Event Report: Trades Union Congress (TUC) – Research Report Launch

15th Apr, 2014

Trades Union Congress (TUC) –Research Report Launch

The Way of the Dragon – What the UK can learn from the rise of China and East Asia?

Tuesday 15th April, Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS


The launch event included a high quality panel of speakers chaired by Linda Yueh (BBC Chief Business Correspondent and Author). The panellists were Martin Jacques (FT Journalist and Author), Terry Scuoler of the EEF and Paul Nowak, Assistant General Secretary of the TUC itself.

Linda Yueh explained the context for the report, namely the unprecedented twin challenges facing the UK economy into the future; rebalancing and re-industrialisation.

After those remarks from the Chair, Paul Nowak explained the twin objectives behind the report:

  • How can we take advantage of the eastward shift in the economic centre of gravity?
  • What lessons can we learn from the growth of China and East Asia?

Paul also suggested three broad lessons to be drawn from the project for the future of the UK:

  • The need for a strategic industrial policy focused on growth and high value employment
  • Resources and finance need to be provided by the state rather than simple rhetoric
  • The need to raise the UK’s outward focus at all levels – starting with language

Thus the scene was set for the morning’s discussion with the crucial aspect of the successful Chinese and East Asian economic models being their divergence from classical neo-liberal economic rules.  Of course these are only rules in as much as they are conditions imposed by the likes of the IMF and the World Bank (although times are changing if slowly) or, as we heard in the discussion, by the USA directly as a cornerstone of trade agreements such as the proposed Trans Pacific partnership (TPP).

At the heart of this divergence is the role of the state as an active player in strategic industrial policy, but also the focus on long-term investment in research and development (at least partly enabled by alternative ownership models) as well as on individual education.

While participants were in broad agreement on the approach taken by the report this was especially and emphatically so with regard to the critical importance of the UK remaining a part of the EU.

Martin Jacques was particularly keen to highlight just how deep, profound and historical a set of changes and challenges the Eastward shift in the economic centre of gravity represents.  As Terry Scuoler stated later -unless the UK wins a sizeable share of East Asian business in the future there can be no economic survival.

In fact if we don’t start from such an understanding then it is even more unlikely that as a society and an economy we’ll be prepared to ask the big questions and address the major issues that we need to tackle to ensure future success.

While the economic dominance of the West in historical terms has been a short-lived phenomenon we need to acknowledge the impacts of that period including colonisation, empire and hegemony. Such a historical and internationalist perspective may also help us to understand and interpret current events more effectively.

Conversely there is a need to grasp what a profound impact the flowering of Western economic dominance has had on our culture and psychology. This engrained set of beliefs around Western superiority can be seen in many of today’s debates usually in tones of denial or defensiveness.

The report makes some very strong recommendations and covers a lot of territory but of course it can’t be exhaustive as the q and a session (starting with the issue of Climate Change) highlighted.

Do take a look at the report and do have a think about the future of industrial policy in the UK, the role of the state in the economy, the questions around educational attainment, as well as skills, and the crucial issue of R&D investment (at the very time companies are sitting on record cash piles) not to mention the cultural and psychological barriers to our rising to the challenge.

This is a long term process and debate, Martin Jacques thought it might go on for decades, but change is coming and we have a stark choice – to understand and respond to those changes and challenges, recognising the opportunities or to stand still, turn inward and (continue to) decline.

For further information on the report and launch please visit the TUC site here.