AN ANALYSIS OF THE COMPUTER
INDUSTRY IN CHINA AND TAIWAN USING
MICHAEL PORTER’S DETERMINANTS OF
NATIONAL COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Bridwell, Larry and Kuo, Chun-Jui
Both China and Taiwan have pursued aggressive investments in the computer industry over the
last five years. Using Michael Porter’s Determinants of National Competitive Advantage, the potential of
both countries can be analyzed not only separately, but also in terms of the combined resources based on
the possibility that Taiwan and China join forces in pursuing a stronger position in the global computer
industry. The critical factor in determining the synergies will be the policies of the governments of China
Although China has a per capita income of less than $1, 000, the Chinese government is
aggressively promoting the development of its computer industry. Billions of dollars have already been
invested from all over the world with significant participation from Taiwanese companies. The enormous
market potential of China combined with the intellectual capital of Taiwan creates a powerful combination
that could follow a historic pattern similar to that of the Japanese automobile industry. Taiwan is already a
major player in personal computer components; in fact, the 2001 sales of $43 billion in Taiwanese
information technology products (CETDC, 2002) make Taiwan number three in the world after the United
States and Japan (Asia Computer Weekly, 2000). Conceivably, China and Taiwan could continually
upgrade combined engineering and research capabilities to eventually challenge major areas of the
American information technology industry. Many years would be required for all of this to fully develop,
but it is worth noting that the Japanese took approximately twenty years to evolve from exporting low cost
economy automobiles in the early 1970’s to becoming a major force in luxury vehicles in the early 1990's.
Insights into global competitive dynamics are available from the classic work of Michael Porter,
“The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (Porter, 1990). Porter describes how nations can develop industry
related clusters encompassing companies, suppliers, customers, universities and a skilled work force that
become global leaders. Frequently cited examples include Italian footwear, German high performance
automobiles and Hollywood entertainment. The information technology industry arguably has several
industry related clusters--Silicon Valley with leading edge computer chips and engineering work stations as
exemplified by Intel, Sun and Hewlett Packard; Korea in memory devices; and Taiwan in producing and
assembling components associated with laptop computers. In the area of software, the West Coast of the
United States and Bangalore, India have developed industry related clusters. A big question for the future
is how will information technology evolve in China, and what will be the contribution of Taiwan? China
has the huge advantage of a market of 1.2 billion consumers and the potential to capitalize on the
intellectual resources of Chinese-speaking Taiwan.
TAIWAN’S PHENOMENAL SUCCESS
In 2001, Taiwan sold $43 billion of information hardware mostly associated with personal
computers and laptops (CETDC, 2002). Major customers included Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard. The
destinations of these products were balanced geographically, with the United States accounting for 35% of
exports, Europe at 27%, and Japan at 14%. Of the remaining 24% in exports, significant recent growth has
occurred in China and the Asia Pacific area. One of the strengths of the Taiwanese computer industry has
been its flexibility and the continuing upgrading of its technical capacities. An example of this is the
optical- electronic sector encompassing Liquid Crystal Displays used in laptops and various cd/digital
products where Taiwanese sales have grown from $3 billion in 1996 to $15 billion in 2001 (CETDC,
The computer and information technology industries are multi-faceted with many inter-
relationships. One simplified model below (Figure 1) provides an overview particularly relevant to Taiwan
TAIWANESE VIEW OF THE COMPUTER INDUSTRY
Input/ Output/ Storage
Figure 2 takes the two major Taiwanese manufacturing strengths in Figure 1, the computer components
sector and the finished products sector and then adds two historic American strengths, research and
marketing in order to provide a broader global setting in which to analyze the computer industry.
GLOBAL COMPUTER PRODUCTS INDUSTRY SUMMARY
Supply Final After-Sales
Chain User Service
The italicized words represent American strengths. American companies, especially Dell, have excelled in
sophisticated customer interactions and then have worked backwards in the supply chain to obtain low cost
components and assembling of finished products from Taiwanese companies. In addition, the United
States is strong in high technology research which has led to a wide range of new industrial and consumer
products. Currently, American marketing and technology drives the computer industry. But for the future,
if Taiwanese and Chinese companies were able to develop marketing expertise to take full advantage of the
Chinese market, China would be in a position to dominate its own country’s market in a manner similar to
how the Japanese dominate their own automobile market. The key ingredient to fulfilling this potential is
the Taiwanese position in components and finished products fueled in the future by the combined
capabilities of both China and Taiwan.
In Figure 1, Taiwanese companies are primarily active as individual manufacturing participants in
the overall industry. Figure 2 can also be viewed as a strategic summary of what the Chinese government
needs to develop to exploit the huge potential Chinese computer market. Within that model, Taiwan
already has major research and manufacturing strengths. By systematically encouraging Chinese and
Taiwanese organizations to develop sophisticated marketing capabilities, the Chinese government has a
terrific opportunity to develop an industry cluster of Chinese/Taiwanese organizations. That cluster could
capitalize on the Chinese market as a foundation to strengthen their future participation in the global
information technology industry.
