Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Religion and Asian Development

Christian Role for Democratization and Development in Asia

Lay movements within the ecumenical movement brought a creative impact on the life of the European churches during the sixties. A number of centres for lay training sprang up and those committed Christians who were deeply concerned about the need for renewal of the churches in the contemporary world flocked to these centres to concentrate on a life of prayer and theological reflection. We certainly need such moments and the lay movement had its origin in this passionate commitment of Christians to the life and mission of the Church. It is because they strived to become an authentic Christian community that they saw the need to work for the churches' renewal so that she might be engaged in the contemporary life of the secular world. Through being in constant dialogue with the changing social context, they hoped that the Gospel might be properly communicated and creatively lived out.

These renewal movements found their way to other parts of the world through ecumenical links. Most of these centres were established in Asia during the sixties and seventies, and naturally, patterned after European models. However, the contexts of the Asian churches were different from that of the Western churches. During that period, most of the Asian countries had already been "liberated" from the long period of colonization by the West. Each nation was fully engaged in the process of searching for the most appropriate means of nation building. This process of nation building inevitably included the elimination of feudalistic vestiges as part of the process of social transformation. The vision for a new society met with ideological conflicts which often times led to violent armed conflicts as well. Soon the people realized that modernization was not to be equated with westernization. The issue then was how to build a modern state while simultaneously maintaining a peaceful world.

It was within such an atmosphere that Asian Christians were confronted with how the churches could live out their prophetic role in the area of social justice. They realized that they had the task of cultivating theological minds which were able to use the tools of social scientific analysis of society in order for the churches to be a relevant witness in Asia. Many of these centres in Asia shared the same concerns and convictions. I believe that this vision is still aflame and that there are many unfinished tasks which have been entrusted to the present generation of leadership.

Democratization and development are the two pivotal issues with which most of the Asian peoples had to struggle. The main concerns of the colonized peoples were to struggle for liberation and for the restoration of the sovereignty of the people in their respective countries. While the decolonization process is still going on in some countries, in others certain select imperialists are still hanging on to their old colonies under various pretexts. Nevertheless, most of the newly
"independent" nations are faced with the task of building a nation state which is democratic or anti-imperialist. They even entertain the Utopian vision of creating a welfare state wherein every human need can be adequately met.

Sometimes the idea of development has been misconstrued through the assumption that what matters is that there should be reasonable economic growth which is demonstrated by the numeric growth of the GNP. However, soon people began to realize that development meant more than economic growth and that there are other equally important factors which ought to be considered. One such factor was social justice. Economic growth under the authoritarian military regime can hardly be called development. Without the democratic participation of the people in the decision-making process, it is not possible to design nor implement development policies which will enable the masses of Asian peoples to determine their own destiny.

The issue of development became one of the leading concerns of the ecumenical movement since the time of the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1968. The Montreux Conference (Switzerland, 1970) clarified the ecumenical perspective of development in terms of self-reliance, social justice and economic growth. This represented a holistic or comprehensive approach to development.

Democracy literally means the "power of people". This term has been differently interpreted depending on the particular perspective or ideological orientation. Democratization would mean basically the political process which recognizes the sovereignty of the people. In many situations it may mean the struggle of peoples for freedom from all forms of oppression. It could also mean the demand of ethnic groups for their political self-determination. In some other situations, it may be the struggle for democracy against authoritarian military dictatorship. Ultimately, all these add up to mean that people are becoming conscious of their rightful place in the world and demanding their share in the shaping of a common destiny.

Keeping in mind these preliminary observations, I shall try to analyze the different aspects of development and democratization in Asia. I shall also attempt to make some suggestions regarding the role of the church in the light of these.

I. Development
The context in which Asian development has to happen, namely the historical reality of Asia, is described by Harvey Perkins, a long time colleague in the WCC and CCA, as being under foreign domination; having resources exploited; being in debt under neo- colonialism; experiencing oppression within; existing under authoritarian structures of power and cultural domination (emphasis added, Guidelines for Development, p. 7). These represent the forces within the Asian historical reality which militate against the will of the people to be free.

With very few exceptions, all the Asian nations were colonies. During the colonial rule, many institutions were built to first serve the interests of the rulers and, eventually, the local elites who collaborated with the colonial rulers. These institutions inculcated certain values which, even long after the departure of the colonizers, remain deep-seated in the minds of the Asian society. These values are reflected in the operations of the groups and classes with vested interests even today.

