Asian Civil Society Forum 2002
UNCC, Bangkok, Thailand / Dec 9 to 13, 2002
——————————————————————–Towards a Common
House for Civil Society in the Northeast Asia
Lee, Seejae, Ph.D.
Professor of sociology
Chairperson, Policy Committee
Korean Federation of Environmental Movement(KFEM)
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to speak at this session on civil society cooperation in the
Northeast Asia. Topic of my presentation is on the civil society cooperation in the
Northeast Asia. In this region will be included China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
and Mongolia. I will mainly talk about Korea, Japan and China, not because other
countries are unimportant, but because of lack of information.. I will start with talking
on common characteristics of this region, and show why we NGOs of this region should
Regional economic integration
China joined the World Trade Organization in 2002. After this action, various moves
towards economic integration in this region have become active, implying that China’s
participation in the world market would bring forth a great impact on the Northeast Asia.
China became a world market as well as a world factory. In this year, Korea concluded the
bilateral investment agreement with Japan, and free trade agreement(FTA) with Chile.
Japan and Singapore also concluded their FTA in a step to extend to ASEAN countries..
South Korea and Japan form an axis of economic integration in the Northeast Asia. Since
1997, South Korean, Japanese, and Chinese leaders have met regularly in the framework of
ASEAN plus three consultation, and they promoted their cooperation at the Asian Pacific
Economic Council(APEC). Japan even proposed to set up an Asian Monetary Fund(AMF), an
Asian version of IMF in 1997, and it could not be realized due to US opposition and
Chinese reluctance. On the part of China, it proposed a FTA with ASEAN countries, which
means that not only the Northeast Asia, but all East Asia would be now integrated into a
On the other hand, there is a radical change in the political realm too, new political
leaders of Japan proceed political and economic reform on the basis of a nationalist idea
to redefine Japan as a new ‘ordinary’ state which should rearm itself, and take
positive steps in the foreign diplomacy. Chinese new leaders are also strongly convinced
in the ideology of market economy and new liberal reforms. Korea will have a new leader
after the Presidential election in December this year. There will be no possibility to
shift from a neo-liberal economic policy in Korea, because the most probable candidates
are not substantially opposed to neo-liberalism.
A Century of Nation-building
NGOs in the region are very weak, vis-à-vis state and market. We have lived in the age
of nation-building in the last century. All efforts are made to build nation-states.
Japan succeeded to build a nation-state in the 19th century, and but it invaded Asian
neighbors. China succeeded in building a socialist state. Korea has not completed to
build a nation due to divided confrontation. But the nation-building has been a common
goal of Northeast Asian countries. It is the nation that takes a lead in
industrialization and modernization. It is the nation-state that dominates our everyday
life and our way of thinking and orients our culture.
Japan succeeded in economic growth since 1950s. Economic miracle revived in the 1970s and
on in South Korea and Taiwan, the emerging tigers of Asia. And now the miracle of
economic growth is sweeping in China. All these countries use Chinese characters and had
a tradition of Confucianism, and scholars of this region were tempted to coin a word,
that is, the Confucian capitalism. Ideas of Confucian capitalism have become obsolete,
because they could not stand during the 1997 financial crisis that attacked Hong Kong,
Korea, and Taiwan.
Characteristics of development model
Common characteristics of economic growth in the Northeast Asia are as follows: no
sufficient resources and energy sources but sufficient labor force of good quality. These
countries strived towards economic modernization through export-led industrialization.
State plays major roles in economic development. State is a major source for huge public
work investment in Japan, which now amounted to sink Japanese economy as a whole. Japan
is a typical construction-state complex, which the status apparatuses use public
financing in economic construction.
Due to rapid industrialization, these countries in the Northeast Asia failed in supplying
agricultural products. Japan and Korea are major importers of grains and meat from USA
and Australia. Two thirds of Korean grain supply (including animal feeds) is imported.
China is a typical agricultural society, and now changed to importer of rice, wheat, and
cottons. As long as China follows in the step of Japan and Korea, that is, export-led
industrialization, it will eventually fall into immense shortage of food supply(This is
pointed out by Lester Brown, former director of the Worldwatch Institute). In addition,
rural communities in Korea and Japan have come to the point of collapse due to low
income, outmigration, and low fertility. Chinese rural society is faced with similar
problems.. Income disparity between urban households and rural ones in China is very
large, and expanding more and more.
This industrialization will also result in depletion of resources and environmental
destruction. Japan is one of the most serious victims of industrialization such as
Minamata disease. Korea’s ecology is so much mutilated by overdevelopment that it may
not be able to restore its life. Construction of road, highways, express railways, and
coastal reclamations are all major government actions to boost economy growth in South
Korea. China’s over-reclamation of the steppe land and overgrazing have resulted in
desertifcation and caused sand storm in every Spring, the affects of which extended to
Korea, Japan, and even to West Coast of America.
