperity or as a consequenceof an economicdownturn.To silence
thesevoices,the softauthoritarian regimemusteitherliberalizefurther or
mutateintoa harderauthoritarianism. Eitherway,softauthoritarianism may
be transitory,a steppingstoneto a formofgovernment moreresilient against
thepressuresfacedby modernnation-states. Softauthoritarianism mayyet
succeedWesternliberalismas thenewhegemonicdiscourse,or it maywind
up on the"rubbishheap of history"withno appeal outsideof theinsecure
politicalpartieswhose interests it directlyserves. The fortunes of parties
suchas thePAP and theCCP will dependon theoutcome.

30. For example,LarryDiamond,"EconomicDevelopmentand DemocracyReconsidered,"


AmericanBehavioralScientist,March-June 1992,pp. 450-99.
"Singapore,"in Asia & PacificReview1990 (Edison,N.J.:
31. "A special correspondent,"
Hunter,1990),p. 201.
32. MichaelVatikiotisand RobertDelfs,"CulturalDivide,"Far EasternEconomicReview,
June17, 1993,p. 20.