Asia and Oceania

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As elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the region of Asia and Oceania. Its impact, however, has varied widely across the region. Whereas highly advanced transformation countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan, as well as authoritarian governments of China, Singapore and Vietnam have so far emerged from the crisis relatively unscathed, residents of the region’s populist-governed states are suffering.

In terms of political transformation, the pandemic accelerated negative trends already underway in many parts of Asia and Oceania. Democracies that had already been weakened by polarization, populism and autocratization are losing ground in terms of the democratic quality of their political institutions and processes, while autocracies are hardening. In contrast, Taiwan, South Korea, Bhutan and Timor-Leste serve as examples of democratic resilience.

The region’s average economic transformation score has reached the lowest level recorded by the BTI in the last 20 years. The crisis is having a particularly severe impact on economies and societies in South Asia, where poverty is spreading, as in India and Nepal. The Philippines and Thailand also saw their economies slump, while China, Taiwan and Vietnam achieved modest growth.

There was only a weak correlation between governance performance and a country’s classification as a democracy or autocracy. Democratic governments in Bhutan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as the autocratic governments in China, Singapore and Vietnam demonstrated rather good governance. In contrast, the crisis management and overall governance of populist governments in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka proved rather ineffectual.

The coronavirus pandemic will continue to dominate politics and economies in Asia and Oceania. In consolidating democracies, the role of civil society actors as a corrective to state action seems to be on the rise. But political and economic “preexisting conditions” have severely weakened other societies. Autocracies seem to have adapted to the pandemic in a way that, at least in the short term, supports, if not strengthens, their legitimacy.

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Aurel Croissant
Regional Coordinator Asia and Oceania
    Christoph Trinn
    Regional Coordinator Asia and Oceania

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