Trade wars and security clashes are in the forefront across greater Asia, but we would be remiss to overlook the intensifying struggle over democratization as a factor in international relations. On the one side is China backed by Russia, both intent on foiling not only “color revolutions,” but also democratic processes in general. On the other is the United States, despite the recent rhetorical inconsistency, encouraged by Japan and other countries in its support of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” To grasp the essence of this battle we need an updated framework to analyze democratization as a continuum, subject to setbacks and national identities as forces that form the backdrop for how democratization evolves. We can draw on case studies for lessons about past struggles over democratization in East Asia and for tests of how foreign relations, especially involving China, are impacting democratization. Great power competition has been more acute in Northeast Asia, our starting point, while it has recently intensified in South and Southeast Asia. This article seeks linkages between national identity and democratization, proposes a framework for analyzing how democratization proceeds within today’s foreign policy context, and draws on lessons from aspirations for advancing democracy in Northeast Asia after the Cold War ended.