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The CommonWealth Economic Forum

A New Stage for Asia


A New Stage for Asia


In January 2010, the elite of the Asian economic establishment came together in Taipei to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, in an annual forum with Asia as its focus.



A New Stage for Asia

By Sara Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 440 )

On January 18 and 19, thirty-two influential corporate leaders, politicians and economists from nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region met in Taipei at the CommonWealth Economic Forum, addressing an audience of more than 400.

For the first time, Taiwan played host to a large-scale event where different Asian economic theories and new growth models for the Asian region squared off.

"Taipei is the most suitable place in the Greater China region for holding such a forum, because of its free atmosphere that enables everyone to take a more tolerant attitude toward what is being said," noted Lu Xiongwen, dean of the School of Management at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Getting Started Is the Hardest Part

Several months ago when CommonWealth Magazine started to plan a high-profile economic forum, many warned that we had embarked on a difficult mission. Taiwan lacks diplomatic standing and has been sidelined within the regional economy, the doubters argued. Most often we were challenged with the question, "Why would these political and economic leaders come to Taiwan?" But there were others who had the confidence to enthusiastically help invite potential speakers and participants. Acer Group founder Stan Shih, who sits on the CommonWealth Economic Forum Advisory Board, kept insisting, "We need to make everyone understand why Taiwan matters."

At the forum Morris Chang, chairman of chip foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), encouraged entrepreneurs to revive the trademark entrepreneurial spirit of "doing big things and doing difficult things" that had fueled the island's past economic miracle. In a concerted effort and with support from many sides, thirty-two heavyweights from nine countries were invited to address the forum, triggering attention in the international business community.

Some 160 reporters from fifty Taiwanese and foreign media organizations covered the two-day conference, including Phoenix Satellite Television from Hong Kong, the Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao and the English-language newspaper The Straits Times from Singapore, Malaysia's Sin Chew Daily, economic wire service Bloomberg, as well as the Central News Agency, the Economic Daily News and the English-language daily China Post from Taiwan. Popular TV anchors and talk-show hosts such as Sisy Chen of CtiTV and Chang Ya-jin of the EBC Financial News channel interviewed dignitaries on the sidelines of the forum.

Taiwan's Leader in the Eyes of Others

At the forum Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou postulated that Taiwan should position itself as a global innovation corridor. He pointed out that Taiwan has a skilled workforce, advanced technology, and the ability to raise capital, and it is able to bring products and technologies to market faster than anyone else in the world. "Taiwan can take advantage of European and American technologies and pair them with the Asian market, which allows laboratory results to be commercialized and brought to market quickly," Ma told the audience.

At the same time Ma emphasized the three major goals of the planned trade agreement with China known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. He said the pact aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises, less developed central and southern Taiwan, as well as citizens in the middle and lower income brackets.

Having had an opportunity to see Ma close up, the forum participants walked away with quite differing impressions.

Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist magazine, remarked that the president's speech showed that he was sincere about his goals. The speakers from China were surprised to see Ma bow to the audience after taking the stage. Having been able to directly talk to Taiwanese leaders such as Vice President Vincent Siew and Premier Wu Den-yih, they concluded that "Taiwanese leaders don't have a haughty manner."

An Asia-focused Forum

Thanks to the rise of Asia, many corporate leaders and academics have been hoping for an economic forum specifically centered on Asia. Participating economists warned that Asia's past development model – high savings, high investment and high exports – is no longer feasible. They noted that intra-regional trade must increase markedly and that each country in the region needs to boost domestic demand. Furthermore, there must be a stronger emphasis on branding, innovation and industrial restructuring to pave the road for healthy and sound development. Ming-je Tang, vice president of National Taiwan University, predicted that more Asian companies will become major players on the back of Asia's rising affluence, but since their business models differ from that of traditional European or North American companies, management textbooks will also have to be rewritten.

Hu Angang, director of the Center for China Study at Tsinghua University, remarked, "I found the forum to be very meaningful. With discussions revolving around the post-crisis era, everyone came up with new ideas. At the same time, they learned and came to understand the important experiences of Taiwan and other places, not only China and Taiwan, but also East Asia, the Asian region and the whole world."

Fred Zuliu Hu, chairman of Greater China at Goldman Sachs Group, held high expectations for the role the forum could serve. Britain's industrial revolution gave birth to The Economist and the Financial Times, and the United States' rise in the international financial system gave birth to the Wall Street Journal, Hu noted. The 21st century is the century of Chinese people, he averred, and this forum can serve as a space where investors, entrepreneurs, consumers and policymakers come together for rational debate.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz