Tue, Feb 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Dependency theory with a new twist in Taiwan

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) said recently that dependence on China is not a bad thing and what should really worry us is that China might not allow Taiwan to depend on it. As irritating as this statement may be, it exposes the focus of the government’s policies: a determination to depend on China in the hope of gaining economic benefits.

In the past, dependency theory was used by the political left to describe how imperialism relied on a core-periphery relationship of exploitation and economic colonization.

The theory was used to explain why third world countries remained in poverty: The higher the periphery’s dependency on the core, the tighter the core’s control over the periphery.

A semi-periphery was later added to the theory to explain how the four Asian Tigers could be dependent yet able to develop, a relationship that was termed “dependent development.”

This meant that the four Asian economies were economically and politically dependent on the US, but managed to develop economically because they benefited from the periphery that also depended on the US.

Dependency theory was swept away by the waves of globalization, as previously anti-imperialist states like the Soviet Union, China and India either collapsed or turned to capitalism.

Together with Brazil, these countries, referred to as BRIC, turned into opportunists led by the principles of international capitalism.

The theory of a core-periphery relationship became insufficient to explain the significant changes that were observed in economic fortunes.

The only nation that still swears by anti-imperialism and now and then test-shoots its missiles against its neighbors, North Korea, is a different variation on leftism.

It is therefore surprising to suddenly hear someone singing the praises of dependent development for Taiwan, although the core that we are supposed to cling to now is not the US or Japan, but rising Chinese imperialism.

The government has no shortage of compradors ready to act as brokers between the core and the periphery.

It seems to be quite an easy task and they claim to be working to save the nation’s economy, which makes it almost impossible to condemn their efforts.

Furthermore, Guangdong Province’s gross regional product surpassed Taiwan’s gross national product several years ago, while Jiangsu and Shandong provinces did so last year and Zhejiang Province is expected to catch up with Taiwan this year.

This illustrates that the nation’s economic position is deteriorating.

The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics’ recent prediction that GDP will shrink this year confirms negative market expectations and strengthens the public’s sense of economic marginalization.

This atmosphere is a hotbed for proponents of a new dependency theory.

The results of the government’s agenda can already be seen.

Public debate about whether to pursue de jure independence is no longer on the political agenda.

If the public raises concerns about a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, it can always be labeled as something else. The point is, the train is about to leave the station and it won’t stop before its dark destination.

Hsu Yung-ming is an assistant professor of political science at Soochow University.


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