1999 / 10月
民國七十年代中期，已因退出聯合國、中美斷交而飽嚐國際「孤兒」滋味的台灣，用一雙勤奮的手向全世界搭起更緊密的無形之橋。號稱「外銷 王國」的台灣，當時擁有二十一項「世 界第一」──玩具、燈具、鞋類、傘類……；「台灣製」三個字，讓歐美民眾對這西太平洋小島印象深刻。
江丙坤回憶，自民國七十年代初期他擔任外貿協會秘書長開始，近二十年間，他帶著廠商走遍天下，有展覽就參展、沒展覽就找個地方打開提包，就地供買家選購。早在電腦業初具雛 形時，德國漢諾威著名的西比特電腦展已可見台商滿場穿梭，是該展覽連年排名前三名的參展大國。尚未開放、連家旅館都找不到而得在船上過夜的越南，遙遠的土耳其、巴基斯坦， 熱得近乎窒息的埃及，剛露出一線縫隙的蘇俄……，都是台商奮力衝刺的目標。
民國七十六年，台灣對美貿易順差達到創紀錄的一百六十億美元，「賺翻了」的後果相當慘重，首 先是台幣被迫大幅升值，從民國七十四年到八十年，台幣兌美金的匯率從一比四十升 到了一比二十五，導致熱錢大量湧入，加上一度高達百分之四十的國民超額儲蓄找不到宣洩管道，錢潮激盪下，出現了嚴重的泡沫經濟現象，留下一堆至今難以收拾的爛攤子。
從民國七十五至八十年，短短五年間，台灣房地產價格暴漲三倍，股市則在七十九年初飆至一萬二千點的高點，然後迅即在八個月內跌落至二千五百點谷底。暴起暴落間，是一場無形 而殘酷的全民財富大洗牌，不僅造成貧富差距拉大、無住屋者難以翻身、盲目投資者損失慘 重，而且物價飛漲、人心浮躁，以往踏實勤奮的工作倫理大受衝擊。
台幣升值、百物騰貴、土地及薪資等產業成本大幅攀升……，重重壓力，使以往靠蠅頭小利點滴致富的傳統產業失去了生存空間。幸好泰國、菲律賓、印尼等東南亞「四小虎」開始崛 起，提供廠商「南向」的機會。民國七十六年間適時開放的兩岸交流，更讓眾多台商頂著「探親」名義，絡驛不絕湧向大陸，成為兩岸「經濟統一」的先頭部隊，還間接促成了近十年 來舉世矚目的「中國經濟奇蹟」。
泡沫經濟讓台灣元氣大傷，然而，素以自由經濟立場聞名的中研院院士邢慕寰卻認 為，我們實在應該「感謝」美國的這一帖猛藥，逼使台灣在無路可逃之下，勇敢面對自由化、國際化 的挑戰。如果這帖猛藥再晚來五年，東南亞和大陸已經立穩腳步，沒有台商揮灑的空間，而國內產業又來不及升級的話，那「台灣奇蹟」恐怕已成為歷史名詞。
不過在當時，眼看著傳統產業大量出走，防止「產業空洞化」的恐慌呼聲一再響起。江丙坤還記得，那段時間他擔任經濟部政務次 長，最重要的工作就是輔導廠商「產業升級」，由工 研院主導，結合業者來做各種新產品的合作開發和技術轉移。由於台灣是以貿易起家，中小型企業一向長於「把東西賣出去」，卻拙於在生產研發上投注心力，因此這項工作相當艱 鉅。
然而，江丙坤認為，「亞太營運中心」的宗旨在於鬆綁、自由化，倒不一定要跟大陸接軌才能實現。他舉例，目前美國優比速快遞(UPS)已將桃園機場作為其在亞太地區的集散地 及轉運站；民國八十二年「有線電視法」及今年「衛星廣播電視法」相繼通過後，各系統業者及TVBS、傳訊等衛星電視台紛紛開播，每家電視台至少可以帶來五、六百個就業機 會；八十五年「電信法」修法、開放民間業者進入後，通信市場立即沸騰，每家業者的投資金額動輒以百億計算。這些原本是因應「亞太中心」而作的鬆綁動作，的確已達到活絡民間 投資的目的。
去年中到今年初的本土型金融風暴，將許多台面下遊走法律邊緣的危險交易如超額貸款、公司董監事持股高比例質押等一一曝光，而前監察院長王作榮最近更公開指責台灣股市是「吃 人市場」，顯見金融經濟的挑戰才剛開始，其中的高困難度和高阻力，可能也是以往任何經濟政策少見的。 「金融經濟」的特徵是「錢滾錢」、資訊時代則唯有掌握知識與技術的人才是贏家，兩者都意味著「貧者越貧、富者越富」，經濟發展會不會以社會公平為代價？令人憂心。
Laura Li /photos courtesy of Diago Chiu /tr. by Christopher MacDonald
Taiwan's economic miracle forms one of the brightest chapters in the history of the island since the arrival of the Nationalist government 50 years ago. "Taiwan would never have survived this long without such a mighty economy!" Says Yu Tzong-shian, former president of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.
