Do We Have an ‘Asian Spring’ on our Hands?

By Asa Zuberman-Leibman

The Indonesian elections have passed. Hong Kong had its day in sun with their annual democracy protests. Thailand ousted its Prime Minister a year ago and has faced the iron fist of a military-run government. While Indonesians experienced a peaceful transition of power, its Southeast Asian counterparts have not enjoyed the same level of calm. Taiwan even held democracy-fueled protests a few months back. And in Xinjiang, China’s restive minority enclave, who is to say that situation won’t boil over into ethnic warfare; by all accounts, such an outburst is already happening.

But can we definitively say that an ‘Asian Spring’ is on the horizon? The answer is no, but that comes with a few qualifications. First, not all of these nations face the same repressive, autocratic regimes seen in North Africa. Apart from the military-led junta recently formed in Thailand, the other countries do not have to combat the same oppressive dictatorships. Second, the very concept of democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press is not so much an idea but rather an already felt reality in the region. Myanmar and Vietnam notwithstanding, the majority of Southeast Asian nations enjoy an abundance of social and economic liberties.

Still, we should not overlook the great amount of change taking place in the region. Hong Kongers are coming out in greater numbers to fight against Beijing’s role in choosing the SAR’s leader, protesters are taking over the streets in Bangkok to fight against a corrupt government, and in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest already established democracies, the public peacefully voted against the candidate with ties to a former dictatorship. The actions of activists at the start of the Arab Spring largely voiced discontent in the form of protests. While this is not all that different from what is being observed in these various Asian countries, elections and peaceful, public discourse are taking the main stage in this ‘Asian Spring.’

The events unfolding in Southeast Asia are not the same as those that occurred a few years back in North Africa, but the rumblings echoing from Jakarta to Taipei certainly resemble sentiments felt in Tripoli, Tunis, and Cairo just a few years ago.

Image Source: NY Times/ European Pressphoto Agency

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