Influence of Geographic Factors on Politics in East Asia

Influence of Geographic Factors on Politics in East Asia
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  • 0:00 What is Political Geography?
  • 0:55 China & North Korea
  • 3:40 Japan & South Korea
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the political geography of each country in East Asia, and some of the factors that have influenced it. A short quiz will follow.

What Is Political Geography?

Political geography is the study of governments and countries and their relationships, both with other governments and with their citizens. So to study the political geography of East Asia means to look at the borders and political systems of the area and how they relate to each other, and to consider what caused things to be the way they are. In this lesson, we're also going to pay attention to how the physical geography of the area led things to be the way they are.

But first of all, what is East Asia? What area are we talking about? East Asia is a region that contains four countries: Japan, China, North Korea and South Korea.

Each of these countries is quite different politically. Japan and South Korea are Western-style capitalist democracies. China is a communist dictatorship, which still has free markets in certain places. And North Korea is one of the most extreme communist dictatorships on Earth, with completely controlled (or 'planned') markets. Let's take a look at the geographical factors that led to those systems.

Political Geography of China & North Korea

China and North Korea are both communist countries, with regimes that control the economy and the lives of their citizens in extreme ways. Since they have the same political system on a basic level, we're talking about them together. But they're actually quite different, and a lot of this is because of geographical factors.

China is one of the most successful, powerful and richest countries in the world, although many of their rural citizens wouldn't know it from the poor living standards they can be faced with. Economists tend to say that capitalism leads to riches and economic success, and communism only depresses the economy and leads to poor living standards. So how can we explain China's economic success?

Well, for one thing, China still has a market economy that operates in its major cities. It still trades with the rest of the world in a capitalist way. But there's more to it than that, and it's all down to the physical geography of the area. China is a country that is rich in natural resources: from coal, oil, gas and precious metals, to fresh water and natural beauty to attract tourists. There is very little that China lacks within its borders. So that means it also doesn't have to rely on the rest of the world in the way some countries do. Trade is important, but if China closed its borders tomorrow, they would survive. In fact, they would probably still thrive.

Compare this to North Korea, which lacks many of these resources. Due to the way North Korea treats its citizens and its threatening posture with other countries, particularly the United States, sanctions have been placed on the country that make it hard for it to trade. And this has huge impacts on the standard of living in the country. If it wasn't for their friendship with China and the large amount of trade that happens between the two communist countries, North Korea might truly be on the verge of collapse.

The other notable political aspect of China's geography is its huge size. The borders of China surround an enormous area, fueled mostly by past aggression and imperial expansion. But there are geographic reasons the borders are placed where they are. On the east and south, China's border is limited by the sea. And on the west, China continues until it hits the natural barrier of the Himalayan Mountains. Conquering countries on the opposite side of mountains can be difficult: you often have to bring your armies through tight mountain passes a few at a time. This reduces the advantage of having large numbers, and this is the main reason that China's borders end where they do.

Last of all, Chinese society, like many cultures in Asia, is influenced by Confucian ideas. One of these ideas is a sense of hierarchy and respect for authority. This includes respecting your elders, especially elder family members. But it also encourages people not to challenge those who have a higher station in life. This is often quoted as a partial explanation for the success of totalitarian regimes like the Chinese communist government.

Political Geography of Japan & South Korea

Japan and South Korea are landscapes that have been shaped by conflict and ideology. They're both currently Western-style capitalist democracies. South Korea's main city, Seoul, has been thriving thanks to capitalism. But the path they took to get there was rocky.

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