By Dan Slater & Joe Wong

Democracy is not just Western; it is Eastern as well. In a time when democracies globally—including the United States—are endangered, three Asian democracies stand out for their quality and stability: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. How did this “Eastern democracy” come to be? And could China ever follow a similar path?

Answering this question forces us to take East Asian democracies seriously, both on their own terms and for the lessons they may exhibit. For far too long, analysts have dismissed these East Asian democracies as mere reflections of American power: Postwar Japan became a democracy because America made it so; Taiwan became a democracy so that America wouldn’t abandon it; South Korea became a democracy because it couldn’t risk losing American support after shooting protesters on the eve of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In reality, all three democracies emerged from a common internal logic—a logic that could eventually apply to China and its ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Ruling elites in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan didn’t abandon authoritarianism and acclimate to democracy because they were toppled by opponents or were required to by the Americans. They did so because they decided that they could continue to thrive even after democratization. And history has abundantly proven them correct.

Read the full paper on PRInceton university press