The global democratic recession arrived late in Asia, but hit hard when it did. Although many analysts believed that the region held many of the perquisites to foster and sustain democracy—including an increasingly educated population, a growing middle class, urbanization, and relative peace—these conditions did not prove adequate to weather the global storm of economic dislocation, endemic corruption, illiberalism and terrorism, and the spread of misinformation. From Thailand to the Philippines to Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, elections have resulted in illiberal governments and a further backsliding of democracy.
In 2020, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) worked with political parties, media organizations, business associations, civil society organizations, and unions to bolster democratic partners while attempting to re-establish democratic norms and values across Asia. NED continued to prioritize four countries that represent the biggest democratic challenges, or where a democratic breakthrough could have significant implications for the entire region: China—including Tibet, Hong Kong, and East Turkistan; North Korea in east Asia; Burma in southeast Asia; and Pakistan in south Asia.
In China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued its brutal repression against the Uyghurs and Tibetans and its curtailing of rights in Hong Kong. North Korea remained the most closed country in the world. In Burma, civil society focused on the 2020 nationwide elections as Rohingya refugees sat in camps in Bangladesh, ethnic conflict continued, and anti-Muslim rhetoric spread throughout the country. In Pakistan—despite a peaceful transfer of power—the military continued to maintain its paramount role in politics as it marginalized many democratic institutions throughout the country.
NED grants also supported efforts to build democratic resilience and to create a more open environment for civil society and independent media throughout the region. In 2020, NED’s Asia program also partnered with efforts in other regions to expand networks and information among China experts and activists to address the negative impact of the CCP’s influence on democratic institutions and values around the world.
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