During this period Taiwan's economy has developed uninterruptedly and at a brisk clip, from the policy of "using agriculture to support industry" and the import restrictions of the 1950s, to the export processing of the 1960s, the Ten Major Construction Projects of the 1970s, the liberalization and internationalization of the 1980s, and the burgeoning IT industry of the 1990s.
With the advent of a new millennium, the challenges facing Taiwan are radically different from those of 50 years ago. The question is, how is Taiwan to maintain its current economic advantage?
It was in the mid-1980s that Taiwan, out of the UN and diplomatically adrift from the US-and already accustomed to its status as an international orphan-began belatedly, by its own efforts, to build invisible new bridges with the outside world. Known as the "export kingdom," Taiwan led the world at that time in 21 categories of product, including toys, lighting products, shoes and umbrellas. This small island in the Western Pacific left an indelible impression on the minds of Western consumers with just three words: "Made in Taiwan."
Now, as the century draws to a close, Taiwan is ensconced as the world's third largest IT producer, and its performance is as strong as ever. Two out of every five notebook computers in the world today have been "Made in Taiwan," and while production of many items that Taiwan used to monopolize, such as toys, mouses and monitors has largely moved off-shore to factories around the world, it is still Taiwanese companies on whose behalf these products are manufactured. In August of this year Taiwan's foreign exchange reserves once again reached US$100 billion, and neither the Asian financial crisis nor mainland China's aggressive posturing has seriously rattled the island.
Fifty years ago, no-one could have imagined such a miracle for Taiwan.
Yu Tzong-shian explains: "During the Civil War, goods and provisions from Taiwan were shipped to the mainland to support the war effort." After the fall of the mainland and the severing of communications across the Taiwan Strait, the island experienced desperate material shortages. Hoarding and speculation were rampant. Between 1945, when Taiwan was recovered from the Japanese, and June 1949, wholesale prices multiplied by a factor of 5,600, and you needed a sackful of banknotes just to buy a cut of pork in the market.
At that critical juncture, a shipment of 800,000 taels of gold arrived from Shanghai, and the government announced a major devaluation: one New Taiwan Dollar equivalent to 40,000 old currency units. This helped to stabilize prices, but also angered the people.
W.L. Shi, chairman of Chi Mei Corporation-the world's largest producer of the plastics raw material ABS-still recalls that event with indignation. "So much for Taiwan being on the winning side in the war. There was little devaluation of the Japanese currency, yet Taiwanese banknotes were reduced to toilet paper!"
It was a time of hardship and upheaval for the whole country, and while many people were forced to endure losses at the time, when all accounts are reckoned up today, 50 years later-in a Taiwan that has emerged from the destitution of the post-war years to become "awash with cash"-it would be fair to say that the people have probably earned back more than they paid out.
During its early years on Taiwan, the bedraggled Nationalist government was terrified that the Chinese Communists would export their "worker-peasant-soldier revolution" across to the island on the back of their victory in the Civil War. It therefore implemented its own package of land reforms, including the "37.5% rent reduction" policy and the "land to the tillers" program. Land was compulsorily acquired by the government in return for shares in the four major state-owned corporations of the day. Though landowners complained bitterly, the reforms proved remarkably successful at stimulating agricultural production.
The 1950s and '60s were decades of soaring growth for Taiwan's agricultural sector. Exports of agricultural produce and processed goods, above all to Japan, formed the foundation of Taiwan's agriculture-based economy in that period. In 1957, cane sugar alone accounted for over 60% of the total value of Taiwan exports.
The chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), P.K. Chiang, who graduated from agricultural college, describes what happened when he was awarded a Chungshan Scholarship from the KMT in 1961. He wanted to go to Japan to study, but his father was opposed.
Explains Chiang: At the time I earned NT$900 a month, and took the wage-packet straight home to my father without opening it. Going away meant NT$900 less for him." However, he told his father: "Leave it to me, I'll get you NT$1,000 a month!" He sold off the US$200 check that had been provided for his airfare, bought a ticket for travel between Keelung and Kobe by ship, and handed the balance to his father. Then, to take advantage of duty-free entry into Japan, he bought three baskets of bananas and three cases of canned pineapple before boarding the liner.
"In Japan, each basket of bananas sold for US$10, or ¥3600," says Chiang, recalling the popularity of Taiwanese agricultural produce in Japan at that time. "Three baskets meant US$30, exactly enough for one year's tuition fees at Tokyo University!" .
While establishing a firm agricultural footing for the economy, the government also used agriculture to support the development of light industry. In 1962 Taiwan's industrial output exceeded agriculture in value for the first time, and so began the island's "Age of Industry."
With foreign exchange in short supply Taiwan was unable to afford imported machinery. As part of a vigorous drive to attract foreign investment, the government promulgated the Export Processing Statute, providing for five years of tax-free business operation, and in 1966 the world's first export processing zone was set up in Kaohsiung. Chiang, who was studying for his PhD in Japan at the time, was sent around the country making speeches to attract Japanese business. The most prominent success of the campaign was the establishment of a factory in the Taichung export processing zone by Canon, the Japanese manufacturer of optical products .
Says Chiang: "I was instructed that the projects we attracted didn't have to be too large-around US$50,000 in value was enough, so long as they employed at least 50 people." In the early 1960s Taiwan's economy was about to undergo transition, with unemployment at over 4%, and labor-intensive export processing industries provided alternatives for the enormous rural workforce.
At that time the government benefitted from the far-sighted thinking of financial and economic experts such as Yin Chung-jung, Li Kuo-ting and Wang Yi-ting. They recognized early on that self-sufficiency was not an option for an island-type economy like Taiwan, and that external-oriented development was necessary. This meant that Taiwan needed urgently to bring in foreign investment while also expanding its export markets, in order to build up foreign exchange funds. It was an impressively forward-looking approach for that period, especially when compared with South Korea, which didn't launch its own assault on international markets until the late 1960s.
"1963 to 1980 was when Taiwan's economy really took off," says Yu Tzong-shian. "It was also in this period that Western countries took notice of the remarkable performance of a group of small East Asian economies, and the term 'four little dragons' was coined for Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong." In spite of the two global oil crises, Taiwan chalked up an impressive 9.2% annual growth rate between 1952 and 1980. Perhaps the only comparable performance elsewhere has been that achieved by mainland China during the past two decades.
Taiwan was able to attract the foreign investment it needed because of a stable political situation and ample reserves of low-cost non-unionized labor. Meanwhile, the island was building a record of export success on the back of the persistence and determination of its countless small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Since the early 1980s when he was secretary-general of CETRA, P.K. Chiang has criss-crossed the globe in the company of Taiwanese firms. In those days, wherever there was a trade show, they would attend, and where not, they would simply open their cases and start supplying buyers on the spot. Taiwanese have been a highly visible feature of the major computer show CeBIT, in Germany, ever since the take-off of the IT industry, consistently forming one of the three largest national contingents at the event. They were there in Vietnam before it opened up, when there were no hotels and visitors had to stay on boats; they were in Turkey, in Pakistan, and in the stifling heat of Egypt; and they found their way into the former USSR when the first openings began to appear. Everywhere, businesspeople from Taiwan found goals to pursue.
"It doesn't matter if a market is large or small, near or far," says Chiang, who has been greatly impressed by the flexibility and tenacity of Taiwanese firms. "So long as you can make money there, it's a good market."
The all-out expansion of export markets brought a rapid accumulation of wealth for the country, but at the same time the long-term policy of holding down the value of the NT dollar in order to support exports brought strong objections from Taiwan's main trading partners, particularly the US.
In 1987 Taiwan's trade surplus with the US reached a record high of US$16 billion, and there began to be negative consequences. First, there was a significant appreciation in the value of the NT dollar, which strengthened from 40:1 against the US dollar in 1985, to 25:1 in 1991, generating a massive influx of funds. At the same time, because of insufficient outlets for these funds, the national surplus savings level grew too high, reaching 40% at one point. There was so much liquidity in the system that a bubble economy began to develop, resulting in a huge mess which has yet to be fully resolved.
