As the largest and most populous continent, Asia is merely a geographic term. Asia can be divided into six regions. Our focus is confined to East Asia and Southeast Asia because these peoples as well as their cultures resemble each other more than any other regions of Asia. Like the concept of Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia are more geographic terms than homogeneous concepts, and the use of the terms to describe these vast areas always carries the potential of obscuring the enormous diversity among the two regions. Because of space limitations, the discussion of Asian policing systems is limited to selected law enforcement agencies in East Asian and Southeast Asia.

East Asia and Southeast Asia are regarded separately mainly because of the level of industrialization, cultural traditions, and geographic influences. East Asia includes China (Hong Kong and Macao), Korea (North and South), Mongolia, and the islands of Japan and Taiwan. Historically, these countries were under the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism, with Islamic and Christian impacts being marginal. Buddhism and Confucianism interacted with the local culture and mixed with shamanism and Taoism in China and Korea and with Shinto in Japan. Southeast Asia embraces Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Traditionally, these nations were greatly influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Modern history saw the conversion to Catholicism in the Philippines, East Timor, and Vietnam.

Politically, many nations are communist states, such as China, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Others have liberal democratic regimes such as Japan. The rest of the nations sit between these two extremes with South Korea and Taiwan having recently joined the liberal democratic regimes. There are also three constitutional monarchies—Cambodia, Japan, and Malaysia—and one constitutional sultanate—Brunei (Central Intelligence Agency 2005).

East Asian societies are more homogeneous than countries in Southeast Asia. The common philosophical Confucianism and Buddhism, reinforced by centuries of tradition, have molded these societies into accepting patriarchal, hierarchical, authoritarian order. People are bound by notions of reciprocal duty, informal resolution of conflict, and great reliance on collectivism. The resulting legal systems are unlike those found in the West, and in the eyes of Western scholars, these legal systems hold little respect for procedural niceties or individual rights. They do not recognize the existence of an autonomous, rights-bearing individual who is an isolated being, related solely to God or to nature. Instead, the individual in East Asia from birth to death and beyond is defined in the context of a hierarchical collective (Cao and Cullen 2001; Dutton 1992). These societies place emphasis on intertwining bonds of human relationship to maintain the social fabric and to prevent crime and disorder. In other words, these intertwining bonds have been the basic unit of informal policing over the centuries.

It is impossible to describe each of the police forces in these regions. The current entry, therefore, only describes the police organizations in five nations in these regions: China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Policing in China

Although China has a very long history of bureaucracy, the police agency was not part of this long tradition. Before the twentieth century, Confucian China had no professional police force. Some forms of forerunners of secret police can be found in the Ming Dynasty’s (1368-1644) dong-chang and xi-chang, and the county magistrate, who was a chief executive and judge in one, employed ”runners” to perform some duties of law enforcement. The first modern sense of a professional police force was created in Tianjin in 1901 under the command of General Yuan Shi-kai as a compromised solution to maintain law and order in the concessions of Western powers. Soon the police as a paramilitary government agency spread to all major cities, and the government of the Qing Dynasty (16441911) in Beijing established a bureau to manage this force in 1905.

After the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, more systematic ways of organizing and training police, which imitated the police of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union, were introduced in the Republic of China (1912-1949). The process was interrupted in 1949 when the communists took over the government. The new regime, The People’s Republic of China, under Mao, developed a total proletarian dictatorship that modeled the Soviet practice exclusively. The police were highly centralized and were loyal only to the Communist Party. Its power is ubiquitous, absolute, and unchallengeable.

After Mao’s death in 1976, the reform-minded Deng Xiaoping introduced many changes in an attempt to decentralize the police apparatus. The Ministry of Justice was established under the new constitution of 1982, which removed the duty of managing the prisons and most other correctional institutions from the police. The Ministry of State Security was established in June 1983 with the mandate ”to ensure China’s security and strengthen the struggle against espionage.” The military police, however, were established in the following year as a separate unit within the Public Security Ministry. As a result, the Public Security Ministry has become more focused on crime prevention, criminal investigation, fire control, traffic, census responsibilities, and border control. In 1995, the Police Law came into effect (Ma 1997). The law defines the police organization, duties, recruitment, training, powers, disciplinary procedures, and citizen complaint mechanism.

