Political Economies of Northeast Asia: Japan, Korea and Taiwan

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This course examines the origins, characteristics and dynamics of the political systems of Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) and how they cope with the dilemmas of economic and social sustainability. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan constitute Asia’s most advanced market democracies. Their histories of very rapid industrialization (c. 1955-90) mean that they were once considered as textbook examples of “development miracles” whose institutions of political and economic governance were widely admired. For the past 30 years, however, they have encountered the serious problems of economic and social sustainability (so-called “high income trap”) that also plague advanced western capitalist democracies, notably, growth slowdown, rising inequality, unaffordable property prices, ageing society and inter-generational divide. The transition from "development miracle" to high-income economy, therefore, has not resulted in a "golden age" of capitalism akin to that experienced by western capitalism two generations ago. In Northeast Asia, these problems have formed the backdrop to political protest and rotation of government (e.g. Sunflower Revolution in Taiwan 2014, Candlelight Revolution in Korea 2016-17). This module will examine why the economic and social dilemmas of affluence” are particularly acute in Northeast Asia given their recent histories as miraculous economies (characterized by “growth with equity”). It will also reveal whether Northeast Asia is generating its own distinctive responses to these dilemmas.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:
  • Study of the Northeast Asian pathway of advanced capitalism will enhance students' knowledge of one of the dilemmas of political and economic governance in one of the world's most economically dynamic regions.
  • Students will be exposed to prevalent explanatory theories of capitalism (especially historical institutionalism, varieties of capitalism, state-centric theories) derived from Western experience and be able to assess the extent of their applicability to Northeast Asian conditions.
  • The comparative approach from this module will provide students with skills for analyzing the interaction between politics and economics in other country and regional environments.
  • This course will also improve students' general skills of research and presentation of arguments in both verbal and written forms.


1 hour Lecture per week

1 hour Tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Political economic context: from "miracle" to "high income trap"
  2. Variations on the "miracle" (c. 1960-90)
  3. Globalization and transformation c. 1990-2020
  4. Aspects of transformation (1) decline of developmental capitalism
  5. Aspects of transformation (2): business concentration and its implications
  6. Aspects of transformation (4): crisis of “productivist welfare”
  7. Aspects of transformation (3): labour - from incorporation to casualization
  8. Pathways of escape (1): reconfiguring developmental capitalism
  9. Pathways of escape (2): politics of  inclusive social welfare strategies
  10. Pathways of escape (3): labour, social dialogue and social partnership

Method of assessment

Assessment is 40% coursework (one 2000 word essay), 50% unseen examination (2 hours) and 10% in-class presentation.

Suggested reading

  • T.J. Pempel, ‘The Enticement of Corporatism: Appeals of the “Japanese Model” in Developing Asia’ in Dennis L. McNamara, Corporatism and Korean Capitalism (London: Routledge, 1999) pp. 26-53.
  • Richard F. Doner et al. ‘Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective’ in International Organization 59 (Spring 2005): 327-61.
  • Margarita Estévez-Abe, Welfare and Capitalism in Postwar Japan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Ben Ross Schneider, ‘A comparative political economy of diversified big business groups, or how states organize big business’ in Review of International Political Economy 16(2) (2009): 178-201.
  • Walter F. Hatch, Asia’s Flying Geese: How Regionalization Shapes Japan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010)
  • Pil-Ho Kim, ‘The East Asian Welfare State Debate and Surrogate Social Policy: An Exploratory Study on Japan and South Korea’ in Socio-Economic Review 8(3) (2010): 411-35.
  • Jiyoeun Song, ‘The Diverging Political Pathway of Labor Market Reform in Japan and Korea’ in Journal of East Asian Studies 12(2) (2012): 161-91.
  • Kathleen Thelen, ‘Varieties of liberalization and the new politics of social solidarity’ in Annual Review of Political Science 2012.
  • Thomas Kalinowski, ‘Crisis Management and the Diversity of Capitalism: Fiscal Stimulus Packages and the East Asian (Neo-) Developmental State’ in Economy & Society 44(2) (2015): 244-70.
  • Sophia Seung-Yoon Lee, ‘Institutional Legacy of Corporatism in De-Industrialized Labour Markets: A Comparative Study of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan” in Socio-Economic Review 14(1) (2016): 73-95.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules