East Asian countries have traditionally been recognized as prioritizing sovereignty over democracy and human rights norms in their foreign policies. However, this sovereignty-weighted approach appears to have changed somewhat since the mid-2000s as East Asian democracies such as Japan and Indonesia have upgraded their support for democracy abroad. These countries began sharing their own experiences with democratization and providing the capacity-building assistance necessary for the operation of democratic institutions as well as material and financial assistance for elections, state institutions, and civil society organizations that promote democratic governance. This paper examines the state of and the motivations for their support of democracy, positioning the work as a pilot study from which to make an argument applicable to, and testable with, the cases of democracy support by other third-generation democracy promoters.
This paper argues that the support from Japan and Indonesia for democracy has significant commonalities not only in terms of the timing of its emergence, but also in terms of content, and that both countries use regime-compatible approaches. Concerning the motivations behind support for democracy, the paper argues that while democratic norms function as the background identity of the countries, they are not explanatory variables. Rather, the two countries commonly began supporting democracy strategically as a foreign policy tool: Indonesia intended to expand its international influence to match its rising international status as a middle-income country, and Japan sought to strengthen its own ties with the US and to expand its influence vis-à-vis China at the time of its declining international status. In other words, the two countries’ strategic incentives were motivated by the tectonic shift in the international power structure, which thus functions as the independent variable while the strategic incentives can be identified as intervening variables.
Keywords: Democracy support, international power structure, strategic incentives, democratic norms, ODA, regime-compatible approach, Japan, Indonesia