PORTER’S DIAMOND OF NATIONAL ADVANTAGE AS APPLIED TO TAIWAN AND CHINA
In “The Competitive Advantage of Nations,” Porter featured the Diamond of National Advantage
with four major categories. These categories can be used to analyze the separate and combined potential of
Taiwan and China in the computer industry as summarized in Figure 3. The first category is Factor
Conditions which includes labor, land, natural resources and capital, but Porter emphasizes highly
specialized labor and infrastructure. Both Taiwanese and Chinese universities have stressed engineering
with a particular concentration on the computer industry. Taiwan has built industrial parks devoted to the
computer industry (Asia Computer Weekly, 2000) and Shanghai is in the process of developing similar
industrial facilities including the Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park. That project has plans to build
infrastructure for 500,000 people with housing, schools, offices and factories (Detmer, 2002).
The second major category is Demand Conditions particularly in the home market. Sophisticated
customers can challenge companies to become even more competitive. Although the Taiwanese market of
22 million residents is quite small, the Taiwanese component manufacturers are very competitive with each
other in seeking to become suppliers to American companies. But key to the Chinese/Taiwanese future is
the market potential of 1.2 billion Chinese customers. Merrill Lynch predicts that the Chinese market for
chips will grow to $43 billion in 2005 encompassing both domestic and export markets. Domestically,
Chinese consumers are buying air conditioners, DVD’s, and other products requiring chips. Export sales of
wireless phones and computer peripherals are also anticipated to grow significantly (Einhorn, 2002).
The third major category is Related and Supporting Industries. Porter emphasizes the “advantage
that home-based related and supporting industries provide in innovation and upgrading—an advantage
based on close working relationships. Suppliers and end-users located near each other can take advantage
of short lines of communication, quick and constant flow of information, and an ongoing exchange of ideas
and innovations. Companies have the opportunity to influence their suppliers’ technical efforts and can
serve as test sites for R & D work, accelerating the pace of innovation” (Porter, 1990; p. 83). Taiwanese
companies have benefited from government-sponsored industrial parks and have become famous for their
continual upgrading and innovation. When direct air links between Shanghai and Taiwan are established,
the communication lines between Shanghai and Taiwan will become even closer. Moreover, both areas
speak Chinese, thus facilitating easier and deeper interaction.
The fourth category is Firm Strategy, Structure and Rivalry. Porter begins this section by stating:
“National circumstances and context create strong tendencies in how companies are created, organized and
managed.” Porter then goes on to also talk about the influence of national cultures, especially “on the types
of education its talented people choose, where they choose to work, and their commitment and effort. The
goals a nation’s institutions and values set for individuals and companies, and the prestige it attaches to
certain industries, guide the flow of capital and human resources” (Porter, 1990; p. 84). Taiwan, as a
nation, has focused on the computer industry and its free market philosophy has led to a constantly
innovating, dynamic cluster. China has developed plans to educate a high technology work force to
support its computer industry that will be implemented over the next twenty years (Ranhoff, 2002).
Xiaolin Xu, Secretary General of the China Semiconductor Industry Association says China now has ten
fabrication companies, over ten packaging facilities, and about 100 design houses. In the first half of 2002,
China produced 2.6 billion integrated circuits (Liu, 2002). Again, the combination of the industry strengths
of Taiwan and the huge potential of China offer powerful possibilities.
After describing the four categories, Porter discussed the Diamond of National Advantage as a
system emphasizing the interaction among the various facets of an industry related cluster. Specifically,
Porter says: ”Once a cluster forms, the whole group of industries become mutually supporting. Benefits
flow forward, backward, and horizontally. Aggressive rivalry in one industry spreads to others in the
cluster, through spin-offs, through the exercise of bargaining power, and through diversification of
established companies. Entry from other industries within the cluster spurs upgrading by stimulating
diversity in R & D approaches and facilitating the introduction of new strategies and skills. Through the
conduits of suppliers or customers who have contact with multiple competitors, information flows freely
and innovations diffuse rapidly. Interconnections within the cluster, often unanticipated, lead to
perceptions of new ways of competing and new opportunities” (Porter, 2000; p. 86). This quotation
exemplifies what has happened in Taiwan, particularly with the impact of the optical capabilities on the
computer industry. Taiwan is a world leader in liquid crystal technology which has been central to the
development of laptops and has the potential for many other future products. Infusing the Chinese market
with Taiwanese abilities could easily lead to an even stronger industry cluster in China.
THE FUTURE ROLE OF THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT—POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?
