Brexit’s Lesson For Asia’s Democracies

TOKYO – The United Kingdom, in voting to divorce the European Union, is steering the West into uncharted territory. Will the EU now unravel, as other populists and nationalists demand plebiscites on their respective countries’ membership? Will NATO, the grand post-war alliance that has guaranteed Europe’s security for almost seven decades, also begin to disintegrate, as its members turn inward (like Britain) or, worse, against each other?

Many people in Asia will dismiss these questions the way Neville Chamberlain wrote off Central Europe back in 1938: as problems in faraway countries about which they know and care little. But the truth is that the populist surge now rocking the West has its own echoes in Asia.

Greater disunity here is particularly dangerous, because Asia lacks the West’s connective institutional framework and regional shock absorbers. The recent recall of an agreed statement by ASEAN criticizing China for its actions in the South China Sea is but the latest sad example of the immaturity of Asia’s collective security process.

Across the region, national rivalries remain raw, and historical memories continue to sow divisions. So all Asians must recognize that their countries and region are equally vulnerable to those who would undermine the rule of law and today’s existing structures of peace and prosperity, flimsy as they may be.