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China’s “South-South” Trade: Unequal Exchange and Uneven and Combined Development

Analytical Gains of Geopolitical Economy

ISBN: 978-1-78560-337-2, eISBN: 978-1-78560-336-5

Publication date: 7 January 2016


China’s unprecedented emergence as an economic and political power has created a new geopolitical economy for semi-industrialised and developing economies in Southeast Asia. This paper examines China’s trade relationships with Thailand and Indonesia using the concepts of uneven and combined development (UCD) and unequal exchange. The mass of surplus value obtained through China’s trade with the developed economies has flowed into the considerable expansion in China’s imports from developing countries since 2000. China has maintained a consistent trade deficit with the latter. While the developing countries concerned have benefitted from this set of relationships, the extent to which they have done so has been determined by national strategies. In countries like Thailand – where manufacturing capital and a significant working class has emerged – exports expanded on the basis of mutually advantageous technologically and skills intensive goods. These are produced with a similar organic composition of capital as in China. The result has been a further consolidation of the hegemony of manufacturing capital. Indonesia, however, has a political system and economy long dominated by resource exploitation linked fractions of capital. The result has been a surge in primary goods exports. The current commodity price cycle has meant these goods exchange at prices above their value. The current looming price correction, however, may have negative repercussions. In the meantime, the concentration in raw materials exports is helping to prevent the emergence of a circuit of productive capital in manufacturing. The evidence from these contrasting cases suggests that the degree to which developing economies can benefit from China’s own historically unparalleled combined development remains highly contingent on the strength of the combined development possibilities and efforts within these other national social formations. Above all, there is the degree to which manufacturing sectors of capital can obtain hegemony.



Reid, B. (2016), "China’s “South-South” Trade: Unequal Exchange and Uneven and Combined Development", Analytical Gains of Geopolitical Economy (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 30B), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 161-189.



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