The concept of a self-reliant Asian economy has been co-opted into the economic structure of the global network which is controlled by the highly industrialized nations. In order to survive and get ahead, local capital had to be strengthened by input of enormous amounts of foreign capital. This meant incurring an ever increasing foreign debt. The local and domestic oppressors took over the role of the colonial oppressors. In most cases, the national security laws were revised versions of the colonial laws which were intended to suppress any form of resistance against colonial domination.

The pressure to cultivate cash crops alienated farmers from their land and often they were forced into the labour market to engage in seasonal agricultural industry. Land reform is still a rhetoric in many places. The "green revolution" has turned into a nightmare for many farmers and has caused destruction to the environment due to the introduction of increased doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Through the decades of development programmes initiated by both governments and NGOs, many voluntary development agencies have been set up. Financial and material supports have been transferred to Asia to support the locally initiated development projects and programmes. To facilitate this, many organizations have been established including church agencies for development aid and this is a very new phenomenon.

Church-related voluntary aid agencies are a relatively new phenomenon, with three peaks in their birth rate: newcomers averaged 20 in the post-World War I years, 1919-22; 28 in the post-World War II years; and 43 in 1961-65, coinciding with the decolonization process and the First Development Decade. Growing government funding of non or semi-governmental agencies brought another peak in the early 70s. Jorden Lisner (The Politics of Altruism, Geneva, 1977) estimates the number of non-governmental non-profit organizations in OECD member countries providing assistance to the Third World, at around 3000. The eight broad categories include missions, 2church-related, secular, voluntary, educational, student welfare, Jewish welfare, labour and business foundations, and umbrella organizations, all together about 1,600 today (1984).

We might ask just how much funds have been transferred to Asia from the West. The available information suggests that approximately one billion dollars have been sent to Asia during the years between 1973-1983 from the NGOs of OECD countries. The next question would be how this fund, which amounted to 100 million annually, was being spent in Asia. It is estimated that about 60% or more has been raised and transferred by religious organizations. Undoubtedly, we should be able to identify some of the successful models of resource transfer to actually facilitate the development process. However, the general reaction from the grassroots situation is that very little transformation has been attained. It is a serious judgment against the aid agencies as well as the intermediary groups such as ecumenical structures and church hierarchies.

Social Transformation
One of the key concerns in the process of development is the need for social transformation. Social transformation is the process of creating a just society.' It has political, economic, ecological, social and spiritual dimensions.

Politically, it is genuine democratic participation of the people; economically, it is shared ownership of the means of production; ecologically, it is wholeness of humankind and nature; socially, it is the restoration of community relationship and belonging; and spiritually, it is love and compassion between fellow human beings. Christian participation in the process of social transformation must embrace all these elements, and not only the spiritual (WCC-CCA Asia Forum on Justice and Development, 1984, Official Report, p.24).

Throughout Asia there must be thousands of so called development projects and programmes. These are generally divided into three main categories: the charity type of projects, the community development type, and the social transformation approach.

The charity type can be seen in the traditional social service approach. While we recognize the usefulness of this approach in certain situations, we must also admit that this approach does not deal with the root causes of the social malaise and that it tends to create dependency. The community development approach is based on the belief that the existing mechanism ought to be strengthened. This approach does not raise basic questions about the prevailing injustices upon which the existing mechanism is established. The social transformation approach stems from the belief that the tools for social scientific analysis is a necessary means for the people to work for change. It is a critical approach which raises the basic questions of justice and human rights for the people. Often times, conflicts are generated by this approach which can be catalytic for necessary change.

Therefore, development may involve all these approaches but, ultimately, it must offer an alternative to the status quo because it is the poor who want and need the change, and in most cases their claims are legitimate, and they are the majority in this world.

It is commonly understood that the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century in England was the beginning of modernization. This pattern followed suit in France, USA, Germany and other European countries. Modernity is characteristic of a society which is determined by the progress of technology and industrialization. In this sense, most of the countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa are late comers in human history and they are eager to catch up with the western nations which had a head start. Therefore, the modernization of the late comer was inevitably equated by some as undergoing the process of westernization.

However, there were others who raised questions regarding such a mechanical understanding of the process of modernization which appeared to be totally devoid of any value system. In other words, not all the human societies can function according to the same rationale as the technologically advanced societies. Religions, value systems and inherent human spirituality often influence the choices one makes.

The modernization of Korea, for instance, does not necessarily mean Korea will become like USA or England. It is apparent that there are differences in their course of modernization. Each society will find its indigenous process of change although there will be some common patterns in terms of industrialization, urbanization and social organization, and so forth.

