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One great fallacy in the study of law in authoritarian countries is to treat legality as the rule of law, and to then assume a linear development from the rule of law to democracy. In reality, we have seen jurisdictions with a high level of the rule of law but without democracy, as well as authoritarian regimes that resort to legality for strategic purposes but treat legality as a mere tool to strengthen authoritarian rule. In other words, legality without the rule of law, and the rule of law without democracy, are common. This is particularly true in Asia, where authoritarian regimes embracing the idea of the rule of law usually enjoy sufficient levels of legitimacy in that the majority of the population in the respective countries view the political system as appropriate or that it should not be opposed. As such, “authoritarian legality” constitutes a conceptual space where legality, authoritarianism, democracy, and legitimacy are intertwined and cause a great deal of ambiguity, coupled with divided views and competing evaluations of its operation.
Authoritarian legality can be defined narrowly to mean legal norms of authoritarian states and the process in which those legal norms are implemented. It is common ground that, in authoritarian states, there is no formal mechanism for meaningful competition for political power and that authoritarian leaders monopolize political power and are ready to use repression, co-optation, and other means to ensure regime survival.
A cluster of Asian states are well-known for their authoritarian legality while having been able to achieve remarkable economic growth. Why would an authoritarian regime seek or tolerate a significant degree of legality and how has such type of legality been made possible in Asia? Would a transition towards a liberal, democratic system eventually take place and, if so, what kind of post-transition struggles are likely to be experienced? This book compares the past and current experiences of China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam and offers a comparative framework for readers to conduct a theoretical dialogue with the orthodox conception of liberal democracy and the rule of law.