Shipper, Apichai W. (2012) Influence of the Weak: The Role of Foreigners, Activism, and NGO Networks in Democratizing Northeast Asia. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2012.00742.x © 2012 International Studies Association

Political life in modern Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan is commonly characterized by a strong central government, influential economic elites, and a relatively homogeneous society. In such settings, we would not expect to find much impact by foreigners and small NGO actors on policy changes, but the cases in these countries challenge this assessment. Relatively unskilled foreign workers in present-day Northeast Asia face a range of hardships, and existing government programs have provided little support until recently. Media portrayals of foreign workers—as in several other industrialized democracies—reinforce popular suspicions and fear of these foreigners. Yet, citizens of host countries themselves have formed numerous voluntary associations aimed at assisting foreign workers. I call the activities of these groups “associative activism.” My account of associative activism makes explicit the process through which some activists, who initially work in concert chiefly to solve specific problems, eventually form broader political ambitions as they exert pressure on dominant features of the public sphere, especially processes of governance, political representation, and opinion formation. I identify three domains of associative activism through which political influence is exerted by immigrant rights groups: legislative, juridical, and municipal. These efforts illustrate how civil society groups can play an increasing role in protecting foreigners’ rights and advancing democratization in Northeast Asia.