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To remember from South Korea’s stellar rise

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The speed and determination with which South Korea rose from war-torn poverty to innovative leadership amazed the world. Sungchul Chung examines the lessons to be learned by others seeking to emulate its success.

South Korea has in just over half a century risen from chronic poverty to be today one of the world’s most dynamic industrial economies. It has positioned itself as a global player in technology in sectors like automobiles, semi-conductors and telecommunications, and its growth was accomplished despite resource constraints and geopolitical uncertainties. South Korea’s stellar performance is widely praised as a model for emulation, yet it is nowadays concerned that its growth will soon plateau unless it can make the transition from being a technological follower to an innovator.

South Korea’s starting point meant that at first it had to be a follower. The country’s very poor industrial base had been almost totally destroyed during the Korean war at the start of the 1950s, heavily handicapping its private sector in the following decade. But although foreign direct investment (FDI) was at that time generally considered as the most effective way for a developing country to acquire production technologies, management skills and a business know how, South Korean’s government chose to restrict foreign ownership and the repatriation by investors of profits along with controls on technology transfers.

“Slower growth, reduced job prospects and the deteriorating performances of South Korean companies, all warn that its past strategy no longer works”

Instead of relying on funding through FDI, the government itself took on large foreign loans and allocated them to strategic industries, which in turn led to a massive influx of foreign capital goods and turnkey plants. Private industries acquired the necessary technologies by reverse engineering the imported machines, or through technical training as part of turnkey projects.

In the case of light industries, like shoes, clothing and textiles, the major sources of technological training and learning were original equipment manufacturing (OEM) production arrangements. South Korean companies benefited hugely from these because they offered opportunities to work with foreign buyers who would provide everything from product designs and materials to quality control. This was the stage of which South Korea pursued industrialisation by imitating and assimilating foreign technologies.

“Without its well-educated, strongly motivated and highly disciplined workforce, South Korea wouldn’t have been able to achieve such success”

The structural changes to the growing South Korean economy were accompanied by increased levels of sophistication that could no longer be met by imported technologies. The Seoul government responded to these changes by shifting the policy focus from learning to development, and in 1982 launched a national R&D programme. This was the first programme specifically designed for industrial technology development, and it was accompanied by tax and fiscal incentives to promote industrial R&D. These actions were further reinforced in the 1990s by large scale mission-oriented programmes aimed at developing strategic technologies. Private industries joined in by switching their strategy from imitating and assimilating mature foreign technologies to in-house R&D, drawing upon emerging new foreign technologies. During the 1980s and up to 2000, R&D spending in South Korea soared from 0.5% of GDP to more than 3%, with the private sector’s share increasing to 80% towards the end of the 1990s. This period witnessed some remarkable achievements, almost all of them resulting from local and international joint R&D efforts drawing on foreign technologies.

Many developing countries have since tried similar strategies, but very few have succeeded. So what was it that made South Korea different? The most important factor has been human resources; without its well-educated, strongly motivated and highly disciplined workforce, South Korea wouldn’t have been able to achieve such success. Another factor was the government’s policy vision of a unified South Korean national goal.

Seoul’s export-based development strategy has also been very effective in stimulating innovation in private industries. To thrive in the global economy, South Korean companies had to invest heavily in technology and innovation, and were able to do so because of Korean’s cultural values emphasising frugality, which in turn explains the high savings and investment rates during that period.

Unfortunately, South Korea now seems to have hit the limit of its “fast follower” strategy. Slower growth, reduced job prospects and the deteriorating performances of South Korean companies, including Samsung, all warn that its past strategy no longer works. South Korea has to change if it is to recover its dynamism. The South Korean government has duly responded with a new development vision labelled the “creative economy.” Despite confusions over what the creative economy actually means, the main idea appears to be that new growth can be generated by facilitating cross-fertilisation of IT and other areas. Some experts agree with this idea, but others are doubtful. Of greater concern is how the policy should be implemented rather than the idea itself. Can South Korea achieve a creative economy under its current innovation system, and can the government lead innovation toward the creative economy in the way it did in the catch-up process?

“To thrive in the global economy, South Korean companies had to invest heavily in technology and innovation, and were able to do so because of Korean’s cultural values emphasising frugality”

Among the key features of South Korea’s innovation system is the role of government, which is rarely matched in terms of its influence over the private sector. It’s a system that has a lot to do with South Korean culture that is deeply rooted in hierarchical collectivism that places a higher value on community than on individuals, and emphasises social order more than interactions between the members of the society while also being strict about ethical norms.

