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The term Asian Values is used in reference to a political ideology of the 1990s, which defined elements of society, culture and history common to the nations of South East and East Asia. It aimed to use commonalities, for example, the principle of collectivism, to unify people for their economic and social good and to create a pan-Asian identity. This contrasted with Western ideals of the universal rights of man. The concept was advocated by Mahathir Mohamad (Prime Minister of Malaysia during 1981–2003) and later by Lee Kuan Yew, leader of Singapore (1990 – 2004). The popularity of the concept waned after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when it became evident that Asia lacked any coherent regional institutional mechanism to deal with the crisis.[1]


Various definitions of Asian Values have been made. Generally, the phrase alludes to influences by Confucianism[2](p10) in particular, filial piety or loyalty towards the family, corporation, and nation; the forgoing of personal freedom for the sake of society's stability and prosperity; the pursuit of academic and technological excellence; and, a strong work ethic together with thrift.

Proponents of "Asian values", who tend to support Asian-style authoritarian governments[2](p13) claim these values are more appropriate for the region than Western democracy with its emphasis on individual freedoms.[3]

"Asian values" were codified and promoted in the Bangkok Declaration of 1993, which re-emphasized the principles of sovereignty, self-determination, and non-interference in civil and political rights. They included,


Historically, there has been no shared "Asian" identity and the concept of unified geographical regional identity at the time of its popularity in the 20th century was not strictly limited to Asia.[2](p2) Asian values gained popularity in the People's Republic of China, Malaysia (under Mahathir Mohamad), Singapore (under Lee Kuan Yew), Indonesia and in Japan (perhaps as early as the pre World War II era). [4] In the West, the study of Asian values was seen as a way to understand Asia and foster a closer relationship with the region.[5]

Proponents in Malaysia and Singapore claim the concept helped reconcile Islam, Confucianism and Hinduism and was unifying because it was different to the philosophy of the West. [6] Lee maintained that more than economics or politics, a nation's culture would determine its fate.[7] In Japan, a concept of "Ideals of the East" was embraced in some nationalist circles because it challenged the West and also because it offered the possibility of Japanese leadership in a new Asia.[8] Some attribute the economic success of East and Southeast Asian nations in the 1960s to 1980s to "Asian values"; a third-way, Asian political model that was an alternative to totalitarianism and liberal democracy.[citation needed][who?]

"Asian values" was also evident in the planning of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.[clarification needed][9]

The popularity of the concept did not persist. Some speculate it might have contributed to the religious, social, cultural and economic changes occurring in Asia in that time, for example, the Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia or may have been successfully counteracted by Western liberal democracy.[10][11][12]

In 2006, Jusuf Kalla, the vice-president of Indonesia, linked Asian values with the proposed East Asian Free Trade Agreement and the East Asian Community arising from the East Asia Summit. He partly defended Asian values by placing emphasis on co-operation over competition.[13]

Asian values continues to be discussed in academe with reference to the question of the universality human rights (as opposed to a position of cultural relativism).[14]