After discussing the Diamond as a System, Porter then highlights the role of government. He
says: “Government’s proper role is as a catalyst and challenger; it is to encourage—or even push—
companies to raise their aspirations and move to higher levels of competitive performance, even though this
process may be inherently unpleasant and difficult….government’s role of transmitting and amplifying the
forces of the diamond is a powerful one.” (Porter, 1990; p. 87) The government of Taiwan has already
performed its role very well in developing the Taiwanese computer industry. One of its major
achievements has been the development of science based industrial parks such as the huge success of
Hsinchu and another one in Tainan County which is expected to be finished in 2005. Another example of
government serving the role of catalyst is the plan by the Taipei city government to become a cyber city
with paperless systems. (Asia Computer Weekly, 2000).
The big question is the future role of the Chinese government. Will it welcome the Taiwanese
industry into China? Moreover, will it actively encourage Taiwanese companies to be the catalyst for a
Greater China industry related cluster? The potential appears to exist; what will be fascinating to watch is
what the Chinese government will actually do? The negative alternative is to threaten the Taiwanese
government which then in turn could severely limit Taiwanese participation in China.
The “Competitive Advantage of Nations” speaks of national advantage on the assumption that
individual nations or regions within countries are the basic unit of analysis. Taiwan and China raise the
interesting question of whether we are talking about two countries or one nation with two inter-connected
regions. Governmentally, there are two entities which have had a difficult relationship during the last fifty
years, but to the extent that Taiwan and China share a culture and a desire to prosper within the global
computer industry, they may jointly develop a industry related cluster linked between Shanghai and
Taiwan. An important factor in the future relationship between China and Taiwan comes from the Taiwan
Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) which has 145 members including several prominent
companies. Gordon Chen, President of TSIA, has said that Taiwan must invest in China to lower its
production costs in order to maintain its global competitiveness. To obtain cooperation from the Taiwanese
government which has restrained investments in China, a delegation from TSIA launched intensive
discussions in 2001 (China Post, 2001). That dialogue resulted in the government of Taiwan formally
lifting its ban in April, 2002 on Chinese foundries (Shamen, 2002).
The Diamond of National Advantage
Taiwan and China in the Computer Industry
Determinant Taiwan China Combination
Factor Highly Specialized Early Stages of Developing Strong Future
Computer Workforce Computer Workforce Potential
Demand Small Taiwanese Market Huge Potential Market Chinese Market &
Conditions but with excellent Taiwanese Linkages
American connections to U.S. Market
Related and Well developed in Very Little but has Taiwanese Strength
Supporting Computer Components plans for Shanghai Plus Potential of
Firm Strategy Innovative Climate Very Little Taiwanese Strength
Structure & in Taiwan Plus Potential of
The Diamond Well developed Huge Potential Potential Chinese
As a System
Role of Taiwan Industrial Shanghai Computer Potential Chinese
Government Parks Parks and Taiwanese
Future Discourages Taiwanese Threatens Military Mutual Suspicion
Negative Investments in China Actions in Taiwan and Hostility
Role of Govt.
Future Encourages Taiwanese Encourages Taiwanese Exploits Taiwanese
Positive Investments in China Investments in China Experience to Build
Role of Govt Greater China
An example of the potential for Taiwanese and Chinese linkages is the Chinese government
owned Central Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (CSMC) which has been run since 1997 by Taiwanese
managers and has been very successful in supplying chips for Chinese companies. Another Chinese
company, Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (GSMC), is jointly led by Winston Wong of Taiwan
and Jiang Mianheng, who is the son of the recent President of China, Jiang Zemin. GSMC is building a
$1.6 billion facility in Shanghai. Its President, Nava Tsai, used to work for the Taiwanese chipmaker
Mosel Vitalic. Although the Chinese government is actively encouraging foreign investments in the
computer industry, many obstacles still remain including insufficient entrepreneurial spirit and incomplete
infrastructure. Furthermore, it is sometimes difficult for companies to move quickly within the constraints
of the bureaucratic red tape of a government still strongly influenced by communist practices (Arensman,
2002; Clendenin, 2001).
The global computer industry is both complicated and very dynamic. As such, it is extremely
problematic to make specific predictions for the next five to ten years. For example, Bridwell and Richard
(1998) using Michael Porter’s concepts evaluated Korea as having significantly more capabilities than
Taiwan. But the financial crisis in Asia during the late 1990’s hurt Korea much more than Taiwan. Taiwan
also showed great entrepreneurial skill in liquid crystal display technologies and in the assembly of
personal computers. That same review also spoke of Asian cultural strengths in mathematics and
engineering that could lead to future Asian advancement in the computer industry. Evidently, analysis of
the Competitive Advantage of Nations should now pay close attention to a broad definition of the Chinese
nation. The combination of Mainland China and the Overseas Chinese from Taiwan, Singapore and those
who have worked for high technology companies in the United States could become an even more
powerful force in the global computer industry of the future.
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