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Bangkok Post 971221



'Asial Values' have run their course

One of  the uncanny things about money is its power to bestow legitimacy.
Whether it be in terms of what we consider successful, intellectually valid
or just plain worthwhile, it is hard to argue with prosperity's stamp of
It is what makes a life of hitting hockey balls folly but chasing golf
balls an almost honoured pursuit.  It is what allows investment bankers,
sometimes seriously, to refer to themselves as " Masters of the Universe".
The twists of fortune can make a businessman a politically adept and
visionary "rooster"     one  year, and an overreaching "feather duster" the

And so it seems to be with "Asian Values". As long as Asia was booming, they
could not be denied. Now that the wheels have fallen off the Tiger express,
they lie in disrepute.

Phrases like "strong work ethic" are interpreted to mean a lack of technical
inspiration, the "emphasis  on education " is understood as the myopia of
rote learning,  and the fondness  for discipline and centralised government
as a lack of respect for an individual's human rights and repressive,
transparent  government.

 In the current climate,much of this thus can not be denied.  The  finicial
crisis has exposed the dark side of the "community-over individual " facade
that so many governments in Southeast and East Asia hid behind. In the end,
though, cronyism and  political corruption have only exacerbated  capital
flight and and weakened the economic potential of the region.
 With barely disguised joy, the international press is documenting these
failing with much the same triumphant tone that local papers once employed
to herald Asia's "impending domination" of the world economy.

 But it would be as much a mistake to talk about the uniformity of "Asian
flaws" as it was to talk about the uniformityof Asian values.

 This year's rude interruption to a decades-long run of growth gives the
various governments of Asia and their citizens the opportunity to stop and
think  about where they are headed and what they stand for.

If these governments are truly representative of their people, their
ultimate aim should be the development  of "good societies" - communities
which not  only enjoy economic prosperity and social stability but which are
compassionate and humane as well.
Both governments and peoples in the region  should now be aware that in
order to sustain strong and vibrant economies, open and accountable
political and institutional governance is essential.  The protection of
human rights should be seen to have  implications for stability and order
and as a factor
which can affect economic development.  But not in    the negative way
governments viewed them in the past.

 There are many lessons to be drawn from the turmoil that has engulfed Asia
in the past few months. One of the most important is that the old top-down,
erroneously-labelled "Asia" way of doing things no longer works.
If the emerging states of the region are to become the economic power houses
they aspire to be, then wealth and opportunities must be more evenly
spread among their general populations.  Only by  realising the full
potential of their people can these  countries remain competitive and
continue to develop. The choices facing Asian governments are about values -
human values, not prefabricated political ones.