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The Four Asian Tigers, Four Asian Dragons or Four Little Dragons, (in Chinese and Korean, only the "dragon" terms are used), are the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which underwent rapid industrialization and maintained exceptionally high growth rates (in excess of 7 percent a year) between the early 1960s (mid-1950s for Hong Kong) and 1990s. By the early 21st century, all four had developed into high-income economies (developed countries), specializing in areas of competitive advantage. Hong Kong and Singapore have become world-leading international financial centres, whereas South Korea and Taiwan are world leaders in manufacturing electronic components and devices. Their economic success stories have served as role models for many developing countries, especially the Tiger Cub Economies of southeast Asia.[1][2][3]

A controversial World Bank report (The East Asian Miracle 1993) credited neoliberal policies with the responsibility for the boom, including maintenance of export-oriented policies, low taxes, and minimal welfare states; institutional analysis also states some state intervention was involved.[4] However, others argued that industrial policy and state intervention had a much greater influence than the World Bank report suggested.[5][6]


File:Four Tigers GDP per capita.svg

Growth in per capita GDP in the tiger economies between 1960 and 2014[7]

Prior to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the growth of the Four Asian Tiger economies (commonly referred to as "the Asian Miracle") has been attributed to export oriented policies and strong development policies. Unique to these economies were the sustained rapid growth and high levels of equal income distribution. A World Bank report suggests two development policies among others as sources for the Asian miracle: factor accumulation and macroeconomic management.[8]

The Hong Kong economy was the first out of the four to undergo industrialization with the development of a textile industry in the 1950s. By the 1960s, manufacturing in the British colony had expanded and diversified to include clothing, electronics, and plastics for export orientation.[9] Following Singapore's independence from Malaysia, the Economic Development Board formulated and implemented national economic strategies to promote the country's manufacturing sector.[10] Industrial estates were set up and foreign investment was attracted to the country with tax incentives. Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea began to industrialize in the mid-1960s with heavy government involvement including initiatives and policies. Both countries pursued export-oriented industrialization as in Hong Kong and Singapore.[11] The four countries were inspired by Japan's evident success, and they collectively pursued the same goal by investing in the same categories: infrastructure and education. They also benefited from foreign trade advantages that sets them apart from other countries, most significantly economic support from the United States; part of this is manifested in the proliferation of American electronic products in common households of the Four Tigers.

By the end of the 1960s, levels in physical and human capital in the four economies far exceeded other countries at similar levels of development. This subsequently led to a rapid growth in per capita income levels. While high investments were essential to their economic growth, the role of human capital was also important. Education in particular is cited as playing a major role in the Asian economic miracle. The levels of education enrollment in the Four Asian Tigers were higher than predicted given their level of income. By 1965, all four nations had achieved universal primary education.[8] South Korea in particular had achieved a secondary education enrollment rate of 88% by 1987.[8] There was also a notable decrease in the gap between male and female enrollments during the Asian miracle. Overall these advances in education allowed for high levels of literacy and cognitive skills.

The creation of stable macroeconomic environments was the foundation upon which the Asian miracle was built. Each of the Four Asian Tiger states managed, to various degrees of success, three variables in: budget deficits, external debt and exchange rates. Each Tiger nation's budget deficits were kept within the limits of their financial limits, as to not destabilize the macro-economy. South Korea in particular had deficits lower than the OECD average in the 1980s. External debt was non-existent for Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, as they did not borrow from abroad.[8] Although South Korea was the exception to this - its debt to GNP ratio was quite high during the period 1980-1985, it was sustained by the country’s high level of exports. Exchange rates in the Four Asian Tiger nations had been changed from long-term fixed rate regimes to fixed-but-adjustable rate regimes with the occasional steep devaluation of managed floating rate regimes.[8] This active exchange rate management allowed the Four Tiger economies to avoid exchange rate appreciation and maintain a stable real exchange rate.

Export policies have been the de facto reason for the rise of these Four Asian Tiger economies. The approach taken has been different among the four nations. Hong Kong, and Singapore introduced trade regimes that were neoliberal in nature and encouraged free trade, while South Korea and Taiwan adopted mixed regimes that accommodated their own export industries. In Hong Kong and Singapore, due to small domestic markets, domestic prices were linked to international prices. South Korea and Taiwan introduced export incentives for the traded-goods sector. The governments of Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan also worked to promote specific exporting industries, which were termed as an export push strategy. All these policies helped these four nations to achieve a growth averaging 7.5% each year for three decades and as such they achieved developed country status.[12]

Dani Rodrik, economist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, has in a number of studies argued that state intervention was important in the East Asian growth miracle.[13][5] He has argued "it is impossible to understand the East Asian growth miracle without appreciating the important role that government policy played in stimulating private investment".[5]

