Exploring Societal Resilience and Regime Type in Asia

Asia-Pacific societies are facing complex economic, political, and societal challenges. In the face of demographic decline, income inequality, climate change, and political polarization, what makes societies resilient? CAPRI is conducting research on societal resilience and its relationship with the resilience of various regime types in Asia.

This forthcoming working paper explores democratic resilience in Asia beyond traditional western thinking about democratic development by investigating how the resilience and development of societies are associated with political regime outcomes.

After World War II, decolonizing Asian nations followed two different pathways of regime and social development, owing to preferences for either the US or Soviet visions of modernity. Today, the region remains divided into nonelectoral communist autocracies and noncommunist electoral regimes. The communist autocracies are a small minority in the region but are highly stable, with rigid institutional barriers to democratization. In contrast, the rest are constitutionally mandated to form governments through popular elections and follow parliamentary procedures. These electoral regimes are oriented toward democracy, but their continued democratic development may depend on the resilience of their societies. These regimes can be fragile; some are chronically vulnerable to coups and provisional military governance. Others are stable but remain in arrested stages of development (classified as “hybrid” autocracies or democracies). Finally, a few (such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) have had success as liberal democracies but must be resilient against a variety of internal and external threats to remain so.

In this project, we are developing a concept of societal resilience that identifies social factors (such as basic welfare provision, social cohesion, human investment, and civil society development) that may help us understand the social foundations of regime strength and resilience. By examining changes in democratic development since World War II and with particular attention to the last decade (2010–2022), we speculate that the material level of social resilience is associated with the strength and resilience of both autocratic and electoral regimes. However, the civil society aspect of societal resilience is critical for realizing the democratic potential of electoral regimes. Thus, societal resilience may provide further insights and add value to conversations on the state of democracy and democratic resilience in Asia today.

Related research: Democratic and Social Resilience – A Critical Link