Party Politics and Foreign Policy in East Asia

In January 2005, FPRI convened a conference on the increasingly important role party politics is playing in foreign policymaking in East Asia, and the constraints foreign policy factors are imposing on party politics in some countries in the region. Conference participants attributed variations among nations to differences in the institutionalization and strength of political parties and governmental institutions; electoral systems and constitutional structure; degree of political polarization or cleavages in society; and external political constraints. Conference participants included Cheng Li, Michael Davis, Shelley Rigger, Robert Pekkanen, Gilbert Rozman, and Shin-wha Lee (papergivers), and Theodore Friend, Thomas Christensen, Avery Goldstein, Vincent Wei-cheng Wang, Jacques deLisle, Shin Fujihira, and G. Cameron Hurst (commentators). Articles based on some of the papers presented at the conference appear in the Summer 2005 issue of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal. Articles in press may be seen at: Science Direct. A video of the panel on Taiwan and Hong Kong can be viewed at this website.

China: Intra-CCP Bipartisanship and Foreign Policy

Cheng Li argued that two informal coalitions are engaging in partisan competition and bipartisanship in the Chinese Communist Party today that approximates and may lead to party politics. Li identified “elitist” and “populist” coalitions that have party-like characteristics: they have relatively clear leaders and bases of support, conflicting positions on policy issues, and common support for the legitimacy and stability of the political system.

The elitist camp is headed by former President Jiang Zemin and Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Its leaders typically have backgrounds in the finance, trade, foreign affairs, and education bureaucracies. They often gained their professional experience in Shanghai and other advanced coastal areas and tend to identify with those regions and China’s entrepreneurial class. They favor growth over equity and are less interested in political reform. The populist camp is led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. Its leaders mostly have backgrounds in provincial and local government, the Party organization, propaganda or youth departments, and legal affairs. Many have spent their careers with, and champion the needs of, the less-developed inland regions, declining old industrial areas, and weaker social groups. Elitists and populists generally balance each other in leadership posts in key political-governmental institutions.

Li and commentators Avery Goldstein and Thomas Christensen offered divergent assessments of whether these informal groups constitute the sprouts of two- or multi-party politics. Li pointed to the relative equality of power between the two; their shared aversion to radical systemic change; and their shared commitment to strengthening the regime’s governance capacity and assuring China’s major- power status. Li added that top leaders in both camps apparently recognize that moves toward transparency, accountability, and democracy could help the Party address its problems of legitimacy and competence. In this relatively benign context, Li envisioned that the populists (and perhaps the elitists) might pursue their policy goals in part by seeking to widen the political arena beyond elite party circles. Such developments could help pave the way toward multi-party politics and democratization.

Commentators were more skeptical, noting weak institutionalization, especially at the apex of Chinese politics, lack of democratization, and the regime’s continuing rejection of multi-party politics or other revolutionary changes to the system. Goldstein questioned whether the coalitions were fundamentally different from the factionalism that has periodically characterized elite CCP politics but has produced no new political parties. Noting that the populists held the top post and the elitists the second in Li’s examples of shared power, Goldstein also found the two coalitions to be significantly unequal. Christensen questioned whether the “balance of power” Li discerned might not instead become gridlock, and noted that the two coalitions’ apparent consensus on fundamental questions might crumble when they faced hard choices among goals. The tension between increasing transparency and maintaining stability was one potential font of disagreement. Both commentators expressed concern that if either coalition—more likely the populists—broadened the political arena beyond elite circles, the result might be, not multi-party politics and democratization, but something reminiscent of the destabilizing and short-lived mobilization of the masses during the Cultural Revolution, or the rise of Deng Xiaoping’s reformist leadership group. Christensen added that democratic change and multi-party politics were more likely to result not from smoothly evolving intra-elite bipartisan politics, but from disruptive change, perhaps triggered by elite leaders’ taking politics outside the Party in a time of crisis.

