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Tue, Nov 27, 2007 - Page 10 News List

ANALYSIS: US patents show Asian decoupling will be slow

by Andy Mukherjee  /  BLOOMBERG

There just isn't enough evidence to support the increasingly popular hypothesis that Asian economies are "decoupling" from a slowing US.

Markus Rosgen, who is Citigroup Inc's chief Asia strategist in Hong Kong, says the notion that the region has its own self-sustaining growth and doesn't have to sink or swim with the US "is a case of hope over reality."

The ratio of consumption in Asian nations' GDP, he says, has declined over the last five years.

While the US share of Asian exports has fallen -- to 17 percent last year from 23 percent in 1985 -- the intra-Asian trade that has replaced it moves in lockstep with US imports.

The correlation between the growth in intraregional Asian exports and US non-oil imports has increased sixfold in the past 25 years or so, Rosgen's analysis shows.

Ditto for the flow of capital: Stock indexes in Asia are more linked with US -- and European -- benchmarks now than they have been in 30 years, Rosgen says.

Even US patent records show that Asia's decoupling from the West is going to be a long-drawn process.

The flow of knowledge isn't getting the attention it deserves in the decoupling debate, which remains largely focused on movements of trade and capital. This is odd considering that throughout history the rise of new economic nerve centers has essentially been triggered by spurts of innovation.


Economist Joseph Schumpeter called them K-waves, in honor of the Russian academic Nikolai Kondratiev, who devised a theory of 50-year-long business cycles of booms and busts.

George Modelski, a University of Washington political scientist, says the maturing of printing techniques in China in the 10th century was the first K-wave, while the arrival of Intel Corp's microprocessors in the early 1970s is the starting point of the 19th -- and the most recent -- one.

All the waves have started as concentrated bursts of activity that gradually spread in all directions; their primary effect has been to make the host economy rich for two generations, or about 50 or 60 years, and then dissipate.

Viewed from this prism, the brisk economic activity in Asia that is being touted as proof of decoupling may be just what one would expect to see in the diffusion phase of a disruptive technology -- such as the Internet -- - that was hosted elsewhere.

Together with excess telecommunications capacity created during the dot-com bubble, the Internet has made it possible for many tasks -- from analysis of X-ray reports to remotely monitoring the shop-floor inventory at a Detroit automaker -- to be outsourced to the Asian region cost-effectively. Yet, outsourcing is still about satisfying final Western demand.


The current technological cycle won't make Asia a new economic powerhouse; it may set the stage, but the spark will have to come from within. What that innovation might be remains unknown. However, after it does arrive, it will be seen -- with the benefit of hindsight -- as a new 20th wave, or K-20.

What we are witnessing now is the buildup phase of Asia's scientific prowess. Analysis by Albert Hu, an economist at the National University of Singapore, shows that three-fifths of US patents granted to innovators in seven East Asian countries cite prior work done in the US, a figure that has actually risen a little since the early 1990s.

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