Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Beijing forges path to economic development

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

When friends of mine in the social sciences talk of their experiences of exchanges with their counterparts in China, they all say that the quality of academic training available here is every bit as good, although we do lack their assertiveness.

Over there, they do not shy away from the "big questions" even though their discussions of these can be a little rough around the edges. Taiwanese academics need to write their papers in Eng-lish and submit them to Western academic publications. Papers written by academics in China, on the other hand, though written in Chinese, are often sought by academic organizations abroad.

The vitality of "Greater China" has taken the world by surprise, and Taiwan suffers somewhat in comparison. The Western media give extensive coverage to stories of Chinese businesses seeking foreign investment, buying up companies abroad and muscling in on international markets. Lenovo, which started out assembling personal computers, suddenly bought up IBM's personal computing division. Only 10 years ago it was producing switchboards, and now it wants a piece of the information-technology pie.

Chinese businesses are getting bolder all the time, and are no longer hiding behind Beijing's protectionist market policies. Now they want to vie with the top players in the world. They also want their own brand names, and if these prove impossible to forge, they will buy up Western brands.

This type of drive is admirable, and was rarely seen even during Taiwan's own post-war "economic miracle." It is possible that social science textbooks will have to be rewritten in response to China's economic development over the past 20 years.

If all of the grandiose targets that China is setting itself at the moment come to fruition, on schedule and without any hitches, then many values held to be good and principles held to right will need to be reevaluated.

Is a good corporate governance system really that impor-tant? Is the independence of monetary policy truly necessary? How about the doctrine of fairness in fiscal policy? And is reasonable allocation of income necessarily a major mechanism for socioeconomic cohesion? If these principles are all so important, does it mean that China's reforms have already surpassed those of Taiwan and Hong Kong? Have its reforms already reached the same level as Japan, Europe and the US? If not, how has its development been so rapid? And is this to continue?

China does not have to lose sleep over such things as the Enron case, and the bursting of the economic bubble, as happened in Japan, is a long way off. The powers that be in Beijing need not concern themselves with issues regarding unemployment and social welfare, as European governments do. Problems arising from the party-state system, as experienced in Taiwan during the 1980s and 1990s, have yet to develop into pressing concerns for China.

Each stage of development comes with its own particular challenges, but it takes a long time for a society to mature. Taiwan has produced a good many "world firsts" over the past two decades, but this is merely the part played by Taiwan at a certain time in a system of international division of labor.

Competition from China indeed gives cause for concern in East Asian nations, Europe and the US, and these countries will have to rethink their strategies. Then again, if one believes that the accumulated fruits of hard-won economic and social development mean nothing -- and that these countries' societies, econo-mies and cultures will fold in the face of the rising dragon -- you would have to concede that this scenario doesn't really conform to the textbooks either. It will take more than the experience of two decades to warrant a complete revision of the textbooks.

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