Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Sarah Joseph and Adam McBeth
Chapter 16: The Political Economy and Culture of Human Rights in East Asia
Michael C Davis 1 Introduction East Asian experience has long featured prominently among contemporary debates concerning human rights and development. The authoritarian East Asian challenge to human rights has set human rights in opposition to Asian cultural values and related East Asian developmental needs. While several East Asian countries have defied these claims and established constitutional democracies with liberal human rights protections, several others, including China and other post-communist countries in Southeast Asia, have continued to press these Asian values and developmental arguments to justify authoritarianism and severe limits on human rights. At a time when various UN reports relate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to human rights and good governance,1 several newly industrialised countries in East Asia have led the world in economic development.2 This chapter will argue that full realisation of the promise of these achievements ultimately depends on constitutional reform that embraces democracy, human rights and the rule of law. East Asian experience has tended to demonstrate that constitutional democracy with liberal human rights protection is the regime type most capable of addressing both cultural values and developmental needs. In the first generation of rapidly developing countries in East Asia, constitutionalism ultimately worked better in constructing the conditions for coping with the diverse interests that emerged in rapidly changing societies. While an East Asian brand of 1 Secretary-General, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, UN Doc A/59/2005 (21 March 2005) (‘2005 UN Report’); Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on...
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