When self-reliance is not properly understood it can become isolationism. Some years ago, some Third World church leaders became painfully aware of the dependent nature of the churches in the Third World on the western churches. The extent of this dependency was reflected in the non-identity of these Third World churches. In order to discover their self-identity, some of the Third World church leaders contended for a five to ten years of moratorium on the relationship between the Third and First World churches. In this case, the temporary separation was called for in order to attain greater solidarity in the ecumenical movement. Self-reliance, therefore, is the discovery of one's self-identity and the basic requirement for greater ecumenical solidarity.

Very often self-reliance is stressed in the area of economic self-support and this process is viewed only in terms of managerial expertise. For instance, the Institute, in which I presently serve as director, is about twelve years old and is still receiving a considerable sum of financial support from abroad. Obviously, there has been continuous discussions about the need for it to be financially self-reliant because sooner or later foreign support will come to an end. So it is absolutely necessary that we develop a strategy to increase local support. In that sense, self-reliance was a pressing issue. However, if we consider the process of attaining self-reliance in terms of becoming conscious of one's self-identity, economy must be viewed as one of the many aspects of what we are.

In the process of achieving self-reliance, the quality of relationship with others will naturally change. The donor-recipient relationship of patronage changes to that of partnership. Also the self-reliance of our Institute in Korea must presuppose the development of new international relationships with institutes of similar nature in order to develop an ecumenical solidarity network.

Underside of development – the Korean case
The economic recovery of West Germany was called the Miracle of River Rhine. So in the case of Korea it was called the Miracle of Han River [Han here means 'greatness' in Korean). It appears that the small dragons are moving rather rapidly to catch up with Japan and the USA. However, the labour organizers will testify that despite the economic growth, the workers have nothing much to gain from it.

When you see Samsung VCRs, Hyundai's Sonata and Excel, locally made Korean computers, etc., you will conclude that countries like Korea, the NICs, have actually revolutionized the academic theory of economic development. It has been suggested that the key ingredients of this economic miracle were export-oriented production, cheap labour, and undervalued currency, free markets and minimum state intervention. In Korea's case, it must be recognized that the government bureaucracy has lent a very heavy hand in industrial development and export businesses. This sector which played a key role in Korean economic growth has been heavily subsidized by the government in various ways and, thus, created what we call a 'Jaebul' economy. But, according to Bello and Rosenfeld, such an enshrined model of NICs is causing them to run out of steam.

But such is the cunning of history that at the very moment that the economists and technocrats have enshrined the NIC model as the new orthodoxy, that very strategy is running out of steam in Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. True, these economies continue to post 7 to 10 percent growth rates, but that is the glitter of half past high noon. The troublesome truth is that the external conditions that made the NICs' export successes possible are fast disappearing, while the long-suppressed costs of high-speed growth are catching up with these economies. It is the dangerous intersection of these trends that has led some Korean technocrats to fear that the halving of the growth rate from 12.2 percent in 1988 to 6.5 percent in 1989 may be but the prelude to a severe structural crisis (Dragons in Distress: Asia's Miracle Economies in Crisis, pp.2-3.)

It is not so difficult to see the structural malaise of the so-called economic miracle of Korean development once we know about some critical information, namely that both engine and transmission are designed in Japan, that Samsung's VCR technology is licensed by the subsidiary of Matsushita of Japan and that 85 percent of the value of a Korean colour TV is made up of imported components from Japan.

This miracle from the start was a fragile economic process and we shall make a brief observation regarding the internal social cost of this miracle. Since I have the experience of living overseas, in Switzerland, USA, Singapore and Japan, I am aware of the official procedures at the Immigration office, the police station, and their comparative efficiency. For instance, to open a bank account in US dollars in Singapore and Hong Kong is as easy as opening an account in the local currency. However, in Japan it takes an enormous amount of time and paper shuffling to do this, while in Korea this is not possible, in principle, if you are an ordinary Korean citizen. To send money to USA from Japan, I had to fill a number of papers and had to give reason for it even though it was a small amount. It is even worse in Korea. I mention these simple ordinary life experiences just to illustrate how the system is structured to control rather than to facilitate. The banking system has been practically under government control so that certain businesses can obtain preferential loans through politically inspired government command.

