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Talk of the Day -- South Korea no longer sees Taiwan as rival

2012/05/29 19:37:31

South Korean media have reported that from June, the country's per capita GDP will surpass US$20,000 and its population will exceed 50 million, making it the seventh full member of the "20-50 Club" of developed countries.

While Taiwanese still think of South Korea as a member of four "Asian Dragons," South Koreans have long given up the idea that they need to compete with the other Asian Dragons -- Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

South Korea is now competing with Japan and Europe, and Taiwan is no longer even on its list of rivals, according to the United Daily News, a major Taiwanese daily.

Below are excerpts from the daily's reports on South Korea's advancement and Taiwan's response to the latest developments:

South Korea's per capita GDP surpassed Taiwan's in 2004. In 2011, it was US$22,480, compared with Taiwan's US$20,139. The International Monetary Fund forecast that the average South Korean annual income will top US$30,000 in 2016. A longer term forecast puts it at US$65,000 by 2050.

Taiwanese love to see South Koreans as an economic rival. However, a visit to Seoul will tell you that South Koreans have long quit mentioning the term "Asia's Four Dragons," as they no longer see Taiwan as a rival but are competing with Japan.

Regarding Taiwan, South Korean academics were interested only when reporters from this newspaper talked about the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China.

One South Korean expert on industry said that Taiwan and South Korea went on different paths in the wake of the 1998 Asian financial crisis, with Taiwan focusing on contract manufacturing while South Korea concentrated on developing its own brands.

Although the expert made remarks that the economies of Taiwan and South Korea supplement each other, he was actually hinting that Taiwan and South Korean cooperation will follow the mode of the economic relationship between Taiwan and Japan.

In Taiwan, Economic Planning and Development Minister Yiin Chii-ming said Taiwan does not have to follow the same path as South Korea.

Yang Chia-yen, a department director at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, said South Korea has never looked at Taiwan as an economic rival and that Taiwan does not need to compare everything with its northern neighbor.

However, he suggested that Taiwan should quit thinking about staying within the ranks of the Asian Dragons.

He said Taiwan and South Korea used to compete in such industries as machinery, steel and textiles because of the similarities in their respective stages of development.

Now that the two countries have adopted different development strategies, Yang said, Taiwan should use its strengths to seek market differentiation. "Only in this way can Taiwan remain competitive," he added.

Professor Lin Chien-fu of National Taiwan University said a priority for Taiwan is to increase the added value of its small and medium- sized businesses.

A practical way of speeding up Taiwan's economic development would be to focus on growing its strategic industries and its artificial intelligence industry.

Since Taiwan cannot hope to see its population grow to the size of South Korea's 50 million (currently Taiwan has 23 million people), it could further liberalize its immigration policy as a means of narrowing the population gap with South Korea, Lin said. (May 29, 2012)

(By S.C. Chang)