It was generally agreed that links between intra-party bipartisan politics and China’s foreign policy remained weak. Li saw foreign policy stability in the division of labor between the two otherwise-conflicting factions, with Hu overseeing U.S. and Taiwan policy and Zeng taking a lead role in, e.g., Japan and Hong Kong policy. Li and others noted apparent agreement across coalitional lines on key foreign-policy agendas, including advancing China’s position as a major power, maintaining good U.S. relations, and directing a mix of positive and negative incentives toward Taiwan. Others hypothesized that the lack of evident party- like competition over foreign policy issues also might reflect the coalitions’ weak institutionalization.

Some foresaw the potential for increasing bipartisan conflict over foreign policy. Li’s analysis of the two coalitions’ geographic bases pointed to divergent positions on several issues, including Taiwan (with coastal-oriented elitists having reason to back a more accommodating line) and relations with Russia, Central Asian states, and Japan (with the leaders most closely tied to adjacent regions being more inclined to strengthen ties). Christensen and others saw potential for bipartisan conflict in the linkages between foreign and economic policy choices that are always present in Chinese politics—e.g., the role of FDI in the periodic overheating of the Chinese economy and the impact of WTO obligations on vulnerable sectors. The passage of the Anti-Secession Law in March 2005 to address an eventuality that did not occur—a victory by President Chen Shui-bian’s Democratic Progressive Party in the Taiwanese legislative elections—and the anti-Japanese street protests in April 2005 further indicated the potential for foreign policy issues to affect China’s partisan politics. Because such issues entail difficult foreign policy choices and can backfire, they could sharpen bipartisan differences. And because such issues offer opportunities for leaders to appear proactive and to tap popular opinion and nationalism, they may tempt leaders to take politics outside elite circles, with all the evolutionary or revolutionary change that that may entail.

Taiwan and Hong Kong: Contrasting Patterns in China’s Shadow

For Hong Kong and Taiwan, the dominant external policy issues are not indisputably “foreign” policy. They are, rather, matters of relations with the PRC. China constrains severely the party politics of foreign policy for both Hong Kong and Taiwan, insisting that the two entities’ relations with Beijing cannot be ordinary state-to-state relations and opposing either entity’s claim to full-fledged state-like status. And in both places, party politics has focused heavily on relations with Beijing. But the content and character of party conflict over external relations differs fundamentally between the de facto autonomous democracy on Taiwan and the far more constrained polity in China’s first Special Autonomous Region (SAR).

Michael Davis assessed the polarized party and partisan conflict over Hong Kong’s relations with the central government in Beijing. Hong Kong’s democratic parties, on one side, and Beijing and “pro-China” Hong Kong parties, on the other, have divided sharply over three issues in the interpretation and implementation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. When the SAR’s Beijing-selected chief executive, Tung Chee- hwa, proposed legislation to implement article 23 of the Basic Law, which mandates anti-subversion and national security legislation, democratic parties and a “Concern Group” criticized the proposed law as potentially leading to undue restrictions on free speech, erosion of freedom from searches, and overly broad bans of disfavored groups. When hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest the planned legislation in July 2004, the generally pro-administration Liberal Party refused to support the bill, which the administration withdrew.

The SAR’s democratic parties and the “Concern Group” also pressed for interpreting and applying articles 45 and 68 to permit democratic elections for the chief executive and all members of the legislature. Again, hundreds of thousands of citizens demonstrated in support of such positions. Democratic, Beijing, and pro-Beijing parties divided not only over the timetable for democracy, but also over whether Hong Kong institutions or Beijing would decide the pace and terms of changes to the SAR’s electoral structures. The democratic parties and the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong explored possible compromises, but Beijing’s intervention produced polarization and stifled the prospects for meaningful party competition in the SAR. Beijing labeled the democratic forces, including the Democratic Party, the Frontier Party, and the Concern Groups—as unpatriotic and unfit to hold power. It insisted on “gradual and orderly” progress to democratic elections, rejected calls for “fake democracy,” and threatened to dismiss the legislature if the 2004 elections produced a democratic majority. Finally, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee asserted and exercised its authority to interpret the Basic Law’s electoral provisions. After the embattled Tung resigned, the NPC-SC continued on this path, again interpreting the Basic Law in a way that rejected the democratic parties’ views concerning the appropriate term of the interim chief executive.

Commentators Jacques deLisle and Vincent Wang shared Davis’s conclusion that the SAR’s relations with Beijing had stunted the development of democracy and polarized Hong Kong’s party politics. DeLisle added that the emphasis on SAR-Central Government relations had distorted Hong Kong’s nascent party politics and especially harmed the democratic parties, which had incurred Beijing’s wrath and focused on external relations and related constitutional issues to the exclusion of domestic policy platforms. Also, much power over fundamental issues was in Beijing, much of what power the SAR had was in the hands of an undemocratically elected chief executive, the processes for selecting the members of the SAR’s weak legislature made a democratic majority unattainable, and Beijing officials were unaccountable in Hong Kong. Therefore, Hong Kong’s politics lacked key features that ordinarily induce moderation and responsibility in party competition in functioning democracies.

Participants also noted several ways identity politics polarized Hong Kong party politics. Beijing and its allies branded key democrats as traitors and secessionists. Wang observed that Hong Kong was grappling with how a former British colony and current Chinese non-democracy might become a Chinese democracy—a question that became more volatile as leading democrats were denounced as un-Chinese. DeLisle noted that when the democratic parties and their allies invoke the Joint Declaration or Hong Kong’s special status to nurture democracy or autonomy, Beijing calls it an attempt to “internationalize” a domestic issue and thereby seeks to impugn Hong Kong democrats’ loyalty to the nation.

Shelley Rigger depicted Taiwan’s party politics concerning cross-Strait relations and relations with the rest of the world as characterized by more heat than light. Taiwan’s external policies have been stable for nearly a decade and a half, despite the presidency’s having changed hands between the Kuomintang’s Lee Teng-hui and the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan’s major parties have no fundamental differences in their external policies, even though they invoke foreign policy arguments in their competition for votes among a closely divided electorate. The consistent goals in Taiwan’s foreign policy include maintaining the status quo that preserves Taiwan’s autonomous political, social, and economic systems; avoiding entrapment by the PRC; not provoking Beijing unnecessarily; affirming the ROC’s sovereignty by maintaining diplomatic relations with countries that can be induced to have such ties; cultivating a functional presence in the international community; and maintaining good relations with the U.S.

Rigger characterized as minor or tactical the differences in external policy positions among the four parties composing the pan-Green (the DPP and Lee Teng-hui’s Taiwan Solidarity Union) and pan-Blue (the KMT and James Soong’s People’s First Party). The Green and Blue camps have differed over whether Taiwan can better avoid entrapment by the PRC by increasing engagement or by prolonging and postponing negotiation. (Spring 2005 visits to the mainland by the KMT’s Lien Chan and the PFP’s Soong are unlikely to bring fundamental shifts in the Blue position, although they increased pressure on Chen to resume the cross-Strait dialogue.) Green and Blue differences over whether some actions might unnecessarily provoke Beijing similarly reflect no disagreement over the goal of avoiding needless crises. Also, since coming to power, the DPP has embraced the previous administration’s willingness to make the weapons purchases required to maintain smooth ties with Washington, and to maintain diplomatic relations with its few diplomatic partners in order to enhance Taiwan’s formal status and press Taiwan’s agenda in international fora.

The consensus on basic issues and modest differences on marginal questions has not, Rigger stressed, precluded sharp partisan conflict over foreign policy, with the Greens charging the Blues with being too soft and willing to sell Taiwan out to China and the Blues countercharging that the Greens are too hard-line and recklessly seek formal independence that Beijing would never allow.

Rigger attributed the relative consensus across parties to several factors, including the constraining effect of Beijing’s and Washington’s policies; wide public support for the cross-Strait status quo; the relatively stable bases of voter support for each party, which makes parties compete for the median voter and therefore eschew electorally risky policy innovations; and inertia from a foreign affairs bureaucracy staffed during the long KMT rule. DeLisle added that the contrast between relatively low party polarization in Taiwan and high polarization in Hong Kong may reflect the fact that electoral contests in Taiwan are for offices that held real power and popular legitimacy.

