People want to be prosperous, and prosperity comes from abundant resources and extensive trade. For Taiwan, a key factor for its prosperity is the strength of its connections with the rest of the world.
Global logistics group DHL keeps yearly records about how connected the world’s countries are in the four domains of trade, capital, information and people. The latest DHL Global Connectedness Index, which was published in March, ranked Taiwan 17th among the 171 countries and regions evaluated for 2021. That is two places higher than it was in 2019.
South Korea was raked 16th, an improvement of one place, and Malaysia ranked 14th, also one place higher than 2019. Given the excellent performance of these two countries, Taiwan should have something to learn from them.
The quantitative trends announced by DHL show that although the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, caused that year’s global connectedness to decline slightly, it quickly rebounded to above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels in 2021, and preliminary data indicate that it increased further last year.
However, the report predicts that global connectedness would be held back this year, due to a decline in the momentum of the world economy, as a trade dispute continues to simmer between China and the US, along with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, which started last year, and the US’ repeated interest rate hikes.
These factors have triggered soaring energy and food prices and inflation in various countries, as well as heightening geopolitical tensions. Under such conditions, globalization is facing unprecedented challenges, with emerging signs of network fragmentation, regionalization, bloc formation and nationalism. These factors would cause global networks to be restructured and adjusted.
The worldwide inflows and outflows of trade, people, capital and information are woven into complex networks, which can be clearly illustrated as maps. Singaporean academic Parag Khanna has coined a new word — “connectography” — to describe this field of study. An “atlas of connectedness” might have thousands of maps showing the global state of various parameters. Such maps show clearly how countries are connected and what volume of goods, services and so on flow between them. The connecting lines cut across national borders with their own vitality and logic.
A new definition of geopolitics has emerged, under which the territorial wars of the past are changing into struggles to connect. Connectedness can only be boosted by bolstering infrastructure and establishing close, fast and reliable supply-chain relations with other regions.
A nation’s strength in the new era does not depend solely on big ships and heavy guns, but also on economic planning, trade alliances and research cooperation, with major cities functioning as nodes to create new networks that reach out in all directions.
Many Western countries are responding to the US’ call to “reduce dependence” and “reduce risk” by trying to decouple from China and create an “Indo-Pacific supply chain” in place of the Sino-centric “red supply chain.” This trend puts Taiwan in a pivotal position, but also in a tight spot. Will Taiwan be criticized for whatever it does, or will it manage to profit from both sides? By focusing on boosting our global connectedness and being a hub in the world’s “connectography,” Taiwan can continue to ensure its security and prosperity.
Wei Kuo-yen is a chair professor at Feng Chia University’s iSchool.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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