Taiwan has often been depicted as an island facing the constant threat of forcible annexation by the People’s Republic of China. However, despite this threat, as well as rampant corruption and official rent-seeking activities, why has Taiwan continued to invest capital and talent into China for over three decades? In the award-winning book Rival Partners, Wu Jieh-min delves into the development of Taiwanese enterprises in China over twenty-five years and offers fresh insights. The geopolitical shift in Asia that began in the 1970s, along with the global restructuring of value chains since the 1980s, created strong incentives for Taiwanese entrepreneurs to venture into China, despite political risks and insecure property rights. Taiwanese investment, in collaboration with Hong Kong capital, played a crucial role in laying the foundation for the world’s factory to thrive in the southern province of Guangdong. However, official Chinese narratives tend to downplay Taiwan’s vital contribution. It is hard to imagine the Guangdong model without Taiwanese investment, and without the Guangdong model, China’s rise would not have been possible. Going beyond the common perception of the ‘China miracle,’ Wu delineates how Taiwanese businesspeople, with the cooperation of local officials, helped introduce global capitalism into China by partnering with their political archrival. This partnership has resulted in financial benefits for Taiwan, while also contributing to the growth of an economic powerhouse that now exerts its influence globally and poses a potential threat to Taiwan’s political survival. In this lecture, Professor Wu will further elaborate on the role of Taiwan in the current US‒China strategic competition and explain the importance of Taiwan in China’s quest for technological upgrading.
Wu Jieh-min is a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.