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Article

East Asia has been defined as a cultural sphere characterized by the lasting influence of Confucianism on its political and socioeconomic lives. Academic interest in the political culture of East Asia has been mainly shaped by the great diversity in this region’s economic and political landscapes. The systematic differences between Confucianism and its Western philosophical counterparts in prescribing how to organize societies and manage state–society relationships are central to understanding the uniqueness of this region’s political culture. The features of East Asian political culture cast some significant influence over the dynamics of political practice and development in the region, including but not limited to how East Asians assess their political regimes, conceptualize democracy, and participate in politics. Increasing access to high-quality regional barometer surveys, as well as expanding global survey projects, has empowered students of comparative politics to more effectively examine the political culture of East Asia and test the so-called “Asian values thesis” in a much broader context. Yet, among academics, there is a lack of agreement on what constitutes East Asia. This, along with discrepancies between empirical instruments and corresponding theoretical constructs and insufficient research designs tailored to various versions of the “Asian values thesis,” has prevented more fruitful dialogues among scholars. Considering such issues in future research could contribute to more effective accumulation of knowledge and yield a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the political culture of East Asia.

Article

Timothy Rich, Andi Dahmer, and Isabel Eliassen

How does Asia compare to other regions in terms of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights? While Asia lags behind the West on typical metrics of LGBT rights, this fails to capture the diversity of tolerance historically in the region. At the same time, conservative backlashes to LGBT policies are evident across the region, often invoking traditionalist or religious opposition, as also seen outside of the region. Moreover, much of the literature myopically focuses on one or two countries in Asia, rarely attempting to make broad comparisons across East, South, and Central Asia. Part of this is due to terminology differences, where “homosexual” is commonly used in some countries as a catch-all term for members of the LGBT community, compared to others in the region countries, especially in South Asia, with a longer history of specialized terminology for transgendered people. Yet broader comparisons in the absence of terminology differences remain rare despite growing attention to LGBT issues in public opinion polls, news, and academic work and despite the fact that the legal avenues chosen by LGBT rights proponents often mirror those chosen in the West. State policies on LGBT policies also range considerably in the region, with only Taiwan currently recognizing same-sex marriage at the national level, but with decriminalization and antidiscrimination policies at the national and local levels increasingly common. However, a commonly overlooked trend is that of harsher LGBT policies enacted by local governments. Meanwhile, despite trends in the West of growing public tolerance on LGBT issues, far less consistency emerges in Asia, further complicating state efforts. It is important to highlight Asia’s diversity in terms of rights and tolerance, but it is equally important to integrate evidence from Asia into cross-national research on LGBT issues to understand what is unique about the region and what may have been ignored in other regions.

Article

It is impossible to divorce the criminalization of LGBTI conduct from the social, institutional, and extra-legal violence to which individuals within this community are subjected, as laws are a mirror of a society’s values. The foundation for laws that punish non-hetero-normative sexualities and gender expressions are societal constructions of hetero-normativity. Lawmakers codify their generalized views about what roles persons should fulfill or perform based on preconceptions regarding the attributes, behaviors, or characteristics of a person, class, or group. Non-hetero-normative sexual orientations and gender identities challenge traditional notions of sexuality and gender. Violence is used as a way to control the bodies of those who exhibit non-heteronormative traits and values, as well as a form of social control to reinforce sexual and gender norms. The distinctions countries create in the targeted illegality of “male” and “female” homosexuality demonstrate the conflation of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Laws that ban expressive conduct and effectively eliminate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons from public discourse have historical roots in Christian and Muslim religious traditions. Whether codified or not, violence against LGBTI individuals is a consequence of deeply embedded gender inequality. Such inequality manifests in social and physical violence that ultimately punishes, controls, and erases LGBTI persons. Although international bodies have reacted against such violence by ratifying legal instruments to protect the LGBTI community, changing social conditions and preconceptions has proven to be the most effective route to protecting LGBTI persons’ human rights.

Article

Historically one of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, since the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979, East Asia has enjoyed a relative interstate peace. Implications of some of the relevant “East Asian peace” literature for theories of international relations need assessment. The central conclusion is that, contrary to often expressed dissatisfaction with the state of IR theory, it is possible to identify a core of theoretical knowledge that has considerable explanatory power for war and peace in East Asia, and is also based on general theory with considerable support across global regions. This diverges somewhat from the well-known argument of Lake in 2011: It is not the “-isms” that lead us astray, but how we use them. Unlike Lake, but consistent with Legro and Moravcsik (1999), it is argued that broad theoretical constructs are needed, and indeed useful ones exist, while mid-level or problem-focused analysis is no substitute for a theory-based research program. What is often lacking is an effort by empirical researchers to clearly and coherently tie their research design to theoretically important claims. Empirical political science as a whole is becoming more sophisticated in its methods and capabilities for causal inference, and it is also becoming more relevant and useful for policy makers. We should devote as much attention to the theoretical contributions of our research. The article addresses the role of theory in IR, the ways that empirical analysis of East Asia (and other regions) can contribute to theory building and theory testing, the existing literature on East Asian peace, some informed speculation about how the potential for mid-term military conflict between the United States and China might be assessed, and thoughts about current and potential contributions to IR theory based on the study of the East Asian peace. Theorizing in social science is hard, and any scholar’s dissatisfaction with existing theory should be heavily tempered with acknowledgment that s/he has not proposed a more powerful one. Regional analysis, and comparative regional analysis, can provide important potential gains by challenging current theory with hard tests. East Asia not only is a crucially important part of the world for the future of interstate peace, it also presents challenging and useful empirical puzzles for our theories.