Faculty of East Asian Studies

Innovation as Coping Strategy for Facing Global Challenges

Josie-Marie Perkuhn

Global challenges affect societies regardless of regime type and welfare status. Their political coping strategies, yet, vary drastically. China's handling of the recent outbreak of Covid-19 lung disease has highlighted political and financial differences. While the People's Republic of China (henceforth PRC) locked families in their homes and militarily sealed off entire provinces after the announcement of the infectiousness new corona virus (SARS-CoV-2), the Republic of China (henceforth Taiwan) followed its protective protocols to contain epidemic health risks: Screening immediately began at all entry points, such as ports and airports, and the population was informed through the media and urged to help.1 Both handling strategies were showing initial success, but when the second wave was spreading in the People's Republic discontent with state control measures has increased.

The prescribed use of apps, such as for tracing and tracking civil movement to control the spread of the virus, provided some relief. Although the PRC’s application of an innovation-based approach to fight the pandemic outbreak of Covid-19 created some political attraction,3 the merit of a prescribed zero- Covid strategy is yet to be tested. When the virus variants Delta and Omicron emerged, it put the authoritarian approach to a major test, as Smriti Mallapaty reported in Nature on 22 January 2022.3 In the Republic of China, a successful strategy to control the virus seems to correlate with broad social awareness and societal partaking in common counter measures. The quick implementation of using the National Health Insurance Card for storing and reading out travel history information was a great benefit in the pandemic prevention. A recent study, published in Nature Communications suggested that “national identities might play an important role in the fight against global pandemic”.4 Among the 67 countries and territories that partook in the study, Taiwan ranked among the top fifteen. In the discussion, the authors state that it might be beneficial for leaders to inspire public health behaviour to connect the issue to “feelings of national identity”.5 The nature of that national identity might even be an important determinant in terms of effectiveness, as they continue, “and the potential for international cooperation” alike. Regardless the framework, whether fuelled by national identification or patriotism, citizen engagement is imperative for containing the spread of the virus. In contrast to one another, both ways of reaching out to the populace were quite different. In both political settings, however, the application of innovative approaches, seemed to be a prioritised coping strategy in facing global challenges, such as fighting Covid-19 pandemic.

A brief comparison elucidates the difference in the so-called “One China with two systems”. While both settings share a common cultural history, the political culture has evolved apart and ultimately, has spawned two systems. Those differences indicate the relevance for furthering research on different participatory approaches and the need for a systemic comparison in order to highlight the outcomes regarding their political framework for innovation polity and policy as a strategy to successfully coping with global challenges. The basic idea of this pre-study research is to tackle coping strategies for global challenges between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China by contrasting them. While due to the economic rise the innovation industry and policy of the People’s Republic of China is quite well observed, the relevance of Taiwan’s innovative ability and efficiency is quite underexposed. Especially when it comes to the key capabilities and key industries, such as the production of semiconductors.6

How to Start this Research Endeavour?

The research agenda starts with a study that compares the development of innovation politics and policies by contrasting the political course set over a period of about 40 years. In this long-term comparison, for the People's Republic of China, the period of analysis begins with Deng Xiaoping’s 鄧小平 (1904–1997) Reform and Opening-up policy, and for Taiwan, the period starts with the first election of Chiang Ching-kuo 蔣經國 (1910–1988), which both took place in 1978. The Reform and Opening-up policy created a major shift in the PRC’s trajectory. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s policies were launched and institutions established, such as the “Golden Projects” (jin gongcheng 金工程), the founding of the Ministry of Information Technology (MIT) respective the succeeding Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (gongye he xinxihua bu 工业和信息化部, MIIT) that was later established in 2008. Two years earlier, the Science and Technology Plan was launched to promote domestic innovation and strive for the greatest possible technological independence. Assumingly, to “participate” in the growing private company sector, in 2014, the government founded the “China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund (CICIF)” with a financial investment amount up to approximately 19 billion Euros. Since incorporated on September 26, 2014, the CICIF has made eleven investments and was regarded as China’s ‘Big Fund’ to “catch up in the global semiconductor race” as Li Tao reported online on 10 May 2018 for the South China Morning Post.7 Nevertheless, the CIFIC counts three big exits, including China Mobile, Semiconductor Manufacturing International, and Anlogic. In the following year, the PRC’s government strengthened the innovation agenda by launching the Made in China (Zhongguo zhizao中国制造 2025,MIC 2025) campaign.

