Signs of recession are subtle in Taiwan

Taiwan has shaken hands with the dragon, and must wonder whether the dragon sees them as partners or lunch.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

On the surface it is business as usual in Taipei.

The motorcycles roar off at every green light, just as before. The roads are crowded, and Taipei 101 is still filled with wealthy shoppers.

The signs of distress are subtle.

My travel agent goofed on my hotel here. The reservation had me arriving Friday, which is when I leave, rather than Sunday, which is when I came. No problem. If the hotel had been fully booked for CompuTex, it would have been a big problem.\

We had so few CompuTex visitors at the Miramar Garden, in fact, that this morning they didn't even bring around the shuttle bus. We were all given free taxi rides. My cabbie was pushing a martial arts school.

These are all signs. Selling a little too hard. Putting up too brave a face. The press room is nearly deserted the second day of the show. The floating media caravan did the Intel and MSI press conferences, they covered the official speeches, they piled into MSI's food frenzy, and now they've  blown out of town.

Taiwan is not like the mainland. Taiwan has been tied tightly to western culture and economies for nearly 60 years. The freeway overpasses show their age. The people are over their infatuation with the West. They are into defining their own Chinese identities, which is fine by me.

But uncertainty hangs here like the clouds which come in every afternoon (we are at the same latitude as Hawaii), and make you wonder how hard it will rain. The Kuomingang government spent last week on the mainland, cozying up to Hu Yintao, signing trade deals, bowing for a bit of the prosperity across the straits.

That's what a lot of the business deals here are about, tieing into China warily, becoming its agent to the rest of the world. Will they become like Lew Wasserman or Broadway Danny Rose?

Take MSI. It began as a Taiwan OEM, Micro-Star International, competed fiercely with Chinese manufacturers as they emerged, but now it hopes to represent them, becoming a brand name they use to reach western markets.

At last night's media event, CEO Joseph Hsu's face looked about to split, he was smiling so hard.  In the clear light of morning, I can see why.

It's a great strategy. It's the right thing to do. It may keep th world recession at bay., But Taiwan has shaken hands with the dragon, and must wonder whether the dragon sees them as partners or lunch.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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