Opinion Piece – Ignorance Beyond the West: East Asia


By Emma Temple

Broadly accepted connotations of Eastern Asia are likely but not limited to ideas of a technological hub, a catalyst for global progression not least on an economic level but also in terms of military and material power. There is not in political practice, however, an in depth understanding of the cultural nature of the area, and the roles that individual domestic cultures have in shaping foreign policy as well as global outlook.

For want of a better method, by briefly taking an inclusive approach to the region, homogeneity within the given populations is a prominent and defining cultural characteristic of Eastern Asia. In a world view of western countries, diversity and freedom are characteristics which are wholly accepted and not reputed in these western countries domestically. But whilst the same could be said for homogeneity in East Asian countries, there is no understanding of the varying impacts such a feature has on the conduction of daily life or global outlook. The differences in the manifestations of homogeneity as a characteristic are what should be emphasized when approaching the region from a political or educational standpoint.

Take for example China, huge in its political outreach and diverse in concentrated areas; the homogeneous nature of the rest of the country however is conditioned for government surveillance and mass control. On the other hand, South Korea is arguably far more interconnected with the “western ideals” of international politics, yet the homogeneity here still provides a relative level of national hostility to immigration and diversity.

As an additional point for consideration, the geographical nature of the region is at least as important for understanding international relations as an understanding of state differentiation. The South China Sea is a hotbed for territorial and economic dispute, and these conflicts are ones that, broadly speaking, need no contribution from western nations. An understanding of state orientated goals as a result of understanding state differentiation is necessary, as opposed to thinly veiled attempts of power gains from western nations intervening in the region.

Creating a view of any region is easy and arguably preferable from the perspective of any administration looking to politically interact with and/or dominate said region. It is a dehumanisation of the area, an abstract approach making dominant and regionally disruptive policies apparently less controversial in their construction and execution. Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ and Donald Trump’s increased provocation of North Korea both fall into this category. The first as a method of containing China, the second by way of affirming a powerful status in the region; yet both disruptive to the region’s internal political harmonies.

In a sense, even accepting East Asia as a descriptive term for the entire region is overlooking the importance of differentiation between the states, and consequently is undermining the role that states as individual actors play and will potentially play. By disregarding such factors, analysis and prediction of both state and regional behaviour is compromised and it is this that plays directly into the hands of ignorant political outlooks, threatening the future of global integration.

Most definitely this could also be argued for the West, but it is important to consider here that the political connotations of the West are embedded in a common allegiance to the idea of liberal democracy. The states of East Asia cannot and should not be politically intertwined when approaching the region, and until this is firmly understood there will remain a level of stagnation in the development of the relations between countries in these two parts of the world.

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