The total global forest area is decreasing significantly, yet stories of successful large-scale forest restoration are still scarce. In the 1980s, when properly designed concepts and methodologies were absent, state-led, large-scale restoration projects in lower-income countries (LICs) in Asia were already successful. These then LICs—South Korea, Vietnam, and China—experienced dramatic forest land use changes driven by different socioeconomic and political developments, from deforestation and forest degradation to reforestation and ecological restoration. This study examines the institutional settings of each country’s restoration programs, focusing on the inputs of the external factors, their effects on the relevant action arena, and their payment mechanisms. By conducting critical comparisons between three country cases, we found that the ability of nations that had implemented reforestation programs to restore their forests was often influenced by external variables, which included biophysical conditions, local community attributes, and local, state, and federal rules. The result of this research provides practical implications and contributes to the body of literature comparing restoration cases from Asian countries, which have rarely been investigated.
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