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TAIWAN

NEWS REPORT
 

 

In-depth Business Intelligence

Key Economic Data 
 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $ 406,000      
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 18,000
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Taiwan

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
35,980 

Population 
22,603,001

Capital 
Taipei

Currency 
New Taiwan dollar (TWD)

President 
Chen shui-bian

 

Update No: 011 - (30/11/04)

Taiwan goes to the polls on Saturday 3rd December to elect a new legislature (The Legislative Yuan) and there is every indication that the Democratic Progressive Party of President Chen Shui-bian will emerge the victor. The DPP may still not have an absolute majority in the country's new legislature but it does looks set to fare much better than it has done so far and, with the aid of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), the DPP's partner in the coalition pan-green alliance, the DPP looks set to wrest control away from the conservative pan-blue alliance of the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP). Certainly the pan-greens have so far shown a much greater degree of unity and cohesiveness than their opponents and President Chen himself has set a blistering pace on the campaign trail.
Mr. Chen seems quite elated at the prospect of controlling both the administration and the legislature but such an outcome may not necessarily be in the interests of Taiwan or of the region generally. In fact it may embolden those radical elements among the "pro-Taiwan" groups that may use the opportunity to take further steps towards declaring formal independence of Taiwan from China. Of late, Mr. Chen and his Cabinet have softened their anti-China rhetoric but Beijing still believes that "pro-Taiwan" and "pro-independence for Taiwan" are two sides of the same coin.
Ahead of the APEC leader's meeting in Chile, President, Chen Shui-bian, renewed his offer of dialogue with Beijing and again called for confidence-building measures that would promote stability across the Taiwan Straits. President Chen reiterated earlier proposals to restart a political dialogue with Beijing and called for military-to-military contacts as well as the demilitarisation of the Taiwan Straits. He also pledged that Taiwan would not develop nuclear weapons "or other weapons of mass destruction" and called on China to make a similar commitment.
Mr. Chen's overtures can be seen as part of a new conciliatory stance towards Beijing that is closely related to winning the middle ground in the December election. He has in fact nothing to lose by adopting such a position and since China is unlikely to respond positively - and indeed has been dismissive of the gesture - he wins either way. At worst, it can be seen as China baiting - setting the scene for a more radical policy following an election victory.
The big worry is that Taiwan's current leadership fails to see the bigger picture - and that is the need to retain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait so that the region can focus on economic development and stave off any whiff of Chinese adventurism. Should China escalate the current stand-off and use a military option of one form or another, then the resultant uncertainties could plunge the region back into another economic ice-age. Of course, the United States would not let this happen - at least that is the thinking in Taiwan. But it risks misjudging the signals from Washington or at least filters out those that do not conveniently fit into the current mindset of Taiwan's political leaders. Washington has made it quite clear that it's willingness to come to Taiwan's aid in any cross-straits confrontation is contingent on an unprovoked attack by China. Should Taiwan ratchet up the ante with the mainland, then it might well find itself on its own.
The immediate danger comes with the proposal to amend - or indeed rewrite - Taiwan's Constitution. If Mr. Chen does succeed in gaining control of the legislature, this item is expected to be high on the agenda for 2005 with the promise that the issue would be put to a national referendum during 2006. The scope of proposed changes remains to be seen but it is already clear that many in Taiwan will be pushing for radical change - including a change of name for the country - that would clearly be seen by China as a further step towards a formal statement of independence. Taiwan's leaders for their part seem determined to push the limits of Chinese patience, a very unpragmatic approach.

The US position on Taiwan is reaffirmed at APEC
Issues relating to global security were uppermost on President George W. Bush's mind at the recent APEC summit with global terrorism as the number one item on the agenda and the nuclear aspirations of North Korea in second place. With the US needing China's support on both issues but with a key brokering role to play on the latter, having Taiwan on the agenda as well would not have been a welcome initiative.
It is not surprising then that if Taiwan had expected the United States to show a more forthcoming position at APEC, it was destined to be disappointed. In his meetings with Chinese President, Hu Jintao, Mr, Bush reiterated yet again Washington's one China policy and opposition to Taiwan's formal independence.