A number of criticisms of Asian values have been made.[15] Amartya Sen argues Asian values cannot operate because of the overriding cultural diversity found in Asia.[16][17] Lung Ying-tai, a Taiwanese social and political critic, supported by former President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Kim Dae Jung and Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan argues that Asian values is doublespeak for suppressing universal values such as freedom of speech and human rights.[18] A common criticism of the concept of Asian values is the perceived success of many Asian democratic societies such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gred L. "Asian Values revisited" Asia Europe journal 2003.
  2. ^ a b c De Bary W. "Asian Values and Human Rights: A Confucian Communitarian Perspective." Harvard University Press, 1998 ISBN 0674049551, 9780674049550.
  3. ^ Mark R Thompson, "Pacific Asia after 'Asian values'", Third World Quarterly, 2004.
  4. ^ Bar M. "Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War." Routledge, 2004 ISBN 0415338263, 9780415338264.
  5. ^ Cauquelin J. et al "Asian Values: Encounter with Diversity." Routledge, 2014 ISBN 1136841253, 9781136841255.
  6. ^ Nishida K Nishida Kitaro Zenshu (Complete Works of Nishida Kitaro in 19 volumes), 4th ed., Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1989.
  7. ^ Zakaria F "A Conversation with Lee Kwan Yu" Foreign Affairs, Journal of the Council on Foreign Affairs, a non-partisan organisation, Florida, US. March - April 1994.
  8. ^ Okakura K The Ideals of the East, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarenton 1904, 2002.
  9. ^ Beatty B. "Democracy, Asian Values, and Hong Kong: Evaluating Political Elite Beliefs." Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 p14 ISBN 0275976882, 9780275976880.
  10. ^ Milner A. "What's Happened to Asian Values?" Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU, 1999.
  11. ^ Krugman P. "Latin America's Swan Song" An MIT web page article, unsourced and date not stated. Accessed 21 May 2014.
  12. ^ Francis Fukuyama F. "The End of History and the Last Man". Free Press 1992. ISBN 0-02-910975-2.
  13. ^ "Indonesia calls for countries to bear Asian values." People's Daily Online, an English language Chinese online news website. Accessed 21 May 2014.
  14. ^ "The Asian values debate and its relevance to international humanitarian law." ICRC.
  15. ^ Bruun O. and Jacobsen M. [http://books.google.com.au/books?id=89CPAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22asian+values%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=W217U9LON86F8gW7woGYCQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22asian%20values%22&f=false " Routledge, 2003. ISBN 1135796262, 9781135796266.
  16. ^ Hendry J. Heung W. (ed.) Dismantling the East-West Dichotomy: Essays in Honour of Jan van Bremen, New York: Routledge, 2006, ISBN 0-415-39738-3
  17. ^ Amartya S. "Democracy as a Universal Value", Journal of Democracy, 1999 10(3) p3 - 17
  18. ^ Kim D. "Is Culture Destiniy? The Myths of Asia's Anti-Democratic Values." Foreign Affairs, Florida, US, November 1994.


  • Loh kok Wah F. and Khoo Boo T. "Democracy in Malaysia: Discourses and Practices" Curzon Press, Richmond Surrey, 2002.
  • Subramaniam S. "The Asian Values Debate: Implications for the Spread of Liberal Democracy" Asian Affairs. March 2000.
  • Ankerl G. "Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western" INUPRESS, Geneva, 2002 ISBN 978-2881550041

External links[edit]

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27 news items


Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:55:44 -0700

It is ironic that it took Tony Abbott to bring the worst of Asian values to Australia,” he said. There has been some improvement recently in relations between Jakarta and Canberra following allegations last year that Australian spies had tried to tap ...
Eurasia Review
Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:33:45 -0700

The popularity of the Hindi movie industry or Bollywood as it is popularly known owes largely to its successful depiction of “South Asian values”. For example, the centrality of family as depicted in Bollywood films finds an audience in the whole of ...

Korea JoongAng Daily

Korea JoongAng Daily
Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:41:15 -0700

Asian values? That's just an excuse for human rights problems,” said Song Sang-hyun, president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), headquartered in The Hague. “A universal value such as human rights should not be applied differently because it ...

Sydney Morning Herald

Times of India
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:45:00 -0700

Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for 'national security' reasons are strange bedfellows. It is ironic that it took Tony Abbott to bring the worst of Asian Values to Australia." http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/followceleb.cms?alias ...
South China Morning Post (subscription)
Mon, 28 Jul 2014 03:03:20 -0700

However, Lavender Patten, a forthright person in her own right, was likely by then fed up with such presumptuous doublespeak about Asian values. Thus, at risk of momentarily changing the mood of the table, she unequivocally said: "No, in this case, it ...

Irish Times

Irish Times
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 04:22:01 -0700

Asian values”, which embody thrift and patience, most notably (but not exclusively) in China over the last three decades have also been associated with faster economic growth. We can marvel at the investment story. But it is important to realise that ...
FE Trustnet
Tue, 15 Jul 2014 07:48:24 -0700

Others include Fidelity Asian Values – 10.53 per cent, Invesco Asia Trust – 11.1 per cent, JP Morgan Asian Investment Trust – 11.68 per cent, Martin Currie Pacific Trust – 13.42 per cent, and Schroder Asia Pacific, which is on a discount of 10.13 per cent.

Foreign Policy Blogs (blog)

Foreign Policy Blogs (blog)
Mon, 14 Jul 2014 12:20:11 -0700

If our Liberal society does not repair its dysfunctions, “Asian values,” social and government limits on liberty, will increasingly seem better for prosperity and order. If we, as an open society, can exhibit competent self-government, we re-validate ...

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