The South Korean economic system had to be something other than socialism or communism, resulting in its being some sort of capitalism. Some call it command or control capitalism — a contradiction in terms. While the miracle-working NIC economy is facing crisis, the development policy resulted in irreversible disruption in some key areas. The command economy controlled the price of the products. To do that cheap labour and a low cost of agricultural products had to be maintained at all cost. However, an unexpected consequence occurred. There was a relative decline of rural income over against the urban sector which caused the gradual outflow of the rural population to the urban sectors. The situation worsened due to the Uruguay Round negotiation which added pressure for a more open international trade arrangement.

Even when the low cost policy for farm products, especially rice, is maintained, the actual international market price for rice is far less than the market price in Korea. This was an issue which the farmers and the government had to negotiate. Many farmers believe that the international open market for rice will simply wipe out the Korean rural economy. Under the trade pressure from the USA, Korean bureaucrats had to devise a framework which would eliminate surplus rural population by introducing a more efficient capital intensive agricultural system. Certainly this was no help to the present rural population. The struggle continues.

In the 70s, a high-ranking Korean government official/ who happened to be Christian, attended an ecumenical conference which dealt with the issue of technology or appropriate technology which had some important relevance for the process of development in Asia. During the conference a heated debate arose on the issue of industrial pollution and the crime of developed nations for exporting their pollution industries to the less advanced nations. This official was quite emphatic in insisting that we are obliged to accept pollution as an inevitable consequence of economic development and speedy industrialization of the Third World. He added that all discussions on pollution is actually a luxurious waste of time. The passionate commitment for speedy economic development has blinded some of the ablest technocrats in Asia.

The environment issue was one such blind alley in the process of economic progress of the so-called NICs. These ecological issues are quickly catching up with the people in Korea. The major rivers are all practically dead and small streams around the small urban areas have virtually become the untended public sewage system. Uncontrolled sewage processing on the animal farms and industrial wastes areas are polluting the sources of urban drinking water. As a result, citizens are forced to drink unlicensed and probably highly contaminated bottled water.

High sulphur dioxide content in the air causes difficulty in breathing and eye infection to many visitors. A worse situation is the health hazard faced by industrial workers who, for too long, have been ignored by both the employers and the government ministry who are directly responsible for the safety of the workers. Despite continuous protests and appeals by the workers themselves nothing is being done. Many workers have become the victims of industrial pollution and it is only recently that this gruesome reality has been exposed to awaken public consciousness.

Nuclear energy is another important issue which we must not overlook. The Three-Mile Island incident and the Chernobyl disaster are very well known to all of us. There are a number of nuclear power plants in Korea. The public is not informed of the government's long term plan for the nuclearization of energy sources for the whole nation. At the same time, we occasionally hear about the breakdown of a nuclear plant. Common sense information regarding these problems have not been publicized nor has it been possible to open public debates regarding the pros and cons of the nuclearization of energy. National development and related policy issues which have direct bearing upon the daily life of the general public is never a topic of open public discussion. Issues concerning the divided nation, militarized frontline and the fragile armistice intimidate all other human concerns and are always suppressed under so-called national security considerations.

II. Democratization
If we say that democracy means people power without making any qualifications it would almost sound anarchistic and rather outrageous to some. However, when we speak about democracy we sense certain emotional sensations, not because the word or the expression 'democracy' has mysterious powers to inspire people or that it contains symbolism, but rather the sensation is caused because of our varied and yet intense experiences in our own places. In Greek usage, the word, democracy, meant literally the power of people. Demo means people and cratos means power. In modern constitutional language, the term democracy is normally understood to mean "the sovereignty of the nation rests with the people".

However, when we consider the question of how people exercise their power, we will be confronted with a whole variety of opinions. Since it is not the given task at this time to engage in an academic discourse on the nature of democracy, I shall move on to describe the different experiences of Asian peoples in their struggles for the democratization of their own societies.
Post-colonial political structures of new nations in Asia was shaped by the nationalists who struggled for independence against colonial regimes. These leaders were, in most cases, either awakened to a sense of national dignity through their contacts with the western elites or had gone through the educational process in the West. Those who received and accepted the liberal democratic process set out to shape a new nation. Almost all of the new constitutions of Asian nations were faultlessly democratic in such a way that the sovereignty of the people was solemnly recognized and also pledged. However, with time, certain reactions set in and disrupted the course of the normal development of a democratic system.

1. Second and third generation leaders began to raise questions regarding the relevance of western liberalism which was the political leitmotiv of the westernized political elites of the time. The tendency toward chauvinistic nationalism began to make claims on national identity.

