In the era of globalization, all nations in the world -- including Taiwan -- are confronted by the same predicament: how to strike a balance between the trend of globalization and the need for a localized awareness. In Taiwan, this much-needed debate has turned into just another battleground for pro-independence and pro-unification forces. As a result, the nation's path to globalization has been a narrow one, and globalization is being equated with Sinicization and the belief that Taiwan cannot exist without the China market.
But interpreting localization through a nationalist lens only creates obstacles and restricts government policy. For Taiwan, globalization does not in fact amount to Sinicization. The goal of localization is simply to safeguard the nation's autonomy in the face of the overwhelming forces of global capitalism.
At the recent WTO summit in Hong Kong, participants agreed that globalization has not brought benefits to all people -- an outcome that economists, businesspeople and financial regulators had so confidently predicted.
According to the most recent annual Progress Report by the Director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development, over the past 20 years, 53 of the 73 nations studied (or 80 percent of the total population of those nations) experienced a widening income gap between the rich and the poor. This phenomenon was seen in nations with rapid economic growth, such as China, and also in nations with sluggish economies, such as Bolivia. Which leads to the question: who is the real beneficiary of globalization?
In Taiwan, discussions about globalization often focus solely on the issue of Sinicization. Commentators often arrive at the following four conclusions: without bilateral trade with China, Taiwan would show a trade deficit; without investment cooperation with China, Taiwanese businesses would lose market opportunities and fail to keep ahead of business rivals from other nations; actively opening cross-strait economic links is the only way to achieve a win-win situation; and failing to establish the three direct cross-strait links runs counter to the spirit of globalization.
In the 1980s, the appreciation of the New Taiwan dollar and the increasing costs of land and labor were major factors that caused Taiwanese businesses to relocate to and invest in Southeast Asia.
In the end, such firms were able to become multinational companies. This investment in Southeast Asia didn't result in lost market advantages. By the same token, China's more than 20 years of high economic growth does not make it the only nation that is growing rapidly. Vietnam has had a similar economic performance -- but does anyone argue that "without Vietnam, Taiwanese businesses would lose market opportunities?"
In the debate on globalization in Taiwan, participants also overlook important issues of politics and culture. But, in the effort to promote cross-strait economic exchanges, will all other aspects of globalization necessarily follow? Given the following examples, the answer is "no."
Canada's Quebec Province is tightly integrated economically with North America, but more than half of its residents still hope to win independence from the rest of the nation. In the past, Vietnam has chosen to safeguard its cultural industry rather than sign a "most-favored nation" treaty with the US. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Malaysia insisted on its own economic approach rather than follow the neoliberal advice of the International Monetary Fund. In other words, in the course of promoting globalization, each nation or region still has the ability to retain control over its own economic choices.