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The Prosperous Baltic Sea Region

Small Countries, Smart Successes

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It's the world's wealthiest gulf region: eight small countries with a tradition of equality and universally enviable growth, which may provide some timely lessons for Taiwan.

Small Countries, Smart Successes

By Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 385 )

Extending from latitude 54 degrees all the way north to the Arctic Circle, the Baltic Sea has a surface area slightly larger than Japan , and is the least salty of the world’s major bodies of water. With less then 5 percent the average level of salinization, the Baltic Sea coast is able to grow freshwater vegetation.

At an average depth of just 30 stories, the Baltic Sea is nevertheless among the world’s busiest maritime areas, providing passage to over 60,000 vessels a year. The number of ocean liners crossing the Baltic Sea has grown by 13 percent annually over the past five years ' the fastest growth rate in the world.

Around the Baltic Sea lie some of the world’s wealthiest nations with economic growth rates exceeding that of even China . It is also a region renowned for equality, sustainability, freedom from corruption, and general happiness.

This 1600-kilometer stretch of ocean was also once the closest witness to a standoff between East and West.

For centuries, powerful states that surround these waters have engaged in countless battles in contention for this important strategic passage. Three hundred years ago, Peter the Great went as far as to create Russia ’s first ocean fleet ' the Baltic Fleet ' in support of his bid for supremacy in the region.

During the Cold War, the Baltic Sea was the icy belt separating the enemy factions of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The Baltic Revolution

As the communist block and capitalist nations gradually warmed to each other, the icy belt began to melt. Over the past 16 years, the Baltic Sea has transformed from a strategic military stronghold to an area of great economic importance. With the change in regional political climate, the nations of Scandinavia , Russia , Germany , Poland , and the three newly independent Baltic states ' Estonia , Latvia , and Lithuania ' formed the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) 15 years ago in a united effort toward regional economic development.

In its 1998 article 'The Baltic Revolution,' Britain ’s The Economist proclaimed the region to be 'the biggest, most complicated, and most promising piece of the new Europe .'

A composite measure of bulk shipping rates along the world’s 13 major shipping routes, the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is a leading indicator of the global trade climate. In the event of a positive economic shift, a rise in crude oil prices, or war, the BDI will inevitably be among the first indices to rise. Four years ago, the BDI stood at less than 3,000 points; this September, it has surpassed the 10,000-point mark.

The Rise of the Baltic Economy

The emergence of an economic circle in the Baltic region is rewriting the definition of the term ' Scandinavia .' Traditionally comprised of the five Nordic nations of Sweden , Denmark , Norway , Finland and Iceland , today’s Scandinavia has expanded to include the three Baltic states .

These eight small countries, with a combined population of just over 32 million, have created the Baltic miracle.

This is the World’s richest gulf region. Per capita GDP in the five Nordic states exceeds US$50,000, and in the three Baltic states , it approaches US$10,000.

This is also the gulf region with the fastest rate of economic growth. Large-cap businesses in the region are growing by 3 percent per year, and small-cap businesses have grown by over 8.5 percent over the past five years.

In a variety of international evaluations, the Baltic Sea countries have been rated as strongly competitive, and generally receive excellent ratings in the areas of the environment, education, equality, happiness and distribution of wealth.

While recently the three Baltic states have benefited most from the region’s economic prosperity, with excellent public education and high-tech industrial development, their overheated economies are at the root of the soaring inflation and persistent current-account deficits that, The Economist suggests, may prove to be eastern Europe’s 'Achilles heel.'

In this era of global competition, large nations are winning by size, and small countries by smarts.

To gain a deeper understanding of this Scandinavian miracle, CommonWealth Magazine has chosen three countries in the region as representatives of this newfound prosperity.

A Smart Way Forward for Taiwan

Finland , 'daughter of the Baltic Sea ,' is remarkable for her excellent national competitiveness and unrelenting hold on many international firsts. Estonia , meanwhile, is the region’s rising star, with a GDP quickly catching up to Taiwan ’s. And Sweden , 'the princess of the Baltic,' is home to the largest number of major international brands in the world.

In this series, CommonWealth Magazine explores how they have used Scandinavian wisdom and the three E’s 'Equality, Education, and Environment ' to forge ideal models for happiness. In this issue, we take an in-depth look at Finland and Estonia . The next issue will shine the spotlight on Sweden .

As Taiwan is enmeshed in the fear of disappearing from the world, trepidation over its economic destiny, and a sense of helplessness as reprehensible politicians run the country into the ground, let us work together to find her a way out, and a wise way forward.

Though small, Taiwan too can find a smart road to success.

Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman


The Singing Revolution

During their occupation by the Soviet Union, the three Baltic States never ceased to call for independence. What makes their independence movement special is its beginning in song, particularly folksongs.

A 1988 folk song festival held in Tallinn , the capital of Estonia , drew over 300,000 participants. Folksongs also played a major part in large-scale resistance activities, gently spreading the atmosphere of independence throughout the land.

In 1989, the three countries’ two million citizens formed a 600-kilometer human wall from Tallinn through Lithuania to Latvia , drawing international support for the cause of these three peoples. All three declared independence near the time of Soviet dissolution, Lithuania and Latvia in 1990, and Estonia in 1991.

Chinese Version: 小國智勝

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