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2016 CWEF

The Coopetition Era: Heaven or Hell?


The Coopetition Era: Heaven or Hell?


Facing a new wave of unemployment, new technologies and new climate disruptions, Asia is struggling to rekindle growth. The challenges posed by this new era of cooperation and competition were the focus of the 2016 CommonWealth Economic Forum.



The Coopetition Era: Heaven or Hell?

By Jimmy Hsiung
web only

The two-day 2016 CommonWealth Economic Forum (CWEF) opened on Jan. 21. Held for the seventh consecutive year, this gathering of Asian economic heavyweights was held at a time of slowing growth in China and lackluster economic showings by ASEAN countries, prompting the forum’s theme: “How can Asia revive growth in the coopetition era?”

Leading political and economic figures in attendance offered considerable insight on rekindling the Asian economy, on which the world has placed such high hopes.

In her opening remarks, CommonWealth Magazine Group founder Diane Ying stressed that in an era when the old order is being subverted and innovation and change encouraged, it has become more important than ever to pool wisdom and find a new path amid conflicts and contradictions.   

Identifying a new path, however, is anything but easy, especially when facing turbulent global changes that seem mutually reinforcing. Ying listed many of them: regional conflicts, refugee migrations, the spread of terrorism, ineffective governance, the rise of a new wave of unemployment, intensifying climate change, the widening of the rich-poor divide, aging populations and anger over generational injustice.  

She also pointed to the onset of new technologies that will challenge existing lifestyles, including the Internet of things, the Internet of beings, robots, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, virtual reality and driverless cars.

Power Disintegration vs. Interdependence

Ying was blunt in her forecast for 2016 – it will not be a smooth year. Huge changes and disruptions will be experienced everywhere, she said, whether in Taiwan, which just concluded national elections, in Asia, or around the world. 

“This is an era of disintegrating power and an era of interdependence, an era in which the old order and established institutions are being destroyed or undermined while innovation and embracing change are encouraged. It is even more an era in which humanity most show common wisdom in moving forward and helping each other,” Ying said in summarizing her expectations of this year’s forum. 

As in past years, President Ma Ying-jeou appeared at the opening ceremony, demonstrating the country’s appreciation for this economic conference.

The president said the European sovereign debt crisis followed by the current round of declining exports have led to many challenges, and now that the global focus is shifting to Asia, how Asia revitalizes its economic development is not just a question for this region but also for the world.

Looking back at Ma’s seven appearances at the forum, there have been several common threads in his speeches. From talking about clams that are fed milk or given “spa” treatments by Changhua County aquaculture farmers in his first speech in 2010 to stressing his November 2015 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech this year, innovation and relations with China have always loomed large. But another common theme has invariably been the importance for Taiwan of pursuing and signing trade agreements.

Seven years ago, Ma said he could not accept that the only two countries left out of the trend toward economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region were Taiwan and North Korea. Now with just months left before his second and final term ends on May 20, Ma’s appeal had not changed.

“Facing competition from Asia and the world, opening up its economy and joining regional economic integration blocs is a road Taiwan must travel,” he said.

Taiwan is in no position to idle in neutral, especially in a world undergoing unprecedented change that has already gone beyond anything we could have imagined.

Don’t believe it? At this year’s CWEF, political and economic leaders and trend experts from Taiwan, China, Japan, India, Indonesia and even France and Silicon Valley all spontaneously waved goodbye to old thinking and old eras with almost unsettling urgency.

The Takeover of Robot Clones

One example was Osaka University professor and robotics expert Hiroshi Ishiguro, known for making a robot that resembles himself, called a Geminoid. No sooner did he take to the stage than he stunned the audience by confirming that the robot clones only depicted in movies up to now have become reality.

Urs A. Laeuppi, the director of Mercedes-Benz R&D in China, played a video of a driverless car navigating Taipei’s streets at the just concluded Taipei Auto Show.

Then there was Airbnb Asia-Pacific regional director Julian Pesaud, whose speech made the Taiwanese audience realize how long the Silicon Valley startup has actually been a part of their lives.

This was all aptly summarized by renowned author Pai Hsien-yung, who opened his speech by quoting Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” said Pai, who usually shuns public speaking appearances, expressing how similar today’s world is to the one that existed around the time of the French Revolution, against which Dickens’ novel is set.

Though Pai humbly described himself as somebody who only understands culture, he argued forcefully that Taiwan should seize control of the agenda over the current “era of a Chinese cultural renaissance.” But the changing global economic situation that exists today can also be seen as a renaissance of sorts, and Taiwan needs to decide if it is going straight to Dickens’ “heaven” or “hell.”

At this year’s CWEF, the answer was unquestionably clear. 

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier