If an average person were to embark on a serious pursuit of international relations, they might realize they were too late. It takes years to become a political scientist, or a provincial mayor. In either case, one becomes qualified via book smarts or street smarts. All too often, however, popular sentiment lends itself to the latter. Nonetheless, if one wanted to embark on a serious endeavor of understanding cultures different from one’s own, where would one begin? A developed, industrialized nation like Luxembourg, or a country with activities labeled by the West as having human rights deficiencies?
Economic development appears to be closely tied to the permissiveness of civil rights, however, in some countries (Saudia Arabia) the populace can be both wealthy and unfree. In others, economic development is inhibited by other cultural/political issues , yet appear in other countries without discrimination due to race or origin. An article by Amanda Taub in the NYT examines the Philippines War on Drugs, an overnight blitz on due process, enabling thousands of private citizens as well as police forces to “expedite” criminal investigations with extra-judicial killings and divisive scapegoating. What divides a country most is not an illicit substance that devastates society as much its persecutors claim, but a drive for power and to project an image of progress defined by oversimplified “cleaning up this town mentality” Running a country, while not always entirely different than a port city, requires and understanding that human rights do not end for some people just because a campaign slogan necessitates a villain.
The problem with 3rd world”strongman” popularity surges is that applicable developing countries, whether lightly industrialized or heavily industrialized, are essentially renewing their 2nd/3rd world status. One would use a development index such as one by the IMF or the UN to measure a country’s human development. But I have another idea. Media coverage of developed nations tend to get more coverage in the West, but also more positive coverage. While we may hear about war-torn nations like Syria, it is almost always negative news. If one were to count how often positive news were rated, Asian countries, with the exception of Japan, might get scant positive media coverage. Western bias, in my own biased opinion, appears to rate developing countries bad or good depending on their ability to develop, rather than their history in development. I think countries like Thailand and Myanmar still have development hurdles that the West does not consider high enough, yet their media coverage, on a day to day basis, is more positive than that of China and the Philippines, according to liberal news sites.
The reasoning is that Western journalists may rate a country positively based on its level of unification or commitment to democracy, rather than its development index. If a country/region is poor and democratic (Myanmar), it might not get as much positive attention as a wealthy democratic country (Japan), but it might get more positive attention than a rich, undemocratic country or region (i.e Saudia Arabia). Americans in the United States may overstate some of their differences, but most Americans remain committed to presidential term limits not exceeding two terms. It’s very likely some cultural differences overseas may contribute to the perception that other nations have coup d’etats when election results are in and suggest vote tampering or abuse of power, even when autocratic governments leave office after their term limits are over. However, some ways of governing appear to permanently affect a populace’s economy and and societal progress, leading to decades of regression and turmoil. It doesn’t take an entire presidential term to have the concern that a president will not leave his office based on the speed one is willing to request emergency powers.
One doesn’t have to be an Asian Tiger to be considered highly developed and readily assimilated into the Western sphere’s of influence, but it remains a high standard that Western institutions tend to view favorably in terms of mutual trade. The origins of the Four Asian tigers, however, and still to a small extent in the present day, depended on a level of authoritarianism and undemocratic capital intervention. Unusually, the success story of the Four Asian Tigers is not covered much in the Western media, with the exception of PBS, and and its merits will continue to serve a valuable lesson for decades to come. One natural limit, however, is that of the environment and climate change, and thus traditional industries will face new challenges in a world of competition of dwindling natural resources garnering new assessment values.
For all the flaws the West has in its prison system, racial and economic inequalities, it remains a desirable place to work compared to fiercely competitive and poorer countries where better opportunities are seldom overlooked. Even if there aren’t a majority of unhappy citizens, there are many more new generations and immigrants willing to make the best out of a (relatively less bad, if at all) situation.