Academic journal article The Geographical Review

East Asia and Solar Energy Trade Network Patterns

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

East Asia and Solar Energy Trade Network Patterns

Article excerpt

Relational economic geography has focused geographers' attention beyond material production and distribution of commodities to the formation of their structural networks (Martinus and others 2015). Within the context of East and Southeast Asia, this literature, through its scrutiny of global production networks and world-city dynamics, appear to support a trend of economic convergence as countries in the region move up the income hierarchy (Taylor and others 2003; Yeung 2015). Wade, for instance, maintains that globalization has rendered the world economy an open system such that structure no longer constrains spatial mobility (2004). He points to China and India's rapid growth through trade as evidence. Wade's observation is paralleled by less linear approaches, which suggest that a once-leading industry is expected to experience technological stalemate over time (Mensch 1979). Technological stalemate may, in turn, be accompanied by a process of creative destruction, opening up opportunities for technological innovation at the semiperiphery (Schumpeter 1934).

Scholars of core-periphery theory, however, argue that structure remains formidable in explaining international economic and political relationships, and they assert that such relationships remain spatially polarized (Hryniewicz 2014). In a provocative article, Babones alleged that despite South Korea, Tai wan, and China's increased wealth and standard of living, the three countries remain firmly semiperiphery with few prospects of becoming a core (2011).

The jury is still out with respect to Wade versus Babones. This paper will examine changes in the spatial structure of global solar energy trade over time in an attempt to shed some light on the debate. The solar energy industry is selected for study because it is thought to be part of a Schumpetarian innovation cycle with significant prospects for spatial mobility among East Asian countries, particularly China (Mathews 2013). Empirically, we draw upon network analysis that formally describes interactions between countries, and provides a powerful means of geo-visualizing the structure of solar energy trade and its dynamic (Poon and others 2015). Networks are also suitable for detecting spatial pattern and mobility related to core and periphery (Zhang and others 2015).

In the next section, we outline the debate surrounding the spatial mobility of semiperiphery countries like East Asia and its implications on their network position. The network model for examining trade flows is then described and analyzed. This is followed by a discussion of the results and the paper ends with a summary of the findings.


Studies have shown that the contemporary world economy is hierarchically organized, driven by the uneven spread of trade, which may be traced to intensification of the international division of labor and spatial fragmentation of global value chains (Ezcura and Rodriguez-Pose 2013; Mahutga and Smith 2013). While some authors suggest that participation of countries at the periphery in global value chains can potentially reduce international income inequality in the long run, even though income inequality may rise in the short run (Wade 2004; Buckley and Strange 2015), others contend that prevailing patterns merely reinforce older patterns of structural inequality (Arrighi and others 2003; Mahutga 2006; Dasandi 2014). Core-periphery theory sees the underdevelopment of developing countries, including those in East Asia, to be structural in nature because both export patterns and the price system favor Western industrialized core countries. The theory's main relational contribution is that the world system consists of a single structure that is rooted in an international division of labor, the latter being underscored by two features. First, markets at the core are relatively protected because this will help to increase profits that incentivize product innovation--that is, leading products. …

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