It’s a culture that provides a glimpse into what the relationship is like between the government and the private sector in South Korea’s innovation system. It makes it easier to achieve social cohesion and to mobilise social energy toward a shared goal, and so it is very effective once the goal is clearly defined. The path to the goal was well-known in the case of the “fast follower” strategy, but the other side of the same coin is that Confucian culture tends to suppress new ideas and discourage risk-taking by penalising failures. This suggests that the factors responsible for past successes may now work as barriers to growth.

To sustain future growth, South Korea needs to find a way to reconcile Confucian culture with the culture of innovation based on diversity, openness, trust, social interactions and tolerance. And the government has to redefine its own role in navigating the country’s course toward a creative economy.

South Korea’s experience shows that there’s no such thing as an optimal innovation system. Innovation systems evolve in a national context that is influenced by such factors as culture, history, politics and the natural environment, all of which are subject to change. This means no model exists that transcends time and the cultural space.

 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Europe’s World, reposted per author’s permission.

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China Vision: China’s Crusade to Create a World in its Own Image

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In the wake of Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s moves to make himself ruler for life, everyone is wondering about his government’s ambitions for its role in the world.  Daniel Wagner has written about what the trends indicate in China Vision: China’s Crusade to Create A World in its Own Image.

The book notes the paradox that China is in regards to investment.  The world’s 2nd largest economy continues to accept billions of dollars in development loans from banks like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.  Meanwhile, Chinese state banks are loaning trillions of dollars to countries around the world.  Chinese entrepreneurs are feverishly setting up businesses abroad and purchasing foreign companies and real estate. If a foreigner wants to invest in China though, they must accept ownership stake limitations and obey rules that explicitly make them less competitive.  In regards to domestic investment, Wagner argues that China invests way too much on grand public projects, like apartment blocs that remain largely vacant, and not enough on small-midsized businesses.  One of these days (the next global recession?), the chickens will come home to roost and China will have to re-evaluate its blank-check policy.

Much of the book focuses on China’s role in foreign diplomacy and commerce.  The fledgling superpower is in the process of spending trillions of dollars on loans to the developing world, particularly through its Asia-oriented Belt and Road Initiative.  These no-strings attached loans give China enormous power over many of the poorest countries in the world.  Many people, like former Maldivian PM Mohamed Nasheed, have outright accused China of imperialist behavior.  The author writes that, “Kenya was to be forced to relinquish control of its largest and most lucrative port in Mombasa to Chinese control as a result of Nairobi’s inability to repay its debts to Beijing.”  China also owns ports in locales as diverse as Djibouti City and Zeebrugge, Belgium.  Chinese firms are likewise emulating some neo-colonial tendencies.  For instance, Wagner writes that, “Fewer than half of these [African-based Chinese] firms sourced inputs or had African management.”  Controversial Chinese real estate projects like Forest City, Malaysia are arguably examples of literal colonialism.

Through this strategy of buying friends and building a global network of ports, China is strengthening its impunity as a Top 3 naval power.  Increasingly, China is treating the South China Sea as its private fiefdom by ignoring credible territorial claims of the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal by the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.  Most disturbing of all is Xi’s recent verbal aggression towards Taiwan.  By buying friends, China can mute criticisms of this military aggression in the UN and isolate foes like Taiwan (only 19 countries have diplomatic relations with it).  With a rapidly expanding fleet of sea craft, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is better equipped than ever to project hard power via all of China’s ports, from off the coast of the Philippines to Belgium…. On this dire note, I wish Wagner had written more about the budding conflict between China and the other 1B-person country in the world, India.  I predict that the dichotomy between democratic India and totalitarian China will determine the future of humanity.  Seeing as India & China (and China’s close ally Pakistan) all possess thermonuclear weapons and have recent military skirmishes with each other, one can only hope that the Tiger and Dragon don’t initiate WWIII squabbling over a sleepy locale like Kashmir or Nepal.

In the final section of the book, Wagner writes about China’s dominance in the virtual sphere.  Chinese tech companies like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are rapidly catching up and even beating Silicon Valley in terms of traffic, profitability and innovation (most importantly, AI).  China has also become the de facto global leader in green technology.  China’s blank-check philosophy funds these rapid advancements.  A lot of this apparent innovation, however, is fuelled by corporate espionage.  For the past few decades, Chinese firms (often with official backing) have been using spies and hacking to steal blueprints and thus reverse engineer inventions.  Ironically, these knock-offs are oftentimes sold to the US government, which creates a huge security risk.  In many cases, Western companies willingly share confidential data with China in order to be granted access to the Chinese market.

