Northeast Asian politics: Japan, Korea and Taiwan

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This module examines the origins, characteristics and dynamics of the political systems of Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan). These countries occupy sensitive geo-political positions in both the Cold War and contemporary eras.

Three of the cases (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) constitute Asia’s most advanced market democracies. As such, they provide excellent case studies for understanding the relationship between economic growth, social change, and political power.  Their shared background of Japanese empire and US strategic alliance means that their political systems are best studied together from a comparative perspective. By explicitly recognizing the common background, this approach enables the specifics of each system to be revealed more clearly.

Despite being located outside of the capitalist democratic triad, North Korea is also included in this course. Its presence has enormously shaped the political systems of the other three (especially those of Japan and South Korea). Its origins in the Japanese empire illustrate the alternative political trajectories that can emanate out of a common historical lineage.

The module seeks to explain both the workings of Northeast Asian political systems (mainly Term 1) and the wider social features with which those workings are nested (mainly Term 2). The structure is theme rather than country based. Each week’s theme is illustrated by examples from all three countries. This is done with a view to understanding prevalent theories and the extent of their applicability to Northeast Asian conditions.

The comparative approach taken here means that this module is not suited to students with a single-country interest.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • An understanding of the origins, characteristics and dynamics of the political systems of Northeast Asia
  • An understanding of the relevance and limitations of the prevailing theories of comparative politics
  • An understanding of the workings of the Northeast Asian political systems
  • An understanding of the wider social and economic structures within which those systems are embedded
  • Empirical and theoretical knowledge
  • Transferable skills of argumentation and presentation through the course assessment requirements (closed examinations, assignments, verbal presentations)


  • 2 hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

Term 1
  1. Authoritarianism and Its legacies.
  2. Democratic transition.
  3. Electoral system.
  4. Voting behaviour and public opinion.
  5. Party system.
  6. Political parties: leaders; organization; followers (including regional politics).
  7. Electoral campaigns and political communications (including media).
  8. Political corruption.
  9. Social movements (e.g. environment, gender).
  10. Assessing democracy and democratic consolidation.
Term 2
  1. Political economy of development.
  2. Northeast Asian models of capitalism.
  3. Government-business relations.
  4. Labour politics.
  5. Production politics: mass, lean and flexible production systems.
  6. Welfare and social policy.
  7. The other Northeast Asian trajectory: (1) North Korea’s dynastic regime.
  8. The other Northeast Asian trajectory: (2) North Korea’s spasmodic reform.
  9. Security politics in Northeast Asia.
  10. Conclusion: patterns of governance and power distribution.

Method of assessment

Assessment is 60% unseen exam, 30% coursework, and 10% seminar presentation. All coursework is resubmissible.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules