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In reversal, development minister calls economic growth 'A-list'

TAIPEI -- National Development Council (國發會) Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) told lawmakers yesterday that Taiwan is in the “A-list” for economic growth in Asia, apparently contradicting his previous comment that Taiwan has fallen behind the three other Asian Tigers.

Asked by Kuomintang lawmaker Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) about comments last month that Taiwan is no longer a part of the group, Kuan said that his remarks were made only as a “wake-up call” for people to think seriously about how to sharpen Taiwan's competitive edge.

It is more important, he said, for Taiwan to figure out how to get and keep a leading position than to look back with nostalgia on the past, when Taiwan was grouped in the exclusive club alongside Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Lee continued to press Kuan on his views of Taiwan's economy, asking the minister to rank Taiwan's economic development.

“Of course (Taiwan) is on the A-list,” he said, arguing that numbers do not tell the whole story.

He said that it is not fair to compare Singapore, a city-state, with somewhere as large as Taiwan — though he did not account for why the smaller area with limited resources has a per capita income double Taiwan's, a point which he emphasized in February.

Better indicators are progress and the model of development, he said, pointing to efforts by the government in Taiwan to promote innovative entrepreneurship.

In a direct contradiction to his previous statement, Kuan told Lee confidently that Taiwan “is of course” still a member of the four Asian Tigers.

Speaking on economic growth over this year, Kuan said Taiwan's GDP target for 2014 is growth of between 2.8 percent and 3.2 percent, and he personally expects it to come in over 3 percent.

While cautioning that the situation in Ukraine will have short-term effects on the global economy, he said that the impact will taper off as long as Russia does not take further actions to escalate tensions.

Asked by reporters about the state of Taiwan's low salaries — something that Taipei's municipal labor chief and Mayor Hau Lung-bin have called “a national shame” — Kuan said that salaries increase only when productivity does.

Salary in turn is linked to consumption, he said, noting that consumption has shown no growth over the past few years mainly because of a lack of growth in real salaries.

Kuan said that instead of continuing to raise the minimum wage, he supports the idea of a suggested living wage calculated on regional prices of goods.

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