, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 25-42

Asian values revisited

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With Asia's economy still booming in the second half of the 1990's “Asian values” were announced by some politicians (Lee Kuan Yew, Mahatir, Ishihara, Mahbubani etc.) and contrasted with “Western values”. Soon a controversial debate within Asia ensued (Kim, Fidel Ramos ea..), into which also the western democracies joined. The “West” however reacted rather defensively to the new assertiveness of some Asian statesmen, inspite of the fact that the authors of this debate put into question the western dominance in global value setting which has been in existence since the French revolution. But has this debate withstood the test of time, the challenges posed by the recession in Asia and by the ever increasing globalization? Hardly. The crisis has destroyed the notion that “Asian values” had been the main cause and guarantor of Asia's exorbitant growth rates.

While in the West Christianity forms the essential basics of culture, in Asia there is a multitude of coexisting - and frequently confronting world religions. There is no other continent which in cultural and political terms is so contradictory and potentially conflict ridden like Asia. “Asianism” as a concept was surely also intended as an instrument to integrate multiethnic Asian societies with weak internal cohesion. At the same time it served to neutralize the human rights issue.

In the meantime the debate has become quieter and more dispassionate. In the developed West the notion gained acceptance to abandon “Eurocentrism”. At the same time there is recognition that “Asian values” are not exclusive. Also in Europe the family plays a special role. A debate on values is needed for societal integration – also in the “West” which should become more aware of the need to reassert the origins of its own spiritual foundations. Following September 11th the west is well advised to continue the dialogue on values with Asia.

Update and expanded version of an article first published in: Außenpolitik IV/1996, p. 326 “Beginnt das pazifische Jahrhundert?” I would like to thank Julia Prati for the translation of the updated and expanded version of this article