The chapter begins by identifying key variants of 'Asian values' and 'Asian democracy' discourse, together with critical responses. This lays the ground for exploring complex links between democracy, development and human rights across ASEAN countries, linked to analysis of the post-1997 regional economic crisis, with country case studies covering Singapore, Philippines and Thailand. The chapter concludes by reviewing prospects for democratic consolidation in Southeast Asia. While conflict between Asian values and neo-liberalism tends to dominate official discourse, trends on the ground indicate that the indivisibility principle, which assumes democracy as integral to both major streams of human rights, enjoys a potential reservoir of popular support.
Historically, western governments have tended to accept local conditions as a basis for policy-making, subject to economic and strategic interests and despite intermittent enthusiasm for imposing 'enlightenment'. This outlook persisted into the post-colonial era, according with requirements of diplomatic protocol and pragmatism. Imperatives of political stability during the Cold War period consolidated this approach, which was intellectually reinforced by realist schools of thought in the fields of international relations (Morgenthau 1973; Spegele 1996) and Third World development politics (Huntington 1968). But the balance of forces favouring this approach has been upset both within western democracies and Southeast Asia since the end of the Cold War, encouraging stronger impulses towards democratisation and placing human rights issues firmly on global and regional agendas.
The sudden outpouring of Asian values polemic in the early 1990s was in part a defensive reaction against mounting pressures for political liberalisation and conformity with international human rights standards. Widespread acknowledgement of their economic success added to regional governments' sense of vindication and grievance towards changing trends. But Asian values discourse also represented a conscious attempt to draw together common elements from diverse cultural strands into a coherent alternative concept of politics and society. While legitimising regime dominance, appeals to national and cultural pride also enjoy a measure of popular