The political agenda of President Chiang Ching-kuo launched major projects to accelerate economic modernization and social welfare by addressing foreign attention for investments. The agenda, later known as the Taiwan Miracle (Taiwan Qiji 臺灣奇蹟), focused mainly on modernization and economic growth. At that time, it was politically a very challenging moment for Taiwan regarding foreign affairs. The former US President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924, in office 1977–1981) had just announced for the USA to cease the recognition of its government as the legitimate government of China. However, the rapid industrialization worked well for the Republic of China, which became along with Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong one of the Four Asian Tigers. Alike in the PRC, information technology became one of the leading sectors of the Republic of China’s and its core competence. The Industrial and Technology Research Institute (Gongye Jishu Yanjiu Yuan, 工業技術研究院,ITRI, headquartered in Hsinchu 新竹) played a major role. It was already founded in 1973 and gave a grave boost to the idea of “innovation- driven” development. Up to today, it is situated in one of the main areas where all the tech parks are situated. In Fall 2020, once again, the ITRI propagated to strengthen innovation-driven development in the 2030 Technology Strategy & Roadmap. Dr. Edwin Liu, the President of ITRI, emphasised three core areas to boost ICT: Smart living, Quality of Health and Sustainable Environment.8

trajectory of Innovation Policies

Regarding Taiwan and the PRC, both started approximately 40 years ago with a quite similar focus on innovation to boost an “integrated industrial society”. Regarding the Republic of China, the authors Yin-han Chu and Jih-wen Lin (2001) claim that the political regimes during the twentieth century experienced a policy of social integration. They argue that “both regimes were also substantially transformed by the very society they governed as the incumbent elite came to encounter a steadily more politicized society and a more resourceful as well as diversified native elite”.9 In their perspective they seek to explain “why the two regimes employed a different mixture of 'political co-optation (versus suppression), social integration (versus segregation) and economic inclusion (versus exclusion) at various stages of their rule in terms of the constraining and enabling structural conditions, the nature and level of threats to their political security, and their state-building and nation- building agenda”.10 Yet, the political framework evolved quite differently with divergent outcomes. Over the last decades, the globalization progressed and via digital connectivity as well as awareness for new areas of challenges networked societies have emerged; creating the social phenomena of a network society, in which information and mostly communication technology facilitates the capability –and maybe even the compulsion— for accessing and creating available information at any time in a shared digital space that enables the formation of networks. The difference in handling and outcome regarding participative innovation supports the assumption of a systemic divide of autocratic and democratic regimes. Comparing both trajectories and the political agenda setting, therefore, seems promising.

Based on a preliminary comparison of the trajectory and institutional framework, this brief outline seeks to shed some light on why comparing the difference from a political science perspective is relevant. At first, the overall research agenda starts with a qualitative study conducted to generate theory-based hypotheses using comparative approaches for the study of innovative policies, such as the studies provided by Buzogány, Frankenberger, and Graf in 2016.11 The foundation of this qualitative analysis foresees a diachronic comparison of the development of innovation politics and policies, contrasting how they fitted in the political context of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. The first step conducts a literature review and allows to continue the research regardless of the current pandemic trajectory. For the purpose of further hypothesis formulation, on-site interviews with experts are planned. The research agenda in that early step foresee to map fields of selected innovation- driven areas in order to tackle dynamics of new global challenges, such as climate change in combination with sustainable growth and energy supply. In a second step, the generated hypotheses will be tested and validated in an in- depth comparative study in a mixed-method design across three identified policy areas of global scope: health care/Global Health, environmental and climate protection, cyber security. In three individual case studies, the relationship between potential for innovation and societal participation will be tested in a synchronous comparison via statistical survey data on society's perception and participation. The research focus grounds on the assumption that societal and technological potential for innovation necessarily interlocks with the development of viable and sustainable approaches to cope with global challenges – now and in the future. Assumingly, the more social/societal actors are involved in the process of governmental agenda setting and action, i.e. via incentives, the higher is the chance of success. Given the circumstances of a digitalized society or –transnationally organized– network society with the possibility of ‘many-to-many’-communication a formerly applied “traditional concept of participation” is shifting or expanding at best. Citizens can be involved quite easily and their opinion can be voiced – yet they also can be controlled, traced and tracked.