Wang and deLisle, however, thought Rigger might have overestimated stability and consensus. While elections in 2004 produced roughly even shares for Blue and Green, both had become noticeably “Greener” in the preceding years. Also, the status quo that all the parties favored was fraught with ambiguities and subject to destabilizing stresses, including the uncertainty of where exactly Beijing drew the line on Taiwan’s pursuit of independence; Taiwan’s constitutional reform project and its implications for Taiwan’s international status; and the PRC’s Anti-Secession Law. Wang also pointed to the potentially volatile mix of democratization and increasing national identity that seemed to characterize Taiwan’s progress from a Chinese non- democracy during the Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo years, to a Chinese democracy under Lee, to a possibly Taiwanese democracy under Chen. Participants noted that Taiwan’s mixed presidential-parliamentary system had permitted divided government throughout Chen’s presidency, which enhanced opportunities and incentives for each camp to play up even marginal differences over policy issues.

Finally, participants underscored the effects of foreign policy constraints on party politics. Rigger concluded that the external checks on parties’ forming substantively different foreign policies were partly to blame for the pattern of sharp clashes over rhetorical differences among them. DeLisle argued that cross-Strait and related foreign policy issues occupied an extraordinarily central position in Taiwan’s politics. This had stunted the growth of normal party politics, which typically involve a wider range of issues and entail compromise. It also had led to external policy becoming entangled in many issues that ordinarily would be primarily domestic matters, such as constitutional reform.

Japan: Party Bargaining and Foreign Policymaking in an Era of Coalition Government and Prime Ministerial Power

In recent years, Japan has moved away from its postwar passivity toward more assertive security policies. Its deployment of troops in non-combat roles to Iraq, its dispatch of naval forces to the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led action in Afghanistan, and the growing momentum to amend its pacifist constitution evidence Japan’s growing quest for a more expansive “normal nation” role. Tokyo’s pursuit of a permanent seat for Japan on the UN Security Council, which provided an occasion for popular protests in China, and its U.S.-encouraged declaration that it has security interests in Taiwan, provide striking instances of this pattern.

Robert Pekkanen argued, based on a paper co-authored with Ellis Krause, that these developments in part reflect a new era of party politics. Other factors have contributed to Tokyo’s changed approach to international security issues, as well: foreign policy concerns have changed dramatically since the late 1980s. The end of the Cold War and the rapid rise of China altered the basis of, and created new imperatives for, Japan’s de facto alliance with the United States, requiring Japan to play a more active role in regional and global security. Public opinion in Japan has changed, as well. Younger generations with little or no memory of World War II are less averse to Japan’s assuming a more assertive international role.

But in Pekkanen’s view, neither the end of the Cold War nor shifts in public opinion can account convincingly for the shifts in Japan’s defense policies. An adequate explanation had to include changed institutional contexts and, in turn, the dynamics of party politics. During the nearly four decades under the “1955 system,” the Liberal Democratic Party held power nearly uninterruptedly, with no need to forge coalitions. Parties’ positions on security policy were polarized, with the Japan Socialist Party-led opposition taking to the street to protest LDP priorities, such as strong U.S. ties. The introduction of a new electoral system for the Diet in 1994 helped usher in years of coalition government and party realignment. Another significant change has been the rise in the prime minister’s power, owing to greater television coverage, administrative reforms that have expanded his resources, and his role (as LDP party chief) in negotiating intra-coalition agreements with his counterparts.

Pekkanen analyzed examples of recent defense-related legislative initiatives and concluded that both the prospects for their passage and their specific content reflected the dynamics of inter- and, at times, intra-party negotiation. Antiterrorism legislation (which among other things contemplated military deployments in cooperation with the U.S.) and the bill approving the deployment of Self- Defense Forces to Iraq were shaped by negotiations among LDP factions and between the LDP and its coalition partner, the Clean Government Party. Emergency Measures legislation, which focused in significant part on possible responses to North Korean naval activities, initially foundered because the LDP was unable to strike a deal with either the CGP or the principal opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan.

