Tackling the topic of “Transnational Capitalism: East Asia and the World”, this issue of Perspectives focuses on East Asia whose formidable and dynamic contributions to the global market and economy in the past few decades have attracted much attention in the scholarship on neoliberal globalisation and transnational capitalism.
Known for distinctive models and practices of economic development and capitalism, Asia has seen some of the world’s highest economic growth in the millennium. According to the latest available data from World Bank (https://data.worldbank.org), China, Japan, India and South Korea are respectively ranked 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 10th in the gross domestic product (GDP) list of the world’s top economies. These economies have moreover contributed to the reshaping of the global order through the creation of a multi-polar world—a trend that has accelerated in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia war.
The postwar decades saw Japan achieving the status of the world’s second largest economy after the US. In 2010, Japan was overtaken by China. In 2014, China overtook the US as the world’s biggest economy (albeit in second place when measured by GDP). Undoubtedly an economic powerhouse in the millennium, China’s rapid global ascension has been impressive, though not without controversy; till today, sticking points that include Taiwan, human rights, and espionage have strained Chinese-West relations. Coming up close behind China and Japan is India, whose equally remarkable economic achievements in the past decade has led to it being dubbed a potential superpower in the making. Then, there is South Korea, whose GDP expansion of 4% in 2021 is nothing short of amazing, given the difficult conditions caused by the pandemic.
In recent years, these economies have also had to contend with successive and multiple daunting challenges—including Trump’s “America First” policies, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the Ukraine-Russia war. Sanctions, a key threat to globalisation and transnational capitalism, have not only impacted specific countries and/or specific sectors, but also played a significant role in accelerating socioeconomic and geopolitical risks and tensions in this century.
Despite these challenges, it is important to consider how globalisation still matters for most parts of the world attempting to “get on with life” in the third year of the pandemic. Economic recovery and growth have been a priority across the world, including Asia Pacific. Developing nations and fragile economies battered by the pandemic have been struggling to get back on their feet, relying on global and transnational financial, trade, commercial and consumer networks and markets as well as strategic political and/or corporate alliances to generate much-needed investments and income.
At the same time, the top economies in Asia Pacific have shown a remarkable degree of resilience and adaptability in their response to the changing and increasingly hostile global environment. This resilience can be found at every level: from the individual to the state, and from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to small/medium-sized enterprises, companies, and corporate institutions. Successful individuals and companies in recent years have produced new and inventive ideas, models and strategies to maintain their competitive edge; they have not only survived, but also thrived. A good example is SHEIN, a controversial fast-fashion company from China whose innovative business model has made it one of the world’s most profitable and successful fashion retailers today. In 2020 when the pandemic hit the world, SHEIN tripled its sales and raked in an estimated USD 10 billion. It currently ships to over 200 countries but the US serves as its largest consumer base. Though slowing down, the millennium era of globalisation and transnational capitalism is far from over.
Providing macro and micro perspectives on East Asian cultures and capital, our contributors—Dal Yong Jin of Simon Fraser University and Korea University, and Nellie Chu of Duke Kunshan University—respectively shed light on how South Korea and China play a role in reshaping the cultural and/or economic terrain through transnational capitalism.
Dal Yong Jin’s “Transnational Capitalism and the Korean Wave” maps the phenomenal growth of Korean Hallyu through successive “waves” over the past few decades to become the global sensation and powerhouse it is today. From Hallyu, we move to the micro view of how transnational capitalist links between China and North America are forged through the dreams and ambitions of the laoban (male boss) in Nellie Chu’s “Engendering Laoban: The Masculinisation of Bosshood and Uncertainty in Transnational Guangzhou, China.”
As our contributors show, globalisation and transnational capitalism are more than just about capital, profits and numbers; it is also about individuals and cultures on the move, and the dreams and emotions they carry. It is the affective dimension that helps drive the production and development of global and transnational capitalist linkages and networks.
Grace V.S. Chin
Dal Yong Jin on Transnational Capitalism and the Korean Wave.
Nellie Chu on Engendering Laoban: The Masculinisation of Bosshood and Uncertainty in Transnational Guangzhou, China.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Perspectives are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the journal’s or the publisher’s position.