The Asia Pacific Political System: The Developmental State

The Asia Pacific Political System: The Developmental State

The concept of a developmental state has been viewed in different perspectives by different people. Various scholars of international political economy have defined the term in different ways. Chalmers Johnson was the first person to conceptualize the developmental state seriously, and he tried to explain the reason for the rapid economic growth in some Asian countries, especially in postwar times. He defined it as a state that Is focused and interested in economic development, and takes the appropriate measures and makes the proper policies to accomplish that objective. In his book, ‘MITI and the Japanese Miracle,’ he argued how the development of Japan was highly related to politics and how many bureaucrats, especially in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) intervened in it. Its proponents are focused on establishing and explaining the role of the government and trade policies in the success of economies. This paper will focus on Japan as a case study of the developmental states of Asia. The Japanese economy has experienced tremendous and growth, since the end of  World War II. The paper will investigate the characteristics of Japan as a developmental state, some inspirations/motives of the developmental nature and the impacts it had on the country.

The developmental state of Japan is believed to have undergone evolution through four stages, as follows. 1) Erecting the institutional scaffolding for strategic growth (1945-1954). This was the period following World War II and the great recession in the economy of Japan. It is when the importance of government intervention in business was discovered and also the period when the first government agencies and institutions were established. 2) Export-led industrialization (1955-1970). This period was marked by intensive research and assessments of the Japanese economy by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, to identify the necessary steps to be taken and policies to be formulated to expand the Japanese economy. An export-driven economy was one of the best ideas. Japan started putting its economic orientation on producing goods for the foreign market. 3) Deceleration and liberalization (1971-1989). During this phase of evolution, the Japanese economy had experienced a declining rate of growth. This was due to some side effects of overreliance on export orientation. Japan’s Gross Domestic Product had reduced due to lack of spending of the local market on locally manufactured goods. Japan was also now opening up itself to the rest of the world; that is, trade restrictions were being limited. 4) Sustainable globalization (1990 to the present). Due to the need to make its goods and services global commodities, Japan integrated its business activities and transactions with those of other states, by reducing trade restrictions, allowing it to profit from sale in a broad market.

Many scholars have termed the rapid economic growth of Japan as a miracle, considering the tremendous economic downfall it had experienced in World War II. One reason for this can be that Japanese institutions have retained and promoted the cooperation between the bureaucrats/ government, the businesses/large corporations and the politicians. This has enhanced cooperative thinking among these players in Japanese politics and economy. It has also led to cooperation in the process of legislation and policy making; that is, policies are formulated with the sole aim of achieving the economic development and autonomy of the state.

Secondly, the success of Japan’s developmental nature may be due to its diplomacy tools and foreign policy. An example of Japan’s foreign policy that may have facilitated its rampant economic growth is the Arctic Policy. Japan has a lot of involvement in the Arctic, even though it does not have any territories in that region. The shipping industry, energy, and polar research are some of the ways in which Japan is involved in the Arctic region. All these and other Arctic resources activities are acknowledged and encouraged by the government and have led to unforeseen improvement in the field of science and technology.

The export-oriented nature of Japans economy may also be a reason for its miraculous economic growth. Japan, being the third largest economy in the world, is highly dependent on exports. Besides Japan, “The Four Asian Tigers,” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan), have risen to economic supremacy due to the export orientation of their economies. Japan has adopted the policy of manufacturing goods and services for customers abroad. This strategy has worked for Japan due to its substantial diversification in products and services it exports, enabling it to compete with other developed economies, like the United States of America. This strategy is also supported by the fact that Japanese goods and services are of relative prices and sound quality, and the increased demand for Japanese products in the international market.

Diversification is another explanation for the success of Japan’s developmental nature. The industrial sector of Japan, which is the economic backbone of the country is highly diversified. This is evidenced by the fact that Japan manufactures a lot of goods, ranging from basic goods like paper, steel, iron, salt, and clothes, to highly sophisticated science and technology, like phones, cars, and ships. Japan is very superior in many technological sectors including the automobile, biotechnology, robotics and nanotechnology sectors. It is also among the leading economies in the production of alternative renewable energy. Many multinational corporations, including Sony, a giant in technology, electronic gadgets, and entertainment, are headquartered in Japan. Japan has also been ranked as the third largest producer of cars, and the second largest producer of ships, not forgetting that it is among the largest exporter of fish. The country also has a significant service industry, with dominance in banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, retailing and telecommunications. This diversification has given the country a clear advantage in international business/commerce.

