Globalization and Regional Security:  Asia Perspectives

February 23-25, 1999

Nearly two years since Asia’s economic crisis began, the region has begun to express doubts about the impact of globalization on regional societies. Although the term defies simple definition, participants agreed that globalization has several core characteristics:

Globalization and Regional Security – The impact of globalization on Asia’s security is complex. In some ways the impact has been positive: economic integration has reduced the potential for conflict, particularly in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, globalization may give rise to new security concerns, and aggravate existing tensions.

Globalization and Sovereignty – Although globalization is often viewed as a challenge to national sovereignty, states in Asia have chosen to embrace the global economy. During Asia’s boom years, globalization was viewed as a tool for strengthening national power, rather than as a potential threat. This view was reinforced by the belief in Asia that governments could participate in the global economy without altering domestic political structures and practices. Across the region growing wealth often coexisted with authoritarianism.

Events in Indonesia, however, suggest that globalization can force political, as well as economic, change. Globalization can exacerbate divisions within society, with some groups profiting more from globalization than others – Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese, for example. In the face of globalization, ethnic divisions and separatist movements could worsen, and social cohesion could suffer as well.

Authoritarian regimes may have more to fear from globalization than democratic states. Governments that embrace norms such as transparency, accountability, and the rule of law – concepts that form the backbone of democratic societies – appear to have suffered less from the financial crisis than their authoritarian counterparts.

For now, few Asian governments appear likely to reject globalization entirely. Nevertheless, the possibility of an Asian backlash – primarily against the United States – remains real. A new "grand bargain" between the West and Asia is essential. The West must recognize that Asian concern over eroding values and social cohesion is legitimate; Asia must cease demonizing the West for its role in spurring globalization, because no nation is immune to the challenges and opportunities it presents.

Conference Summary Report, "Globalization in Asia: Getting the Breeze Without the Bugs"