The many levels of police are controlled in a top-down manner by the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing with the approval of the provincial and city governments. In each province and in each city, there are four major divisions of the police: military police, which guard the important government buildings; fire police; traffic police; and public security police. The unique characteristics of Chinese policing are that crime prevention and crime investigation are largely shouldered by the public security police at the neighborhood station, working closely with the neighborhood committee. Since 1978, there has been a slow but steady shift from a force (imposer of order) to a service (servant of the community) orientation. The police officers have more discretionary power than their counterparts in the West as well as more responsibilities.

They are given the power of ”administrative punishment” in cases of minor crimes and public order offenses by means of warnings, fines, and detention in police cells (Bracey 1989). In other words, in such cases the police alone carry out apprehension, adjudication, and correction without reference to the People’s Procurator, the courts, or the correctional institutions. The police have a teaching function as well as a legal brief. It is their responsibility to educate the masses about the law.

Police training for new recruits is largely handled in provincial police colleges and at the People’s Public Security University in Beijing. All provincial colleges give certificates as well as associate degrees. They are in charge of the training of entry-level police officers and the in-service promotion of officers at the county/district and city levels. In addition to age and health requirements, new recruits have to pledge their loyalty to the Communist Party (Cao and Hou 2001; Jiao 2001). Some of the provincial police colleges also grant bachelor’s degrees. Only the People’s Public Security University grants academic degrees from bachelor’s to Ph.D. In addition, there are several specialty police colleges, such as armed police college, border police college, forensic science college, armed police college, and many other provincial academies. The police academies in Hong Kong and Macao do not give any academic degrees.

Policing in Japan

Japan was the first nation in East Asia to establish a modern professional police in the early 1870s during the Meiji Restoration. Their police force was modeled after that of France and Germany (Ames 1981). Kawaji Toshiyoshi is credited with the creation of the modern Japanese police. After a short period of a decentralized police experiment during the occupation of the United States after World War II, Japanese police became centralized again with the adoption of the Reform Police Law in 1954. The police at the prefectural level maintain a degree of autonomy, but they must operate under the general supervision of the National Police Agency, which is accountable to the National Public Safety Commission, which is, in turn, directly answerable to the prime minister (National Police Agency of Japan 2005).

The national nature of the police is greatly enhanced by the way police officers are trained and promoted. All new police recruits have to go through vigorous training at the prefecture or national police academy. To be promoted, they have to go through training again at the National Police Academy. However, none of the police academies grants any academic degrees to police officers. Compared with China, the duties of Japanese police officers are more focused on crime. Similar to China, the Ministry of Justice manages the prison system in Japan.

Due to Japan’s history, in which the police were first recruited from the ranks of the samurai, the police enjoy high social status in Japan and their supportive environment was considered a ”heaven for a cop” (Bayley 1991, 1). Japan’s unique police strategy is based on the urban koban and the rural chuzaizo. The koban is a small structure, a house or a storefront, which provides an office and working space for the officers assigned to it. It is staffed around the clock and provides a broad range of services to the people of the community. Twice each year, the patrol officers conduct a house-to-house visitation in their district, gathering information about who lives in the area and offering information about crime prevention and safety measures.

Policing in Korea

After the Japanese victory in the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and after its subsequent strengthened influence and control over Korea, the police bureau Kyoung Mu Cheong was established in 1894 in the Home Affairs Ministry of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) (Lee 1990). Between then and now, many changes have taken place, but the centralization of the police has survived all political eras: Yi Dynasty, Japanese occupation, American military guardianship, the Rhee dictatorship, authoritarian regimes, and the democratic regimes since 1988 (Korean National Police Agency 2005). Currently, the Korean National Police Agency sits within the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs. Like China and Japan, there is a separate Ministry of Justice in charge of prison systems.

Having inherited the crisis of legitimacy and a negative relationship between the public and the police from the previous military authoritarian regimes, the democratic governments since 1988 have placed considerable emphasis on the service role of the police, on the importance of the partnership, and on a positive relationship between the public and the police (Moon, McCluskey, and Lee 2005). The National Central Police Academy is in charge of all new recruits. The Police Comprehensive Academy is a training facility for officers with the rank of inspector or below. The National Police University provides training for officers above the rank of inspector and also grants officers with bachelor’s degrees (Korean National Police Agency 2005).