1997 Asian financial crisis[]

The Tiger economies experienced a setback in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Hong Kong came under intense speculative attacks against its stock market and currency necessitating unprecedented market interventions by the state Hong Kong Monetary Authority. South Korea was hit the hardest as its foreign debt burdens swelled resulting in its currency falling between 35–50%.[14] By the beginning of 1997, the stock market in Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea also saw losses of at least 60% in dollar terms. Singapore and Taiwan were relatively unscathed. The Four Asian Tigers recovered from the 1997 crisis faster than other countries due to various economic advantages including their high savings rate (except South Korea) and their openness to trade.[14]

2008 financial crisis[]

The export-oriented tiger economies, which benefited from American consumption, were hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007–08. By the fourth quarter of 2008, the GDP of all four nations fell by an average annualized rate of around 15%.[12] Exports also fell by a 50% annualized rate.[12] Weak domestic demand also affected the recovery of these economies. In 2008, retail sales fell 3% in Hong Kong, 6% in Singapore and 11% in Taiwan.[12]

As the world recovers from the financial crisis, the Four Asian Tiger economies have also rebounded strongly. This is due in no small part to each country's government fiscal stimulus measures. These fiscal packages accounted for more than 4% of each country's GDP in 2009.[12] Another reason for the strong bounce back is the modest corporate and household debt in these four nations.[12]

A recent article published in Applied Economics Letters by financial economist Mete Feridun of University of Greenwich Business School and his international colleagues investigates the causal relationship between financial development and economic growth for Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, India and Singapore for the period between 1979 and 2009, using Johansen cointegration tests and vector error correction models. The results suggest that in the case of Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, China and India financial development leads to economic growth, whereas in the case of Thailand there exists a bidirectional causality between these variables. The results further suggest that in the case of Malaysia, financial development does not seem to cause economic growth.[15]

Gross domestic product (GDP)[]

In 2013, the combined economy of the Four Asian Tigers constituted 3.81% of the world's economy with a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 2,366 billion US dollars. The GDP in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan was worth 274.01 billion, 297.94 billion, 1,304.55 billion and 489.21 billion US dollars respectively in 2013, which represented 0.44%, 0.48%, 2.10% and 0.79% of the world economy. Together, their combined economy is close to United Kingdom's GDP of 4.07% of the world's economy.

Education and technology[]

Template:Advert These four countries invested heavily in their infrastructure as well as in developing the intellectual abilities of their human talent, fostering and retaining their educated population to help further develop and improve their respective countries. This policy turned out to be so effective that by the late 20th century, all four countries had developed into advanced and high-income industrialized developed countries, developing many different areas of advanced technology that give them a tremendous competitive advantage in the world. For example, all four countries have become top level global education centers with Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong high school students consistently outperforming all other countries in the world and achieving the highest top scores on international math and science exams such as the PISA exam and with Taiwan students winning multiple gold medals every year consistently at the International Biology Olympiad, International Linguistics Olympiad,[16] International Physics Olympiad, International Earth Science Olympiad, International Mathematical Olympiad and International Chemistry Olympiad.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]

Additionally, these four countries are home to some of the most prestigious top ranking universities in the world such as National Taiwan University, Seoul National University, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Dentistry, which as of 2017, was ranked as the number one top dental school in the world.[31][32] While Taiwan and South Korea invested in technological innovation and development, Hong Kong and Singapore pursued a different path of finances and both became world-leading international financial centers. Inspired in part by Japan's technological and economic success, two of the earliest countries to pursue a similar path of cutting edge science and technology development were Taiwan, which has the best and most technologically advanced top ranked medical care system in the world,[33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40] and South Korea, which have both become advanced innovative world leaders in state of the art technologies including medical science,[41] computer technology,[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50] biotechnology,[51][52] space technology (manned spacecraft & robots),[53][54][55][56][57] military technology[58][59][60] stealth technology[61][62][63][64] robotics[65][66][67] and information technology[46] manufacturing.[68] Both Taiwan and South Korea achieved this by promoting technological innovation, research and development, and export-oriented industrialization which turned an initially post-World War 2 poor agricultural economy into two thriving economic and technological superpowers on the same competitive level as Japan and the United States.[69][70][68]

Cultural basis[]

The role of Confucianism has been used to explain the success of the Four Asian Tigers. This conclusion is similar to the Protestant work ethic theory in the West promoted by German sociologist Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The culture of Confucianism is said to have been compatible with industrialization because it valued stability, hard work, discipline, and loyalty and respect towards authority figures.[71] There is a significant influence of Confucianism on the corporate and political institutions of the Asian Tigers. Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew advocated Asian values as an alternative to the influence of Western culture in Asia.[72] This theory was not without its critics. There was a lack of mainland Chinese economic success during the same time frame as the Four Tigers, and yet China was the birthplace of Confucianism. During the May Fourth Movement of 1919, Confucianism was blamed for China's inability to compete with Western powers.[71]

