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  • East Asian Welfare Regimes in Transition: From Confucianism to Globalisation
  • Linda Low
East Asian Welfare Regimes in Transition: From Confucianism to Globalisation. Edited by Alan Walker and Chack-kie Wong. United Kingdom: The Policy Press, 2006. Pp. 235.

This is an edited volume of ten chapters. Part 1 on Welfare in East Asia comprises two chapters, an introduction to Asian welfare regimes and another questioning whether welfare is un-Asian. Part 2 has six country studies of China, two chapters on Hong Kong justified as bridge to China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore, plus a conclusion from Confucianism to globalization.

The volume aims for an updated, accessible, critical account of the Confucian welfare state. It is an East Asian model of welfare, no Islamic model is discussed. Thailand seems a remiss even if the Philippines is entirely omissible.

All six case studies emphasize Confucianism. Other key themes include pressure points to adapt and change, force paced domestically and externally. Inevitably, the East is compared with the West. This should not be just an end in itself. With literature on the Western construction and regime of welfare states produced ad naseum, the new-kid-on-the-block is Confucian welfare. Globalization is ubiquitous for systems.

A few remarks may set the tone of review. First, it seems pointless to debate culture just to see how different people and regimes take care of welfare, itself neither easily defined nor universal. Facetious as it may be, culture is like cuisine. They are just what different people are used to and want to enjoy.

Second, it is clear the book has traditional Confucianism at work as the minimal state welfares. The dilemma is if Confucianism is also a core Asian value to be preserved and adulated, the resultant lack of welfare state cannot be truly blamed.

Third, globalization backlash is the true culprit. The state can neither be blamed for demographic ageing, which turned the Western welfare state upside down, nor poor public finance as solely blamed for not provisioning the chain-letter tax-financed pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system. People seem happy not to be saving themselves as long as full employment mean job and income security.

Globalization is not new. It is unprecedented, driven by information communication technology, simultaneous with deregulation and competition, plus China, India, and the rest of the second world in transition entering the free market third world. The confluence of demographics, fragility of crises, from financial to a health pandemic meets with global imbalances. Collateral damage is promised if the top stops spinning.

Because the minimal Asian welfare state is owed to Confucianism as a familial hold-all, it enables Asian cost competitive strategies, threatening the Western as a race-to-the-bottom. Asian critique including this book joins the bandwagon, spouting social citizenship, state duty and responsibility, recognizing the role of the state is all about politics.

Balancing celebratory health and security with the growth momentum involves a trade-off. Trade unionism and the Western welfare state are turned topsy-turvy, aided and abetted by mergers and acquisitions breaking up iron rice-bowls, relocating jobs and displacing old world security. Globalization is anti-welfare. Globalization back-lash is not pro-welfare.

The chapters are diverse as authors handle the nature, development, and dilemmas of Confucian welfare states in their own intellectual ways. With the main characteristics as the denominators, Part 1 and the introductory chapter conclude that Confucianism is an adjunct to political ideology and recommend positive welfare provision.

The second chapter in Part 1 demolishes the underdeveloped un-Asian social welfare premised on the wrong assumptions. Whatever the [End Page 393] underdeveloped welfare state is, it underpinned economic success. Asian values are not antithetical to social welfare. Reference is drawn to anti-welfare and market ideologies in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and China. Recent in China and historic in Hong Kong, their governments are deemed to follow the market ideology in spite of deficiencies. The commitment to capitalism of both is reinforced by globalization.

China's social welfare reform since 1978 is catalogued. The reforms are described as pragmatic. Two Hong Kong chapters are distinguished by one noting the new...


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