Economic performance the best since 1997
Taiwan's economy has done well this year - some say that this is in spite of the government. Certainly, the present administration appears to have learned its lesson and is taking a more laid-back and less interventionist approach to economic management. With the economy steaming ahead at its fastest clips, since 1997, when the island powerhouse turned in an expansion rate of 6.37 per cent, the government has revised upward its forecast for the current year.
Taiwan's economy turned in a pleasing third quarter result. Continued strong export demand, coupled with a firming of private investment pushed Taiwan's domestic economy to an expansion rate of 5.27 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter. The result, while better than many had expected is a slowdown from the 7.88 per cent recorded in the second quarter of the year. Nevertheless, as a result of the third quarter figure, the government has raised its growth projection for 2004 as a whole to a robust 5.93 per cent. 
Third quarter exports (July-September) expanded by 15.1 per cent while imports rose by 17.4 per cent. For the year as a whole, a 20.9 per cent expansion is predicted although next year, the full year expectation is for only a further 7.4 per cent increase.
Private investment rose by 26.4 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter thanks to strong demand in the semiconductor and liquid-crystal-display sectors. For the year as a whole an expansion of investment of 24.9 per cent is currently forecast. However for 2005 a more modest 9.3 per cent is forecast.

Export orders at a record high
Exports fulfilled in October increased by 17.5 per cent year-on-year to $15.39 billion and this was the second highest level on record. Imports surged to $15.05 billion - the highest ever - and up by 38.1 per cent from a year earlier. The October trade surplus amounted to $341.2 million. Imports of capital equipment were valued at $3.31 billion and were up by almost 39 per cent on the same month last year.
Export orders received were at a record high in October to $20.25 billion and were up by an estimated 25.46 per cent on previous. This beat the previous record set in September when orders rose by an annualised 26.61 per cent from a year earlier to $19.4 billion. For the first ten months of the year export orders have risen by 26.17 per cent to $175.54 billion. 
Industrial output in October expanded by 2.91 per cent and slowed from a revised 8.22 per cent increase recorded in September. Electronics orders topped demand growing by an annual 31.21 per cent in October to US$4.46 billion. Consumer electronics items were top of the list. Industrial output for the first ten months of the year has risen by 11.48 per cent as compared to the same period last year.
Nevertheless export growth is expected to slow to around 12 per cent by the end of the year and easing back further into single-digit expansion by first quarter 2005.
Jobless rate hits three year low
Taiwan's jobless rate fell to 4.31 per cent in October from 4.50 per cent in September. On a seasonally adjusted basis the rate fell to 4.22 per cent from 4.35 per cent. The October 2004 result represents the lowest since May 2001 when the jobless rate fell to 4.22 per cent.
According to government figures, fewer businesses closed during October leading to a lower number of layoffs. At the same time, seasonal employment picked up as factories rushed to complete end-of-year orders.

Inflation remains under control
Taiwan's consumer prices rose by 2.36 per cent year-on-year compared to a revised rate of 2.77 per cent in September. The wholesale-price index increased by 12.02 per cent in October compared to a revised 11.39 per cent rise in September. Higher oil prices were held chiefly responsible for the increase. The core inflation index, which excludes volatile prices such as food and energy, was up by 0.92 per cent in October. For the first ten months of the year, Taiwan's CPI rose by 1.62 per cent; the WPI by 6.97 per cent and the core inflation index rose by 0.67 per cent.

Yet a slowdown is in the pipeline
Yet, here as elsewhere in Asia, signs of a slowdown are emerging, especially in the export and investment sectors, both of which are expected to slow substantially in 2005 but also in private consumption growth also.

Taiwan Growth Forecasts                 2004     2005
GDP Growth                                         5.93%   4.56%
Export Growth                                  20.90%   7.40%
Private investment                         24.90%    9.30%
Investment into manufacturing   55.30% 18.00%
Private consumption growth           2.90%   2.60%

With the Chinese Yuan continuing to be pegged to the US currency, the recent rise in the New Taiwan dollar against the US dollar and by association, the Chinese yuan, is starting to affect Taiwan's export competitiveness. This is flowing over to affect investment decisions and there are growing fears that local businessmen may, in the months ahead, be less willing to invest. The NTD recently rose to a 44-month high of NT$32.554 against the US dollar and has appreciated by around 4.4 per cent so far this year. 
For 2005 the current forecast of government agencies is an expansion of GDP by around 4.56 per cent.


High Court upholds contested election result
Taiwan's high court has finally upheld President Chen Shui-bian's contested victory in March elections. Opposition leaders filed a lawsuit following that election, accusing the president of staging his own botched assassination one day before the vote and other irregularities. 
The Taiwanese high court dismissed all charges of gross fraud and vote tampering in March's presidential election. The lawsuit, one of two contesting the ballot, accused President Chen Shui-bian of planning his own election eve shooting to win extra votes. The suit also claimed the president illegally held a key referendum on Taiwan's relations with China on Election Day. The court rejected the claim. The verdict comes after seven months of legal challenges, ballot recounts, intense debate and sometimes-violent political confrontation. Meanwhile a second lawsuit is still moving forward, this one challenging the election commission's decision not to suspend the vote after the shooting. 

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