China’s running racket of stealing IP and personal user data from US companies that choose to operate in China demonstrates the importance of government regulation… In this case regarding national security and user privacy protection.  Ironically, China enforces data encryption and other cybersecurity measures through regulations like the 2017 Cybersecurity Law.  The willingness of Western companies to literally sell themselves out to China in the frenzied hope of making a quick buck in the world’s largest market is textbook junkie-mentality.  These free market free-basers expose their fundamental flaw in the face of China’s system of state capitalism.  By ceding responsibility of investment from the government to the private sector solely, countries like the US are being vastly outspent by China in everything from space travel to quantum computing research.  As economists like Michel Aglietta and upstart politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez point out, the state must be responsible for picking up the slack when the free market fails to focus on important long term projects, like a Green New Deal (China already has its own publically funded version of the GND).

China Vision is a good account of the Chinese Communist Party’s domestic heavy-handedness and foreign diplomacy-via-blank-check.  The two are interconnected, as China’s crackdown on internal dissidents informs how it treats foreign countries and human rights activists who dare to oppose it.  Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative of loaning billions of infrastructure dollars to developing nations, it can control them through a carrot-and-stick approach.  China’s spy state apparatus is also being used to sabotage foreign humanitarian organizations, religious groups, governments and companies.  The CCP may soon export its surveillance state blueprint to other interested authoritarian states, setting the stage for a cold war between China and its client dictatorships & the Western democracies.  The People’s Liberation Army is preparing for this possibility with a huge naval buildup in the contested South China Sea, aided by all of the “civilian” ports that it’s building there under the auspices of the BRI.  Daniel Wagner’s book does a good job of explaining these geopolitical trends in a concise and even-handed way.  He explains how colonialism and the Cold War helped to shape China’s cynical outlook on the world and doesn’t exaggerate China’s capabilities.  Anyone in politics, tech, economics or the NGO sphere will learn a lot from this book.

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China’s economic transformation under “New Normal”

Sultana Yesmin

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China’s double digit growth, also termed as “old normal growth” had dominated the country’s economy since 1980s. Despite the rapid economic development over the last few decades, this old normal growth has encountered some setbacks, including economic imbalance, income inequality, limited consumption choices against increasing level of demand, and environmental challenges.

Given this context, a comprehensive new development model, “new normal”, incorporating the innovation, coordination, greening, opening up, and inclusiveness, is formulated by Chinese authorities to enable wide-ranging growth and development throughout the country.

Analysts refer to “new normal” as China’s new phase of economic development. The recent trend of “growth slowdown” or “new normal” economic growth is also referred to new strategy of Chinese foreign policy by the analysts.

During the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Beijing held on November 09, 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping first used the phrase as “new normal stage of Chinese economy.” President Xi also referred to China’s stable economic growth in order to improve and upgrade economic structure under the “new normal” conditions.

Subsequent to this, China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) incorporates the “new normal” in economic development with a particular vision of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. The key significant features of China’s “new normal” are:

Slower economic growth

One of the key reforms or significant changes on China’s medium-high economic growth rather fast growth over the past few years is exceedingly evident. To be mentioned, over the past 40 years, China has maintained an average annual growth rate of around 9.5 percent that transformed an impoverished nation to an upper-middle-income nation.

In contrast, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate lowered from 7.5 percent in 2012-2014 to 6.8 percent in 2017. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the GDP growth rate was relatively same, 6.6 percent, in 2018, with an expected target of around 6.5 percent at the same time.

For the purpose of economic restructure and high-quality development, China’s local governments have also lowered their GDP growth targets in the same year. The new trend of normal flow of growth is projected to be relatively same in the upcoming years.

Yiping Huang, Professor of economics at the National School of Development, Peking University, and an adjunct professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, refers to such transformation of China’s growth model as the transition from “economic miracle” to “normal development,” which is the partial departure from the traditional bottom-up approach.

The World Bank also mentions that, China’s economic slowdown is not unexpected, rather desirable from both from short and medium-term perspectives aiming at fostering China’s transition to a modern economy through the new model. This transition denotes a clear move from high speed growth to slower, steadier, and more sustainable economy.

Market-oriented reform

One of the significant aspects of China’s “new normal” economic model is to facilitate market for playing “decisive role” in allocating economic resources. The “new normal” endeavors for making interest rates, currency exchange rates, and land prices more market-oriented. Incremental steps have already been taken towards the liberalization of interest rate and exchange rate set by market forces, cutting taxes, and reducing costs in order to widen market access, stimulate market vitality, and support economy.

