Friday, November 21, 2014

The Asian Spring is Coming

bbc.com

At a glance, Occupy Central in Hong Kong or the hunger strikes by families connected with the Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea may seem focused on specific concerns, relevant only to the people in that society. However, take a step back and the movements are, surprisingly, quite similar. Occupy’s focus is on Hong Kong gaining its long-promised democracy, but it is fueled by living costs, limited infrastructure, and rising inequality – the same challenges facing Indonesia and Thailand. In Seoul, initially it seems that protestors in the city center want justice for the hundreds of victims of Sewol. But what they are calling for – an investigation into what they see as deeply ingrained corruption and collusion connecting the ferry company, the police, politicians, and perhaps even the president – has implications that go far beyond a simple criminal case. 
Thailand also saw similar slogans about corruption at both red-shirt and yellow-shirt rallies. “In [Thailand and Hong Kong] protesters are calling for accountability and greater transparency in the political and economic realms,” said Matteo Fumagalli, head of the Department of International Relations at Central European University. 
The most dramatic protests took place this March in Taiwan, where youth stormed past police barricades and occupied the Taiwanese Parliament, in opposition to a trade deal with China that they believed with erode the island-state’s independent political identity. 
Individually they are examples of social unrest, but collectively, do these movements herald something greater? Are they an Asian version of 2011, when protests in Tunisia spread into neighboring Egypt, Libya, and then throughout the entire Arab region. At the time it was seen as a sign that the Arab world’s citizens were tired of the same-old dictators and wanted dramatic societal change. Asia, too, faces a similar “Democracy Gap.” “In some countries in the region the growth of democracy has not kept pace with economic development. It seems clear that economic progress alone does not necessarily lead to democratic gains,” said Peter Manikas, director of Asia programs for the New Democratic Institute in Washington D.C.


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