Says Yu Tzong-shian: "Taiwan had only recently shaken off poverty, and worries persisted about lack of savings and insufficiently rapid growth. But there was little alertness to the risk of economic overheating, and it is a pity that measures were not taken sooner to cool things down."
Property prices in Taiwan tripled from 1986 to 1991, and the stockmarket soared to a peak of 12,000 points in early 1990, only to crash to the 2,500 level within eight months. As a result of this dramatic flux there was a wholesale and merciless reshuffling of national wealth, which widened the gap between rich and poor, made it impossible for most people to afford their own homes and severely penalized those who had blindly invested in the stockmarket. These factors, along with ballooning consumer prices and a general sense of restless anxiety, seriously undermined the traditional work ethics of practicality and diligence.
The pressures of currency appreciation, soaring prices and rapidly rising land and labor costs all worked to deprive traditional industries-accustomed to prospering on tiny margins-of room for survival. Fortunately it was around this time that Southeast Asian economies like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia began to take off, providing Taiwanese firms with the opportunity to "go south." The year 1987 also saw an opening of exchanges across Taiwan Strait. Taiwanese businesspeople began streaming across to the mainland to "visit family" and became the vanguard of cross-strait "economic unification," while also helping to spur the "Chinese economic miracle" of the past decade.
Although the bubble economy sapped Taiwan of some of its vitality, Hsing Mu-huan, a fellow of the Academia Sinica and known as a liberal economist, believes that we ought really to thank the US for forcing Taiwan to confront the challenges of liberalization and globalization. Had this taken place five years later, the economies of Southeast Asia and mainland China would already have found their feet, leaving little leeway for Taiwanese firms, and if domestic industry had not started to upgrade itself in time, the "economic miracle" would today be a thing of the past.
At that time however, with Taiwan's traditional industries migrating en masse, there were widespread calls for measures to counter the hollowing-out of industry. P.K. Chiang was then political vice minister at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and recalls that the most important job at that time was counseling firms to "upgrade," with companies working together under the guidance of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to develop new products and carry out technology transfer. This proved a tricky task since Taiwan had built its economy on the back of its trading prowess, and while its SMEs were good at "selling things" they were less so when it came to R&D.
Just when everyone was worried about upgrading traditional industries, the new high-tech IT sector, first established in the early 1980s, began to produce results. This helped to fill the gap left by departing industries, and brought a new dawn for Taiwan's economy.
Former ITRI president Lin Chui-chou recalls the first National Technology Conference, held in 1978, by which time the government already recognized the limitations of an industrial structure built around SMEs. Energy, materials, information and automation were designated as national priority technologies, and measures were proposed for attracting home high-tech specialists from Taiwan who were living abroad.
The Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park, which was being planned at that time, included provision for bilingual schools and American-style residential communities. This was also the period when diplomatic ties with the US were cut, which aroused resentment in Taiwan and led some Taiwanese abroad to return home as an expression of solidarity. Looking back today, it is clear that three major elements in the successful development of Taiwan's IT industry were the R&D work of ITRI, the efforts of companies involved in the science park, and the education and promotion undertaken by the Institute for Information Industry.
In 1980, Taiwan's first integrated circuit (IC) manufacturer, UMC, was spun-off from the R&D department at ITRI. Less than 20 years later, Taiwan is home to 38 IC production plants and is the world's fifth largest chip producer.
The rapid ascent in the late twentieth century of the "3C" industries-the capital- and technology-intensive semiconductor industry (ICs), computer component production and assembly (PCs), and electronic consumer goods (ECs)-has given Taiwan a strong hand in terms of global economic competition.
Smiles Yu Tzong-shian: "Within a single decade Taiwan transformed itself from the Toy Kingdom into an IT power. Taiwan is probably unique in terms of its firms' flexibility and their ability to swarm over a new sector like this!"
Looking to the future of global competition in the high-tech sector, things are clearly going to be tougher than in the past, when you could "take on the world with a suitcase of goods." Elbow grease and globetrotting business trips are no longer any guarantee of success.
