For almost three decades, the East Asian and Southeast Asian region have stood out against the rest of the world as a model of development. Making up the East Asian and Southeast Asian Region, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore have undergone an remarkable increase in GDP, converting from a poor and technology backwards economy to a group of prosperous nations. Singapore and Malaysia contain a rich racial mix, while Korea and Japan are very homogeneous societies. Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia have somewhat of a democratic political system for about 3 decades, while Korea has converted to democracy only recently. Despite such differences, all four countries exhibit a common model of economic development.
Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea developed rapidly under positive international circumstances, at least until the late 1980s. The international movement towards freer trade permitted these countries to effectively seek an export-oriented growth strategy. For example, the developed countries moved toward the opening of their domestic markets, yet these four countries, as developing countries, were allowed to keep their domestic markets effectively closed until the end of the 1980s. Korea faced "dangers of internal economic distortions and pressures from the U.S." which lead to a "turn toward export-oriented light industries, especially textiles and clothing." Singapore failed to unionize with Malaysia so had no choice but to export and in turn pursued high technology manufacturing. Japan shifted from the role of a dependent to a manufacturing and financial powerhouse. Malaysia discovered significant oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, thus helping fuel the economic boom as their GDP surged to an annual rate of 5.2 percent by 1979. (Commanding Heights) .
The free trade approach on the part of the U.S, which provided the largest market for Asia's exports, assisted the export-oriented industrialization strategy focusing on the comparative advantage of Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia and their long term growth.