In addition, as an Asian democratic pioneer, Taiwan might not only function as a victim with a history of experiencing previous epidemic situations but also as a role model for other democratic settings in handling it. This leads to the question of what we can learn from Taiwan’s different approach to participative innovation politics and policies as a potential role model in its pioneering position.

Photograph source: Josie-Marie Perkuhn.

At a First Glance: Contrasting the Current Global Challenge of the Infectious SARS-CoV-2

Facing the Covid-19 crisis, the following gives a preliminary comparison of the systemic divide and how the approach of participative innovation is promising to generate in-depth insights. Yet it should be noted that the PRC and Taiwan both had have decisive experiences with the predecessor SARS virus in 2002/2003. Compared to the former SARS virus, which spread from southern China mainly via air travel, the current SARS-CoV-2 virus is considered more aggressive due to its ability to replicate in the upper respiratory tract. The disease it causes, COVID-19, is, especially in Taiwan, also named “Wuhan lung disease” (Wuhan Feiyan 武漢肺炎) after the suspected location of its outbreak. The scientific community assumes that initially infected wild animals, such as the Chinese pangolin or bats, served as hosts for Sars-CoV-2 before it spread to humans. In light of the experience with the SARS outbreak almost two decades ago, when the emergence of novel virus was publicly announced both governments were on alert.

The Case of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
17 years ago, the SARS crisis had taken a heavy toll on the island's population, yet, it has also led to major improvements regarding the disease control regulations. These included, for example, the establishment of a central disease control center (Taiwan Center for Disease Control, weisheng fuli bu jibing guanzhishu 衛生福利部疾病管制署) and the creation of clear action protocols for both medical professionals and transnational transport workers. People’s education and social acceptance of the widespread use of respirators became an important pillar in the chain of disease control. In combination, it helped tremendously in preventing a rapid spread. Besides the drastic isolation strategy in closing off ports and airports, the pluralistic government progressed also within few weeks to launch a chip for storing travel data on the national health card. As early as February 2020, Taiwan expanded the technological use of national health cards. Comparable to the ID card, a personal identification card, every citizen has an electronic health card (National Health Identification, NHI), which is similar to the health insurance card in Germany. After solving some initial technical hurdles, this card is now used to store travel data for comparison with the national epidemic prevention database. Because it is linked to a personalized card, conflicts about the data protection law arose and provoked political criticism. The standardized collection of travel data was already called unconstitutional in 2005. A link with the national identification card was rejected. The renewed outbreak of an easy transmittable disease gave a breath of fresh air to the subject: The NHI card was also quickly used to regulate the distribution of respirators in order to counteract hoarding. Responsible personnel have attributed the early success to the strict adherence to the infection protection protocol as well as the extensive and quickly measures taken. The island relies on isolation. Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) politically restricts access to foreign nationals. In order to avoid the spread of the virus, trained medical staff were sent and test procedures were implemented quickly to quarantine sick people.