2. Asia being, ethnically, the most heterogeneous region in the world made the shaping of national unity a difficult but crucial task of nation building. However, in these situations, one dominant group took control of the situation and began to suppress the dissenting group by force, under the pretext of national unity. They refused to consider the rational process of developing a democratic system with reasonable and tolerable limits of self-determination granted to different ethnic groups in conflict. In some cases, the very concept of national unity became oppressive political ideology.

3. Neo-colonialism is another pattern of domination of the Asian people by foreign economic powers. The international economic system is being gradually globalized and the complex network of centres of economic power are no longer definable in terms of national boundaries. For instance, Japanese people are buying Japanese Honda made in the USA. It is a Japanese car, no doubt, yet it is an imported car for the Japanese and in the American market these cars are exported to Japan. It is the same with national TVs and VCRs made in South-East Asia. Therefore, Honda and Matsushita are no longer Japanese companies based in Japan. They are companies based in various places and defy the control of a single national regulation. They are multi-national corporations.
The enormous and elusive economic power of multinationals enable them to invest capitals in many developing countries at extremely favourable terms primarily for the purpose of extracting maximum profits in the shortest possible duration.

4. Development models of Third World countries have not been conducive to the development of democracy. The motto of economic development was "More and Faster". As mentioned earlier, to do that, cheap labour and exploitation of natural resources were essential ingredients. Very seldom will we find an authentic and free labour movement. In many cases, professional labour leaders are politically co-opted hoodlums who are not on the side of the workers. In such a situation, basic labour rights are completely ignored. The struggles of the Korean women textile workers for labour rights in the 70s are well known cases.

5. The role of the military has many negative dimensions which sustained the anti-democratic forces in Asia. The cold war conflicts prevailed for several post-war decades due to superpower rivalries. This situation induced the process of dividing the world into mainly two militarized ideological camps. Superpower control over the Third World countries was implemented through military alliance.

There was a time in recent Asian history that most of the Asian nations were ruled by military dictators. Political dissent was considered national security risk and it was ruthlessly suppressed. The military was frequently mobilized to protect the interests of the privileged elites.

6. All these lead to the reality of the violation of human rights. There are countless numbers of political prisoners or prisoners of conscience throughout Asia. It is common practice that these people are tortured and often murdered.
These are merely a summary of some glaring examples of forces operating against peoples' aspiration for a humane society.

Democratization is then a process of bringing about changes through non-violent and democratic means so that a reasonable degree of social justice is established, thereby enabling the people to participate in the political process of shaping their national destiny. Democratization has to happen at all levels of human life. It has to happen in the families, in the local grassroots situations and in all social life including the life of the churches.

Democratization is basically a political process. Politics is a choice one makes regarding what kind of society one wants to live in and in that sense no one can escape from this responsibility.

As Christians, we have been given through Jesus Christ the vision of the Kingdom of God, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, and a new heavenly city (polls in Greek). Basically, we have a responsibility to fulfill, as individual Christians and as members of the collective gathered and gathering community of believers. The responsibility is to communicate our vision of the new heavenly city through our concrete actions. We communicate this because we believe in the solidarity between Christ and ourselves. Being so inspired by this solidarity, we act and participate existentially in order to realize the ultimate shape of solidarity of the whole human community. This I believe is the basis of our ecumenical vision for the transformation of our world.

We noted that development and democratization are closely inter-linked. Development properly understood and implemented should facilitate the formation of a democratic society. However, vested interests and human greed disrupts and perverts the reasonableness of people-centered politics. Ideologies often play a demagogic role rather than establish a rational and dialogical process in the politics of the Third World.

In the midst of the deafening sound of steam hammers, ever-flowing tourists, the crowds in shopping centres — a sign of the human struggle for survival as well as the drive for greater affluence — we also notice the multitudes of people who have been left behind, not by their choice. While we are concerned about these people and are always careful to be on their side, we must cultivate our ability to scientifically analyze the root causes of these injustices and to engage in action which brings about change. Then only will we be able to develop a more effective strategy.

Let us sincerely hope that we will open up ourselves to each other and share our experiences, successes and failures, hopes and fears, in relation to our involvement in the dynamic relationship between democratization and development. Let us also reflect on the possible development of a solidarity strategy for our common action in Asia. I emphasize this because we are, as Asians, most retarded in developing a regional strategy as an ecumenical movement, while our region is becoming more and more inter-connected in politics, economics while possessing a sense of history and culture.

Source: http://www.ibiblio.org/ahkitj/wscfap/arms1974/Book%20Series/EcumenicalPraxis/Contentsus.htm

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