Northeast Asian countries could achieve growth, as if there were no limits in supplying
resources and energy. But in the age of global limit, its development paradigm cannot be
sustainable. According to a report from the Redefining Progress, every Korean individual
uses 3.7 hectares of the earth to sustain his or her living standard to supply necessary
resources, energy, dispose wastes and provide space for living activities. But Korea can
supply only 0.4 hectare per one person. This means every Korean uses foreign lands of
more 3.3 hectares. How can we say that Korea economic growth paradigm is a sustainable
one. When it comes to the energy problem, problem becomes more serious. Almost 100%
energy sources are imported. Korean economy cannot sustain even for a single day without
foreign supply of energy sources. The same was the case of Japan. China will have same
problems as long as it follows in the course of export-led economic growth. China began
to import huge amount of petroleum and natural gas. Chinese petroleum company(China Oil)
seeks energy sources all over the world. It plans to build transcontinental petroleum
pipeline between the northern Mediterranean countries and China, which might be called a
black silk road. China also plans to construct the pipeline from Wunnan Province to
Indian Ocean across the Burmese territory. World energy sources will be sucked dry.
Continued economic growth of China will largely depend on whether or not it could supply
sufficient energy sources, and fresh water.
Water shortage is another problem of Chinese economic development. Water shortage will
constrain the industrialization in the China’s West, endangering the livelihood of the
highland population, and agricultural production. Chinese government realizes the
substantial threat of water shortage, and announced a policy of ‘set back the
cultivation and revive the forest’(tuigeng huanlin 退耕還林) . Without reviving the
forest, water will not be conserved, and without conservation of water, there will be no
further economic development. Thus Chinese economy is heavily dependent on environmental
Social disintegration is also rapidly progressing. Korea has a strong family bond, but
problems of raising children in urban centers and of the aged becomes so serious that
Korean government had to address these problems. Family bond cannot function as it used
to be in sustaining social integration in Korea.
Chinese society also is rapidly disintegrating due to introduction of market economy.
Danwei(單位) under the socialist China has functioned as a kind of total community, which
guarantees job, house, welfare, education and medical services. There used to be no
problem of unemployment as long as one belongs to danwei. In most of the Chinese
communities, it is told that danwei does not function. Disintegration of danwei gives
immense impacts on the elderly who have to depend on state welfare and community care.
Those in the market system become richer and richer and those in the danwei life become
poorer and poorer.
Role of civil society
In the 1990s, when governments in the region were found to be inefficient, and
governments lost the capacity to solve problems, we used to call the situation government
failure. Asian leaders resort to neo-liberal privatization to remedy the government
failure. Structural adjustments of public sectors are carried out in all over the Asian
countries, and this simply means the privatization of the public enterprises. But we
know reforms through market mechanism will also result in a market failure. Such tendency
is already apparent in China. Oversupply of the office buildings, and housing apartments
are all simply bubbles to burst in the future.
It is the civil society that can provide remedies to the market failure and government
failure. And it is the civil society that should advance an alternative to the
development paradigm of the Northeast Asian countries.
Alternative values of civil society
What are new and alternative values for civil society? Good governance has become a
common slogan to replace the idea of government. Good governance implies participation,
responsibility, transparency, rule-abiding, and autonomy. I think good governance is not
sufficient, I would like to add two more values for our civil society development. That
is, solidarity and ecological accountability. We have to hold, in addition to good
governance, solidarity with our contemporary civil society and those of the future
generation as well. We also have to extend our accountability to the environment, which
is a fundamental base for our living.
Empowerment and Networking
To empower the civil society is to counterbalance the strong state and tyrannical market
forces. It is not possible at the moment to replace the state and the market by the civil
society, but it is possible to change the state and the market through our concerted
For civil society, Asian environment is really unfavorable. Strong state tends to
overwhelm the civil society in this region. Due to experience of decolonization, and
national development, people in this region tends to think that the strength of the state
would guarantee the development of civil societies. However, liberation of civil society
through state intervention has been proved simply betrayed during the socialist
revolutions. It is therefore an illusion that the state as a common good for all can
promote the development of the civil society. Instead, it is necessary to stay away from
the state power, and keep independence and autonomy. The power of the civil society does
not come from the state endorsement, but from people’s support. We should be always
ready to be accountable to our constituents, citizens.
James Coleman, a sociologist said that trust is a basis for social capital. It is
important to note that interaction and mutual communication are mothers of trust, which
will grow into social capital. For Northeast civil society, we have first of all to
foster the trust through interaction and communication, and build up social capital with
which we can counterbalance the market and the state.
Common house for civil society
We in the Northeast Asia have some experience of communication and exchange between NGOs.
But those experiences have been limited to bilateral exchanges or to certain specific
themes. We need a common house for Northeast Asian civil society, which is open to all.
Civil society organizations in the region. The weaker we may become, the stronger we have
to build solidarity. When we make networks, we will in the long run build our common
house of civil society. Considering the weakness of civil society in the Northeast
Asia, it is the part of UN that can catalyze the growth of the civil society in the
region, help build a common house of civil society to counterbalance the ongoing global