Scholars have credited a model of state-led capitalism called the developmental state with producing the first wave of the East Asian economic miracle. Using historical evidence based on original archival research, this talk offers a geopolitical explanation for the origins of the developmental state. In contrast to previous studies that have emphasized colonial legacies or domestic political factors, I argue that the developmental state was the legacy of the rivalry between the United States and Communist China during the Cold War. Responding to the acute tensions in Northeast Asia in the early postwar years, the United States supported emergency economic controls in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to enforce political stability. In response to the belief that the Communist threat would persist over the long term, the U.S. strengthened its clients by laying the foundations of a capitalist, export-oriented economy under bureaucratic guidance. The result of these interventions was a distinctive model of state-directed capitalism that scholars would later characterize as a developmental state.
I verify this claim by examining the rivalry between the United States and the Chinese Communists and demonstrating that American threat perceptions caused the U.S. to promote unorthodox economic policies among its clients in Northeast Asia. In particular, I examine U.S. relations with the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan, where American efforts to create a bulwark against Communism led to the creation of an elite economic bureaucracy for administering U.S. economic aid. In contrast, the United States decided not to create a developmental state in the Philippines because the Philippine state was not threatened by the Chinese Communists. Instead, the Philippines faced a domestic insurgency that was weaker and comparatively short-lived. As a result, the U.S. pursued a limited goal of maintaining economic stability instead of promoting rapid industrialization. These findings shed new light on the legacy of statism in American foreign economic policy and highlight the importance of geopolitics in international development.
James Lee is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. He specializes in International Relations with a focus on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia and relations across the Taiwan Strait. James also serves as the Senior Editor for Taiwan Security Research, an academic website that aggregates news and commentary on the economic and political dimensions of Taiwan's security.
This event is co-sponsored by the Taiwan Democracy Project in the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) and the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), both part of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.