Finally, amending article 9—the key “peace” provision of Japan’s occupation-era constitution—has become far more plausible in the last several years, with the changing U.S.-Japan security relationship and shifts in Japanese public opinion. But any amendment depends on party politics and bargaining. Because constitutional revision requires two- thirds majorities in the Diet, the LDP needs the support of a substantial portion of non-LDP representatives. Pekkanen concluded that a coalition cutting across LDP/DPJ lines is likely, given the fading of the polarization of the 1955 system in security policy and the similarity of views among portions of both the LDP and the DPJ on foreign policy issues. Bargaining will likely focus on changes to article 9’s clause relating to maintenance of war potential and on definitions of “collective self-defense.”

Commentator Shin Fujihira agreed that inter-party negotiation had become an important part of Japan’s security policymaking, and that shifts in parties’ electoral fortunes could affect the content of Japan’s foreign policy. But he was skeptical that the changes were as significant, or the links between them and foreign policy content as robust, as Pekkanen asserted. Both the LDP and the DPJ have relatively hawkish and dovish factions, and the rising tide of nationalism among the Japanese electorate cast doubt on whether Japan’s foreign policy would look very different under an LDP- or a DPJ-led government. Moreover, electoral competition among parties still focused primarily on domestic issues. Any party differences in foreign policy were therefore epiphenomenal consequences of the preferences of leaders who came to power on the strength of their positions on other issues.

Panelist Cameron Hurst added that it was not yet clear that recent changes in the role of the prime minister were in fact new or institutionalized. Prime Minister Koizumi’s enhanced role might be merely a particularly striking iteration of what Japan had seen under Prime Ministers Yoshida, Nakasone and arguably Tanaka: an individual leader’s force of personality and determination to undertake high-profile foreign policy measures had made a temporary difference, but failed to durably alter the nature of the office and party politics. Finally, Fujihira felt that Japanese party politics pose formidable obstacles to revising article 9. The DPJ cooperation needed to secure the required supermajorities was unlikely to be forthcoming on an issue of such political salience and where cooperation could cast doubt on the DPJ’s reason for existence. The collaboration necessary to attain constitutional amendment might require or produce nothing short of a major party realignment that would again alter the dynamics of party competition and, in turn, foreign policy-making in Japan.

Korea and Indonesia: Weakly Institutionalized Parties and Foreign Policy in New Democracies

In recent years, Korea’s U.S. ties have grown more strained, its approaches to China more accommodating and wary, its attitudes toward North Korea more engagement-oriented, and its relations with Japan newly complicated. Gilbert Rozman and Shin-wha Lee identified partisan and party politics as important factors in shaping the ROK’s changing foreign policy. Other major influences include external and social factors akin to those affecting Japanese foreign policy. The end of the Cold War removed a framework that had promoted close ties with the U.S. and non-engagement with North Korea and, to a lesser extent, China. Northeast Asia’s economic integration, China’s rise as a regional power, and Japan’s move to reclaim status as a normal power all have made Korea’s powerful neighbors more central concerns in its economic and security calculations. Popular opinion shifted with the advent of the “386” generation—people who were in their thirties, had gone to college in the 1980s and had been born in the 1960s—which lacked its elders’ memories of the Korean War or participation in the May 1980 Kwangju incident, which had become an iconic moment for democratization.

In this environment, the high polarization and weak institutionalization of Korea’s political parties affected Korean foreign policy. Electoral victories by President Roh Moo-hyun and his parties put Roh in a position to pursue progressive and nationalist policies that extend the “sunshine policy” toward North Korea, that reflect increased ambivalence toward the U.S., and that seek improved relations with Japan. The polarization of party politics has been evident in the opposition of the Grand National Party and its supporters to Roh’s pro-Japan policy, despite their ideological affinity for such a stance; their denunciations of Roh as a dangerous leftist or communist, in part because of his North Korea policy; and parliamentary efforts to oust Roh from office. As Hurst pointed out, polarization comes from the other side, as well. At times, the former leaders of the democratic movement who now hold key government and party positions seem rooted in their former roles and naively reactive in their approach to sensitive issues. In particular, the Truth Commission process is potentially highly divisive, targeting GNP types as collaborators and beneficiaries of Japanese rule and, in the process, possibly straining ROK-Japanese relations.