The improvement of market environment, enhancement of private investment and investment-led growth, establishment of comprehensive pilot zones, facilitation of interest rate controls on loans, proactive fiscal policy, prudent monetary policy, and the increase of effective supply among other significant measures have also been outlined in the report on the Work of the Government delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the Second Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress on March 05, 2014.

Supply-side reform

President Xi first announced the phrase “supply-side structural reform (SSSR)” in late 2015, which injects new impetus into China’s economic policy framework. The SSSR mainly focuses on reducing distortions in the supply side of the economy and upgrading the industrial sector.

A study on China’s SSSR conducted by Reserve Bank of Australia finds five core policy objectives of China’s supply supply-side reform–cutting excess industrial capacity; reducing leverage in the corporate sector; de-stocking of property inventories; lowering costs for businesses and addressing “weak links” in the economy.

In this regard, China has focused on overcapacity reduction, especially in coal and steel production. As for example, more than 65 million metric tons of steelmaking capacity and over 290 million tons of coal-production capacity were eliminated in 2018.

Moreover, the government has already reduced tax to foster business friendly environment. President Xi has underscored the necessity of strengthening areas of weakness to boost the supply of the public goods and services.

Innovation driven economy, the vital part of SSSR, attempts to enhance the quality of products, reduce ineffective and lower-end supply through the advancement of artificial intelligence, big data, and the inauguration of 5G mobile communication equipment etc.

Services-driven economy

As per the push for services-driven economy, the socio-economic issues for the improved people’s wellbeing have also been addressed in the “new normal”. President Xi Jinping remarks, “Comprehensively deepening reform will not only liberate the productive force but also unleash the vitality of the society.”

The 13th FYP highlights the development of services and measures to address environmental challenges in order to reduce pollution and amplify energy efficiency. During the 2014 Beijing APEC meetings, temporary shutdown of Chinese factories was given “priority of priorities” to curb pollution and ensure air quality. As per the policy, China has started accelerating the development of clean energy industry from 2018.

The green development aside, robust consumption, reducing social imbalances, improving education and healthcare facilities, and expanding social protection get equal priority in the new phase of economic development.

Opening up through Connectivity

The new phase of Chinese economic growth is based on political economy that anticipates trans-border trade and investment facilitation as well as border connectivity through greater integration and sustainable relations among nations. China’s stretching connectivity over Asia, Africa, and Europe through the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, altogether known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is extending influence from South China Sea to Indian Ocean. RMB internalization and China’s leading role from multilateral trade forums to climate change accords clearly signify the “new normal” policy of President Xi Jinping.

Implications on China’s socio-economic development

The “new normal” economic model has far-reaching impacts on China’s comprehensive development and path towards building a moderately prosperous society.

First, China’s has comfortably been maintaining its position as the world’s second largest economy. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reports, despite the slowdown of GDP growth rate, China contributed more than 30 percent to world economic growth during 2017. Hence, the investment-led growth since 2012 has resulted huge benefits for Chinese businesses and the overall economy.

Second, Chinese people are getting relief from the side effects of old model, mentioned earlier. The country has been witnessing growing equality among people, comparatively equal income distribution, robust consumption, environment-friendly industrialization, quality products, and other developments in other socio-economic sectors.

Third, Qualitative than quantitative aspects of economic growth, balanced and sustainable growth, stable employment, innovation, green development, investment intensification, faster industrial upgrading, and opening up are leading to China’s dream towards a sustainable socio-economic development. For example, the number of Chinese enterprises, around 27 million, and market entities have been increased in China over the past few years under both market and supply-side structural reforms. These new business hubs are boosting the country’s structural transformation and economy.

Finally, China’s new phase of economic growth and new historic juncture reiterate China’s development as per the vision broadly prescribed in Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.

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The Slippery Slope of Sino-US Trade War

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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Change is the only constant. After a struggle for supremacy in geopolitical and geo-economical spheres, now technological realms have also been contested among superpowers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is at the verge of breaking out and it is expected that this stage of modernization will tug the very fabric of society and will alter the way individuals interact with each other and world at large. Ongoing industrial innovation will act as a modus operandi to transform global economies, communities, and politics.

The world is in stern need of a modern global architecture before the fourth industrial revolution starts encroaching on us. That is why a trade tussle emerged on statist lines among all major economic stakeholders of the international economy, especially among those having a larger share in business with the United States. The US President Donald Trump opted a pre-emptive approach and imposed tariffs and nuisance in global economies. Eminent journalist, Bob Woodward highlighted the fact in his book ‘FEAR’ that USA’s protectionist elements are far-greater than ever before and such actions will hinder economic peace with traditional allies or trade partners. Trump’s tariff imposition on China and renegotiation of NAFTA and Free Trade Agreements with EU leaves no doubt about Woodward’s projections. Another famous Nico Colchester prize-winner financial journalist, James Politi of Financial Times referred exchange of tariff brawls between USA and China as “protectionist firepower” by Trump administration aiming against China. To cut short, current trade tariff discourse is in order to contain China in geopolitical, economic and technological leadership.

An ongoing trade war is economic intimidation and coercion by the USA towards China to redevise their trade agreements and get more favorable terms for the country, which will also advance Trump’s populist mantra of America First. Trade tariffs were imposed as a consequence for not responding the sheer allegations on Chinese companies by US administration of unprecedented level of larceny and infringement upon intellectual property rights. US Politicians claim that industrial migration and capital flight from the US to China was the reason of unemployment in the USA, but economists condemned the long-term policies like reliance on imports and not saving much for the future.

China’s rise is perceived as a threat to hegemonic stability, thus an influx of uncertainty is stirring in the realm of international political economies. This rise is analogous to the Thucydides trap and also depict similar characteristics as of power transition theory. But the fault line of this predicament lies in the technological advancement of China by virtue of US private enterprises and regional economic connectivity ventures of the country. In short, it is a feud between the two leading economic powers to overhaul world trading practice (its terms and conditions) coupling with technology and knowledge-based economy with an intent to hedge and wedge each other being the contenders of global hegemony.

Both economic powers, China and USA have been in a state of economic tug of war since June 2018. To resolve his sticky situation, Trump administration imposed 25 percent import tax on $50 billion worth of products of Chinese origin in order to overcome the trade deficit between both economic giants. China countered this move by levying duties on the produce of USA and more than three rounds of tariffs worth $250 billion were exchanged among both parties, in addition, both parties threatened with each other with penalties of $267 billion. However, both countries had annual trade relations of $710.4 billion in 2017 and China is ranked as the third largest export market for the USA.

The Chinese government was alleged for backing their private companies by injecting billions of dollars every year and termed as state-owned private enterprises by several journalists and newspapers. In addition, Chinese companies were suspected to violate patent rights especially the ones related to modern technology and Chinese authorities for restricting foreign companies to access their markets freely. China also announced its strategy named ‘Made in China 2025’ which implies that majority of end-user products will be developed by China in near-term while it is also a challenging situation for the USA for being a techno-center of the world. Vision 2025 asserts that China will be a front-runner in modern technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology in the respective year .

While campaigning for elections, Republican President of USA, Donald Trump also proclaimed that Chinese development is equivalent to ‘rape’ and his administration will levy 45 percent tariffs on total imports from China. Formerly China had been under tariff regime of USA on products worth of $50 billion annually and President-Elect also threatened Chinese government to take a radical stance and impose further 25 percent taxes on January 1st, 2019 on products worth $200 billion. Chinese government retaliated this move by imposing tariffs worth $60 billion despite economic coercion from the US government of striking further duties on all products of Chinese origin.

Joseph Stiglitz, an eminent scholar, and Nobel laureate explained stated that:

The United States has a problem, but it’s not with China. Predicament lies in America because they saved too little, and borrowed and imported too much“.

USA and China are heading towards a war which no one wants at this point in time.In this modern era, the US and China must see ahead of time and resolve their bilateral relations which is a cause of disturbance in the international economic order. To do so there is a need to establish new norms of trading and economics which incorporate prevalent treaties and meet the requirement of the 21st century.  To serve the purpose rules should be developed to cater the technology related matters in international trading practices.

Current global situation of power transition and hegemon desiring stability depict the same case as of Thucydides trap which is an outcome of structural pressures spiraling from an emerging power challenge the ruling one. Although this theory is ancient but very relevant to the on-going trade-brawls of China and USA, a case where the leadership of both countries sings hymns of making their country great again. This conflict has no resolution other than either party accepts the dominance of other whereas in this case China is not going to cap and roll their economic endeavors, and the US will also not concur to Chinese supremacy in Pacific, cyberspace and external space. There are certain stern measures which competing economies will have to take in order or else it could be an all-out war.

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