Minister without portfolio Yang Shih-chien, who handles domestic technology policy, explains: "Innovation is everything in high-technology. A brilliant, ground-breaking idea can open up a whole new field of industry. But innovation requires huge quantities of financial and human resources dedicated to R&D, with laboratories pursuing technological breakthroughs around the clock, and with professional investment managers able to turn innovative ideas into products and profits."
To address these issues, Taiwan has been learning hard from Silicon Valley in the US, striving to make drastic changes and improvements in terms of system, philosophy and cultural levels.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, global competition is now an established fact. It was in order make full use of Taiwan's advantages as an export-oriented economy that can draw on an extensive network of Chinese business ties throughout the region, that the government launched the Asian Pacific Regional Operations Center (APROC) plan in the early 1990s. The aim was to turn Taiwan into an operations and transshipment center along the lines of Hong Kong and Singapore, covering manufacturing, transportation, finance, media and telecommunications, and attracting investment from foreign firms.
Unfortunately, little headway has been made with this much-heralded plan, due to continuing tensions in cross-strait relations and the difficulty for Taiwan of expanding economically into the mainland. In its recently issued 1999 White Paper, the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei expressed reservations about the government's insistence on its "no haste, be patient" policy for commercial ties with the mainland, and its unwillingness to open the way to direct links across the Taiwan Strait, and suggested that Taiwan has missed its opportunity to become a regional operations center for the Asia-Pacific.
However, P.K. Chiang avers that the chief aims of APROC were deregulation and liberalization, and that convergence with the mainland is not a necessary condition for realizing the project. As an example he points out that the US firm UPS has made CKS Airport its main distribution and transshipment base for the Asia-Pacific region. He also cites the passage of the Cable Television Law in 1993, and this year's Satellite Television Law, leading to the establishment of a number of new satellite channels, each providing 500-600 jobs. Also, in 1996, amendment of the Telecommunications Law enabled the participation of private enterprise-a move which instantly energized the communications market and led to firms investing sums in the tens of billions of NT dollars. These deregulation measures, designed as part of the APROC plan, have already helped realize the goal of stimulating private investment.
While industrial competition is still the lifeblood of the economy, the age of the "financial economy" has already arrived. Yu Tzong-shian explains that a financial economy is characterized by high risk plus high profits. With rapid flows of information and capital it becomes essential to establish fair rules of the game, along with a tight regulatory regime for the finance sector.
The domestic financial crisis which afflicted Taiwan from the middle of last year until early this year, exposed several legally dubious forms of high-risk transaction, including excess loans, and high rates of stock collateral for company directors. Recently, the former president of the Control Yuan, Wang Tso-yung, publicly labeled the Taiwan stockmarket a "cannibal market." The challenges of a financial economy have clearly only just begun to emerge, and economic policy will probably now confront more difficulties and resistance than ever.
A distinguishing feature of the financial economy is that "money breeds money." At the same time, the winners in the information age are those who control knowledge and technology. Both factors mean that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. The concern is: Does further economic development have to be at the cost of a fair society?
Chiang frankly admits that competition is going to be fierce in the future, but says that economic development cannot be left to languish, and that the risks of the employment market will have to be jointly offset by job security and social welfare. The government has thus introduced packages in recent years providing for unemployment insurance and a national pension plan. After all, the object of economic development is not to enrich a lucky few but rather to seek maximum well-being for the greatest number of people.
Environmental damage is another development-related concern. Most rivers on the "beautiful island" of Formosa are severely polluted, and rainstorms can trigger mudslides which bury homes and kill people. Cadmium-tainted fields, radioactive steel rebar, mercury-contaminated mud . . . the environmental warning signals are going off all the time. But to date, Taiwan's environmental movement has largely been geared to holding protests in pursuit of "compensation" and has lacked a sense of genuine respect for the natural environment. What Taiwan must now do is move beyond the obsession with economic development to arrive at a truly sustainable way of doing things.
Years of strenuous labor have brought Taiwan to a state of material prosperity unknown in thousands of years of Chinese civilization. This provides the Nationalist government, so battered and bruised when it first arrived, with its way of accounting for itself before history and before the people. But economic development is not irreversible. Thirty years ago people in Taiwan wanted to get to the Philippines to earn their fortune. Nowadays, our streets are crowded with domestic helpers and laborers from that country. Careful deliberation is required if we are to maintain steady economic progress for Taiwan in the "post-miracle age."