The polarization and personalization of Korean party politics stem partly from the parties’ weak institutionalization. Roh’s current party is young, and it is not yet clear that the party is much more than a shallow- rooted base of support for its current leader. There is also reason to doubt that the principal opposition, the GNP, can be a durable, strongly institutionalized conservative party. Hurst and Fujihira variously suggested that Korea’s political parties had yet to secure clear social bases, or to see the need to appeal to median voters, or to become willing to engage in Japanese-style inter-party bargaining. Continued volatility, polarizing appeals, and party realignment seem relatively likely.

Further contributing to these difficulties is public opinion: complexity and change characterize popular attitudes toward relations with the North, the U.S., Japan, and the Truth Commission inquiry. Neither party can afford to ignore rising nationalism, but it is hard to gauge and harness; and stable or centrist party positions on foreign policy have limited purchase among a Korean electorate that, as elsewhere, votes largely on domestic and economic issues. Finally, Korea’s constitutional structure is conducive to polarization, as well. The Korean system, like Taiwan’s and Indonesia’s, allowed a divided government in which the president and the opposition-controlled parliament engaged in a bruising impeachment battle.

Despite profound contrasts between the two countries, the relationship between party or partisan politics and foreign policy in Indonesia paralleled the Korean pattern in some respects. As analyzed by Theodore Friend, Indonesian foreign policy, too, has shifted under democratic rule. Its long- standing isolation has shown signs of decline, and the party politics that accompanied democratization is a significant factor in explaining foreign policy. Here too, external and social factors are part of the story as well. The December 2004 tsunami forced Indonesia to greater engagement with the world and made Indonesians feel more a part of the world that rushed to offer assistance, but it also spotlighted delicate issues. The hardest hit area, Aceh, is the locus of conflict between a long-running separatist movement and the military, which is notorious for human rights abuses. Nationwide, the rise of constituencies supporting Islamic parties has had foreign policy implications given U.S. concerns over Islamist terrorism.

As in Korea, party politics in Indonesia appears fragile. President Yudhoyono heads a fledgling Democratic Party that has yet to establish itself as more than his personal vehicle. Old-line parties such as Golkar and the Democratic Party of Struggle (the party of Yudhoyono’s predecessor, President Megawati) hold far more seats in parliament than the Democratic Party’s 10-percent share. This requires the president to forge difficult coalitions and creates a serious risk of gridlock in a mixed presidential- parliamentary system. Friend noted the likely foreign policy options of Yudhoyono and his party in this difficult environment. As a military man, presumably still affected by his experience in a U.S.-run officer training program, the president could decrease Indonesia’s isolation, strengthen ties with the U.S., and address the international relations problems spawned by the military’s human rights record. If things go badly, Friend warned, Indonesia’s new democracy might go down the regrettable path of its Filipino neighbor.

Another development in Indonesian party politics with possible foreign policy implications is the rise of the Islamic Justice and Prosperity Party (KPS). The path of Indonesian democracy and foreign policy could depend on which foreign example—Turkish, Malaysian, or other—the KPS or any other Islamic party emulates.

Conclusion: Connections and Contexts

Discussions of East Asia and other regions too often slight the connections between party and partisan politics and foreign policy. The conference participants found these connections to be a good deal stronger than is often appreciated. Variations across countries stemmed from diverse patterns of social consensus or division, electoral or constitutional structures, the types of international pressures faced, and the strength and institutionalization of the parties themselves. But across East Asia, party or partisan politics either extensively shape or show potential for shaping foreign policy, while external policy constraints either affect significantly or show potential for affecting party and partisan politics.