What Are the Four Asian Tigers?

The Four Asian Tigers are the high-growth economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Fueled by exports and rapid industrialization, the Four Asian Tigers have consistently maintained high levels of economic growth since the 1960s, and have collectively joined the ranks of the world's wealthiest nations.

Hong Kong and Singapore are among the most prominent worldwide financial centers, while South Korea and Taiwan are essential hubs for global manufacturing of automobile and electronic components, as well as information technology.

Key Takeaways

  • The Four Asian Tigers is a reference to four nations in East Asia–Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
  • All four economies saw high growth rates amid broad expansion, particularly between the 1950s and the 1990s, but also through today.

Why the Four Asian Tigers Thrive

Also known as the Asian Dragons, the Four Asian Tigers share common characteristics, including a sharp focus on exports, an educated populace, and high savings rates. The economies of the Four Tigers have proven resilient enough to withstand local crises such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and global shocks like the credit crunch of 2008.

The International Monetary Fund includes the Four Asian Tigers in its category of 35 most advanced economies.

South Korea

In the 1960s, South Korea's per capita gross domestic product was comparable to the poorest countries in Asia and Africa. But in the four decades since, the country observed substantial growth, affected in part by a system of close government, directed credit and import restrictions. According to the 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, South Korea had a total GDP of US$1.5 trillion and a per capita GDP of more than $35,938, with a growth rate of 2.9%.

Taiwan

Despite its contentious relationship with China, Taiwan has thrived over the last four decades and had a GDP per capita of $50,294 in 2017. Although the country is not part of the United Nations, due to pressure from China, it has nevertheless emerged as a reliable exporter. Its GDP of US$579.3 billion in 2017 made this nation of 24 million people one of the strongest economies in Asia.

Hong Kong

Considered a special administrative region (SAR) in China, Hong Kong has freedom over all its activities, except for defense, until 2047, at which time Hong Kong and China will reassess their relationship. World Bank data shows the country ranks exceptionally high on scales measuring economic freedom, boasting a GDP of US$341.5 billion in 2017, and a growth rate of 3.4%, according to the World Bank.

Singapore

Although it has only 5.6 million citizens, Singapore had a GDP of $324 billion in 2017 and a growth rate of 3.9%. Considered one of the least corrupt nations in the world, Singapore has a notoriously transparent regulatory environment and well-secured property rights, which provide valuable commercial security to the private sector.

Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia are sometimes called the "Tiger Cub Economies," as they have developed more slowly than the Four Asian Tigers in the decades since the 1950s, but have nonetheless grown at a steadier rate, according to a recent report from the St. Louis Fed.

Real World Example

The Four Asian Tigers managed their exchange rates by switching over to fixed adjustable rates models, to thwart off any unwelcomed appreciation that could affect the economy. For example, Singapore and Hong Kong introduced neoliberal economic policies that encouraged free trade.