Territory and region data[]

Credit ratings[]

Country or
Fitch Moody's S&P
Hong Kong AA+ Aa2 AA+
Singapore AAA Aaa AAA
South Korea AA- Aa2 AA
Taiwan A+ Aa3 AA-


Country or
Area km² Population
Population density
per km²
Life expectancy
Birth rate
Death rate
Fertility rate
Net migration rate
Population growth rate
Hong Kong 1,104 7,448,900 6,747 82.07 8% 6% 1.1 1.70 0.83
Singapore 721.5 5,638,700 7,815 82.66 9% 4.5% 1.2 13.10 1.74
South Korea 100,210 51,635,256 515 81.43 8% 5.1% 1.1 2.50 0.52
Taiwan 36,193 23,577,271 651 79.26 8% 6.6% 1.2 0.90 0.33


Country or
GDP nominal
millions of USD (2017)
millions of USD (2017)
GDP nominal per capita
USD (2017)
GDP PPP per capita
USD (2017)
billions of USD (2016)
millions of USD (2017)
millions of USD (2017)
Industrial growth rate (2017)
Hong Kong 341,659 454,912 46,109 61,016 1,236 496,900 558,600 1.20
Singapore 323,902 527,021 57,713 90,531 917 372,900 327,400 -3.50
South Korea 1,538,030 2,029,032 29,891 39,387 1,103 577,400 457,500 -1.50
Taiwan 579,302 1,185,480 24,577 49,827 604 344,600 272,600 1.20

Quality of life[]

Country or
Human Development Index
Income inequality
by Gini coefficient
Median household income
(2013), USD PPP[73]
Median per-capita income
(2013), USD PPP[73]
Global Well Being Index
(2010), % thriving[74]
Hong Kong 0.933 (7th) 53.7(2011) 35,443 9,705 19%
Singapore 0.932 (9th) 46.4(2014) 32,360 7,345 19%
South Korea 0.903 (22nd) 30.2(2013) 40,861 11,350 28%
Taiwan 0.885 (2015, 28th)[75] 33.8(2012) 32,762 6,882 22%


Country or
Average Internet connection speed
Smartphone usage
Utilization of Renewable Energy
Hong Kong 26.45 Mbit/s 87%[77] 0.3%
Singapore 60.39 Mbit/s 100%[78] 3.3%
South Korea 20.63 Mbit/s 89% 2.1%
Taiwan 28.09 Mbit/s 78%[79] 4.4%


Country or
Democracy Index
Press Freedom Index
Corruption Perceptions Index
Global Competitiveness Index
Ease of doing business index
Property rights index
Bribe Payers Index
Current Political Status
Hong Kong 6.31 29.04 77 5.53 Very Easy (5th) 7.6 7.6 Executive-led Special Administrative
Region of the People's Republic of China
Singapore 6.32 50.95 84 5.71 Very Easy (2nd) 8.1 8.3 Parliamentary Republic
South Korea 8.00 23.51 53 5.07 Very Easy (4th) 5.9 7.9 Presidential Republic
Taiwan 7.73 23.36 61 5.33 Very Easy (15th) 6.9 7.5 Semi-Presidential Republic

Organizations and groups[]

Country or
Hong Kong Template:N Template:Y Template:N Template:N Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y[80] Template:N Template:N Template:N
Singapore Template:Y Template:Y Template:N Template:N Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:N Template:Y Template:Y
South Korea Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y Template:Y (APT)
Taiwan Template:N Template:Y Template:N Template:N Template:Y Template:Y Template:N Template:Y Template:N Template:N Template:N

See also[]

Template:Div col

  • Developed country
  • Developmental state
  • The Pacific Pumas
  • Economic miracle (full list of miracles and "tigers")
  • Asian Century
  • Pacific Century
  • Celtic Tiger
  • Baltic Tiger
  • Newly industrialized country
  • Gulf Tiger
  • Korean Wave
  • Japanese economic miracle
  • Miracle on the Han River
  • Taiwan Miracle
  • Nylonkong
  • List of country groupings
  • List of multilateral free-trade agreements

Template:Div col end


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  7. Data for "Real GDP at Constant National Prices" and "Population" from Economic Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
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  9. "Economic History of Hong Kong" Template:Webarchive, Schenk, Catherine. 16 March 2008.
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Further reading[]

  • Ezra F. Vogel, The Four Little Dragons: The Spread of Industrialization in East Asia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991).

External links[]