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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


May 2007

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Grow First, Clean Up Later? Industrial Transformation in East Asia

Since the 1960s, 10 economies in developing East Asia (including China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in northeast Asia, and Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand in southeast Asia) have been going through an unprecedented process of rapid economic growth while catching up technologically with more advanced industrial countries.1 While there are important differences among these economies, taken together, they represent the leading edge of a capitalist and market-based development strategy rooted in globalization—the attraction of foreign direct investment and the export of manufactured goods—that has increased the importance of this region in the global economy and ecology.2 These economies provide a unique opportunity to assess the impact of globalization on the environment at local and global scales. Because of the latter, no meaningful discussion of policy options for addressing global environmental challenges can occur without consideration of what is happening in this group of economies.

What is known about the environmental consequences of this development strategy? Has intense globalization conferred large win-win technology benefits on these economies, or is the region the primary home for developing country pollution havens? If win-win technology improvements occurred, did they follow automatically from open economy policies, or did governments craft policies and institutions to assist local firms to secure positive growth in technology? How have governments in these economies dealt with the environmental challenges of high-speed, urban-based industrial growth? Have they simply ignored them? Have they pursued the same “grow first, clean up later” environmental strategies practiced in Organisation for Economic and Co-operative Development (OECD) economies? Or have they found institutionally unique ways to address the environmental consequences of rapid growth and development?

1. The successful development experiences of these economies are detailed in World Bank, The East Asian Miracle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
2. Differences among these economies are detailed in K. S. Jomo, ed., Southeast Asia’s Industrialization: Industrial Policy, Capabilites and Sustainability (New York: Palgrave, 2001).

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