Industrialising Malaysia: Policy, Performance, Prospects

By Jomo K. S. | Go to book overview

11

PROSPECTS FOR MALAYSIAN INDUSTRIALISATION IN LIGHT OF EAST ASIAN NIC EXPERIENCES

Jomo K. S.

Since the late 1980s, and even before that, Malaysia has been touted as one of the most likely new candidates for ‘NICdom’, i.e. to achieve international recognition as a newly industrialising country (NIC) or economy (NIE). There is, of course, a great deal of controversy about the very criteria for NICdom, especially in Malaysia’s case, because it has long been considered a middle-income country on the strength of its primary commodity exports. In recent years, there has been an ongoing contest over whether Malaysia or Thailand will be the first to qualify as the next NIC. Part of the debate is, of course, definitional. The Malaysian authorities once sought international recognition of its impressive record in terms of economic growth and industrialisation. However, after the withdrawal of import duty exemptions and other privileges under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from the East Asian NICs in 1988, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad instructed his cabinet members, government officials, university academics and the press to stop referring to Malaysia as an NIC or a potential NIC. Despite such ambiguity over Malaysia’s status as a late industrialising country, there is little doubt that the manufacturing sector grew rapidly in the 1970s, early 1980s and again in the late 1980s. Since much of the growth of the 1970s and 1980s was export oriented, involving employment of relatively cheap labour, manufacturing’s share of Malaysian GDP, exports and the labour force has grown rapidly over the last two decades (see Table 11.1).

However, these impressive indices of growth of the Malaysian manufacturing sector conceal important differences from the experiences of the more established Asian NICs, i.e. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Despite the resurgence of free market economic ideologies in the 1980s, it is now generally acknowledged (Deyo, 1987; White, 1988) that the state has been crucial to the late industrialisation of the East Asian NICs. It therefore seems useful to review these differences examining the implications of the role of the state in late industrialisation, in case any useful general

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