The Case of the People’s Republic of China:
Alike Taiwan, the PRC also pursued over the last decades a path of digitalization and the promotion of innovative technologies. The PRC’s government has capitalized on this trajectory in combating the recent outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Overall, the digital use increased over the course of the Corona Crisis (SCMP 2020). In particular, the healthcare sector has benefited through platforms such as Ping An Good Doctor or Tencent Trusted Doctors for telemedicine consultation specifically in Wuhan. Innovative technologies have been put in action to combat the spread of the virus, for example, QR-Code reading applications were rapidly available with a small-scaled grid of checkpoints in the affected area. Private, state-owned or government-orchestrated incubators pursued research on Big Data-driven analytics for disease control, diagnosis and forecasting. The People’s Republic of China’s innovation-driven approach in fighting Covid-19 followed the path of the previously introduced global agenda of “A Community for Health for All” that was announced by China at the 73rd World Health Assembly, 09.–14. November 2020, to take over global responsibility.12 Taking the system rivalry into account, it seems yet to be true that the People’s Republic of China applies the described autocratic advantage to expand its global participative influence.

In sum, the aim of this outline was to reason why comparative research of different innovation-driven agendas is needed and to argue that it will provide fruitful insights on different frameworks of participatory innovation policies. In both political settings, an innovation-driven political agenda turns out to be a coping strategy to face global challenges of today and potentially for the challenges to come.


[1] Perkuhn (2020).
[2] Perkuhn (2022).
[3] Mallapaty (2022). The article “China’s zero-Covid strategy: what happens next?” was first published online on January 22, 2022 at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00191-7, and later included in the magazine Nature, Vol 602, 15-16 (3.Feb. 2022), at https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-022-00191-7/d41586-022-00191-7.pdf (Access 28.02.2022).
[4]Van Bavel et al. (2022).
[5] Van Bavel et al. (2022), 6.
[6] Kleinhans / Baisakova (2020).
[7] Li Tao (2018).
[8] Liu (2020), https://itritoday.itri.org/102/content/en/unit_01.html (Access 28.02.2022).
[9] Chu / Lin (2001), 102.
[10] Chu / Lin (2001), 103
[11] Buzogány / Frankenberger / Graf (2016).
[12] Cf. Perkuhn (2022).


Buzogány, Aron / Frankenberger, Rolf / Graf, Patricia (2016). “Policy-Making und Legitimation in Autokratien: Das Beispiel der Innovationspolitik.” Totalitarianism and Democracy 13 (2): 257–79. doi:10.13109/tode.2016.13.2.257.

Chu, Yun-han / Lin, Jih-wen (2001). “Political Development in 20th-Century Taiwan: State-Building, Regime Transformation and the Construction of National Identity.” The China Quarterly, 102–29.

Kleinhans, Jan-Peter / Baisakova, Nurzat (2020). “The Global Semiconductor Value Chain.”https://www.stiftung-nv.de/sites/default/files/the_global_semiconductor_value_chain.pdf [last accessed 28.02.2022].

Li Tao (2018). „How China’s ‚Big Fund‘ is helping the country catch up in the global semiconductor race“, South China Morning Post (SCMP.com), 10 May 2018, https://www.scmp.com/tech/enterprises/article/2145422/how-chinas-big-fund-helping-country-catch-global-semiconductor-race [last accessed 28.02.2022].

Liu, Edward (2020), “ITRI 2030 and Post-Pandemic Trends”, ITRI Today, https://itritoday.itri.org/102/content/en/unit_01.html [last accessed 28.02.2022].

Perkuhn, Josie-Marie (2020). “How Is Taiwan Facing the Coronavirus?” Nachrichten.Taiwan Insight.3. https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/03/05/how-is-taiwan-facing-the-coronavirus/ [last accessed 28.02.2022].

Perkuhn, Josie-Marie (2022). “China’s Innovation-Based Approach in the Fight of Covid-19. An Estimation of China’s Impact for Global Health to Come.” Academicus International Scientific Journal 25 (January): 24–44. doi:10.7336/academicus.2022.25.02.

Van Bavel, Jay J. / Cichocka , Aleksandra / Capraro, Valerio et al. (2022). “National Identity Predicts Public Health Support during a Global Pandemic.” Nature Communications 13 (1). doi:10.1038/s41467-021-27668-9.


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