North Korea, after its proclaimed independence in 1948, has become increasingly isolated since 1990 and is regarded as a hermit kingdom once again. There is little public information on its police force except that it is tightly controlled by the Communist Party as a repressive force of its citizens. The Ministry of Public Security (called the Ministry of the Interior until 1962) is closely patterned after the Soviet model of the Stalin era. Both conventional and secret police are subordinate to this ministry, as are traffic control, fire prevention, and the penal system.

Policing in Malaysia

The Malays, historically the dominant cultural group in Malaysia, probably originally came from South China (ca. 2000 b.c.), but marriages with other aboriginal peoples over generations and isolation from the Chinese influence have modified their ethnic and cultural characteristics. The peninsula was influenced greatly by Hinduism and Buddhism before the fourteenth century, as evidenced by its temples and Indian cultural traditions. The fall of Madjapahit in the late fourteenth century opened the way for the primacy of a Malay state. In the fifteenth century, the Malays, beginning with the Malaccans, were converted to Islam, which remains the religion of most Malays. During the British occupation, various police organizations were formed in different parts of Malaysia, and its current legal system was derived in large measure from the British.

Malaysia is a mix of people from many races and cultures, and uniting them under a common flag was not an easy enterprise. Because Malays represented the simple majority (51%), the constitution gave them permanent spots in the government, made Islam the national religion, and made Malay the national language, although English is used in the legal system. A few years after its independence in 1957, the federal government merged separate police organizations into a single national police called the Royal Malaysian Police. The Police Act of 1967 established the office of the inspector general, who commands the police force and is responsible to the Minister of Home Affairs for the direction and control of the organization. The correction system is administered by the Prison Department within the same Ministry of Home Affairs.

Candidates with primary school educations are recruited as constables; those holding the Malaysia Certificate of Education are recruited as probationary inspectors; and university graduates are recruited as probationary assistant superintendents. The Police Academy in Kuala Lumpur offers basic training for constable recruits and refresher courses for junior officers. Higher level courses are given at the Police College in Kuala Kubu Bharu. Separate technical trainings are available for criminal investigation and special branch personnel, and paramilitary training for the police field force is given at Ulu Kinta in Perak.

Policing in Singapore

Singapore was a fishing and trading village when it was ceded to the British East India Company in 1819. In 1824, it came under the complete control of the British and it developed fast into a port city. In 1965, Singapore became an independent republic, but it has remained in the Commonwealth of Nations. The population is more than 75% Chinese; Malays and Indians constitute large minorities. The country has four official languages: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and English.

In 1857, the Police Act was passed in the colony, establishing a regular police force in Singapore. In 1923, the Police Force Training Depot was started, which was upgraded as the Police Academy in 1959. It is in charge of all police training as well as training for promotion in Singapore. It does not give any academic degrees. Like all other police forces in this region, the police force is centralized in design. As in Malaysia, it is housed within the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Prisons Department is another unit within the same ministry (Singapore 2005). According to Bayley (1989), the Singapore police force has successfully shifted from a reactive, incident-based police strategy before 1981 to full-scale community policing. Specifically, with the help of American and British scholars, it has deemphasized motorized patrolling and emergency response in favor of intensive community involvement through establishment of Neighborhood Police Posts; it has redeployed a substantial proportion of patrol personnel for community problem solving; and it has enmeshed policing in a network of independent community organizations.

Despite the differences among these five nations, there are a few striking similarities: the police are all centralized and national in design. Of course, there are different degrees of centralization. Arguably, the police force in North Korea is the most tightly controlled by the Communist Party, and it exerts the greatest control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives. In contrast, the police force in Malaysia is probably the least tightly controlled by its government and it exerts the weakest control over its citizens. Police personnel are all recruited on a voluntary basis from applicants who are often young or from the army. To be promoted, police officers have to be retrained in police academies or police colleges.

Compared with the United States, all nations have lower official crime rates. The quality of crime data, however, varies from one nation to another. Official crime statistics are very reliable in Japan (Vaughn and Tomita 1990) and Singapore, but not as reliable in China (Yu and Zhang 1999). The lower crime rates are due primarily to the cultural milieu of societies rather than their police force. This is particularly true for all nations in East Asia.

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