Friday, November 18, 2005

Bush: Platitudes to Asia

Foreign Policy in Focus offers an analysis of Bush's recent Asia swing. The analysis is quite good, and unlike the President's speeches, informed:

The speech also contained no small amount of historical revisionism, and was characterized by either arrogance or willful ignorance for how the United States is perceived in the region and elsewhere as a self-anointed beacon of democracy and freedom. To his credit the President did criticize the Burmese junta and North Korea's repressive regime (although in the latter case in a much less vitriolic and personalized tone than previous speeches, which was positive).

The historical revisionism was crafted to suit the overarching narrative of free markets a` growth and industrialization a` free societies and that the United States has been an indisputable partner in that process. In a region where the history of Japan's imperialism frames concerns about a more assertive role for Japan in the region, the failure to at least acknowledge that U.S. policy has not always matched its rhetoric would have been appropriate for the President, to evade the easy charge of hypocrisy if not for adherence to the basic tenets of historical accuracy. When combined with the current torture scandals, such a step was essential. The President failed in this effort.

Economic Freedom

For example, the President lauded South Korea : " By embracing freedom in the economic realm, South Korea transformed itself into an industrial power at home and a trading power abroad."

This conveniently ignores the fact that while South Korea did not pursue an autarkic, command economy strategy of industrialization, its development policies were decidedly interventionist and were much more reliant upon states "governing the markets" in analyst Robert Wade's felicitous phrase, than a laissez-faire, Washington Consensus strategy of "getting the prices right." These policies included everything from a confiscatory land reform, an active industrial policy that combined protectionism at home and incentives for exports, requirements placed on foreign investors, and state regulation of access to finance. Indeed, many of the policies pursued by South Korea in its earlier years of industrialization are now considered illegal under the World Trade Organization's global trade rules. While there is much to learn from South Korea's experience (as well as the experiences of Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and indeed China), it is far from clear that those lessons were primarily about "embracing freedom in the economic realm," especially since economic freedom in no way translated into the rights of workers to organize independent trade unions in the early years of industrialization.

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