Government intervention has been very evident in the Japanese agricultural sector, as they try to stabilize food supply. Some of this government intervention is in the form of policies, for instance, the liberalization of beef imports in 1991; and this increased foreign competition, which prompted local farmers, mainly in Hokkaido to adopt more efficient production methods and sped up the process of taking larger, modern and more commercialized livestock operations. Legislations were also enacted in 1995, concerning agricultural prices. This led to the partial liberalization of agricultural products like rice, allowing foreign products while at the same giving a chance to local farmers to sell their produce at sensible prices.

State participation in the economy. This is the main characteristic and reason for the success of the Japanese developmental state. Though it is also on a limited scale, the level of influence and control of business by the government in Japan is higher than in other countries. Government involvement is usually seen in the form of consultations with companies and corporations and indirect control of the banking sector by the authorities. The government and businesses form joint committees and forums that monitor the performance of various areas of the economy and also set specific achievement targets for those sectors and branches. There are government departments and government agencies that are charged with the responsibility of aspects of the economy like exports, imports, investments, and prices. These are discussed below:

The Economic Planning Agency is the most essential government agency involved in business in Japan. It works under the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Its primary responsibility is to monitor the daily running of the economy. It achieves this goal by reading the daily trends of the international economy and the daily trends in demand of the Japanese currency, which aids in determining the path of the economy. It is also responsible for long-term planning of the economy. This function enables the government to come up with internal and foreign policies that will protect the country’s economy for the foreseeable future. It also helps in the effective allocation of resources among the various sectors and to influence the organization of specific industries.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry(MITI), has always been an essential part of the “Iron Triangle,” which refers to the stable coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen in Japan. Since the 1970s, MITI enforced various policies, in conjunction with other economic institutions like the Bank of Japan. MITI is a nationalistic institution that is guided by the need to purse and promote policies that it deems as necessary to achieve national interests.

Advantages of the Developmental State

The main power of the Japanese developmental state is that it led to rapid economic growth. More fundamentally, the developmental model of Japan gave more focus and priority to economic growth rather than to political reform: This saved the country from much wastage of resources on foreign politics as has been the case in some other countries. Due to the developmental model, all minds and resources were bent towards a similar goal of growth. The developmental model also enhanced coordination among the various groups and institutions of the country. Due to this Japan has risen as one of the largest producers of consumer goods in the world and also among the largest economies and this is substantiated by its dominance in many fields, such as technology, telecommunication renewable energy, and entertainment.

The developmental state ensures the centrality and supremacy of government. This means that the government is respected as the supreme organ of authority in the country. In Japan, for instance, this has helped to avoid a lot of political ‘drama’ that usually occur in other countries where the government is not recognized. This has played a major role in promoting Japan’s economy since the policies of the government are easily enforced. It has also enhanced cooperation among the government and businesses, especially multinational corporations, creating a healthy environment for more foreign investment.

Private enterprises and businesses are under the state’s guidance. The main advantage that is gotten from this is that positive norms and ethics in the industry are enhanced. This is because the government enacts policies that regulate business operations. This helps to reduce unhealthy competition and more significantly protecting the environment.

The developmental system also ensures proper and effective allocation of resources: This comes as a result of the intensive research that is usually facilitated by the government. The Japanese agricultural sector can evidence this. Japan, though having a very infertile land for agriculture still affords to utilize its available land for rice farming: This has been made possible by the support given by the government to the farmers in terms of subsidies, and this has also led to substantial growth in livestock farming.

Disadvantages of the Developmental State

The developmental state just like globalization leads to the triumph of large businesses over the smaller ones, and this makes it hard for small companies to enter into the transaction, thus putting them at a disadvantage, and this is also a disadvantage because it may lead to the removal from business, of local firms by large foreign investors.

The developmental system also leads to industrialization, which may lead to pollution of the environment due to the use of environmentally hazardous technologies. The growth of these industries like plastics leads to the destruction of the environment which in turn may lead harm to human beings.


In my perspective, I think the Developmental state is a positive thing and should be adopted by many developing countries. First of all is because it leads to economic growth, which is the goal of all states and two, it reduces the focus and resources that otherwise, are given to political reformation, which in turn leads to stagnation of the economy.




Works Cited:

Onis, z. (1991). The logic of the Developmental State.

Johnson, C. (1999). The Developmental State: Odyssey of a concept. The developmental state, 32-60.

Leftwich, A. (1995). Bringing the politics back in: Towards a model of the developmental state. The journal of developmental studies, 31(3), 400-427.

Kohli, A. (1994). Where do high growth political economies come from? The Japanese Lineage of Korea’s “developmental staKohli, A. (1994). Where do high growth political economies come from? The Japanese Lineage of Korea’s “developmental state.” World Development22(9), 1269-1293.te”. World Development22(9), 1269-1293.