The Management of Human Resources in the Asia Pacific: Into the 21st Century**

Article excerpt

In this introduction, we look at the management of human resources in the Asia Pacific region. We start with an overview of the countries involved, ranging from the hugely populated China to the city-State of Singapore, proposing three categories of economies and the people-management systems, namely the 'developed', the 'developing' and the 'transitional'. After this, we examine the labour markets and employment trends to be found in the region, raising a number of issues relating to future job prospects. We argue that these labour market/employment phenomena and people-management developments are closely intertwined. A further section sums up the findings of the contributors to this Special Issue. Finally, we present our conclusions.

Key words: Asia, Employment, Globalization, Human Resource Management (HRM), Industrial Relations (IR), Multinational Corporations (MNCs)

Introduction

With the tenth anniversary of the contagion of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the time is ripe to look at the recent position of human resources (HR) and their management in the Asia Pacific region. This part of the world economy has grown significantly in the last few decades and now has enormous economic importance, both as an exporter and an importer. Both Napoleon and Marx predicted the 'rise' of Asia and events have borne out their forecasts. Globalization has transformed the Asian economy and linked it to international markets, more closely than ever, through the adhesion of most of the component States in Asia Pacific to the World Trade Organization (WTO), China signing in late 2001. This step has made it easier for them to enter foreign markets, encouraging them to reduce trade barriers and literally open their doors to Western influences, amongst which those relating to new forms of people management has been a major innovation. Such reforms have proved necessary because people have become such an important focus of concern. Since 1980, the world's effective supply of labour has quadrupled, with Asia accounting for half of this growth (see IMF Global Outlook 2007). Indeed: 'East Asia contributed about half of the increase, due to a marked rise in working-age population and rising trade openness, while South Asia and the former Eastern bloc countries accounted for smaller increases' (IMF 2007: 162). This has been an almost unprecedented phenomenon with enormous implications for HR both in the region and outside it.

Given the high savings ratio in these countries and the huge inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) which has poured in, significantly high rates of economic growth have been forthcoming. A 'tidal wave' of exports has led to low-cost manufacturing goods entering Western markets and damping down inflation in many of the advanced economies. Cheap goods have compensated for the negative employment effects in Western countries by cushioning real wages but at the cost of a huge trade imbalance in the case of the US. Job growth has been on a vast scale in many Asian economies, helping to create employment for those leaving the land and/or absorbing population increases. The Chinese economy, for example, needs to create 40 million new jobs each year just to keep unemployment levels to a minimum (see Lee/Warner 2006).

In this Introduction, as well as the papers that comprise this Special Issue of the journal, we deal with a wide range of Asian countries, including China, South Korea and Malaysia. These may be divided into three categories (see Zhu et al. 2007), namely developed, developing and transitional. We explain the rationale for this categorization in relation to how soon each of them proceeded with the 'modernization' process. We believe that these three groupings of economies will cover the countries in the region and we will provide examples of HR management (HRM) developments within them. The above study in fact asked if there was a specifically Asian HRM model, possibly 'hybrid' but distinct from European or North American templates (see Warner 2002; Rowley et al. …