East Asia is anchored by Communist China, a large country that dominates the physical region. High mountains on its western borders have isolated China. The peripheral regions of Tibet, Western China, Mongolia, and Manchuria act as buffer states that protect the core Han Chinese heartland in China Proper, where most of the population lives.
To boost foreign trade and increase its manufacturing sector, China has established special economic zones (SEZs) along its coast in hopes of attracting international businesses. Shenzhen is one such SEZ, which is located across the border from Hong Kong. Urbanization and industrialization have prompted a major rural-to-urban shift in the population.
The world-class port and strategic geographic location of Hong Kong have played a large role in its development as an economic tiger. High-tech manufacturing with banking and financial services have catapulted the small area into a major market center for Asia. In 1998, Hong Kong was united with China, opening the door for massive trade and development with China and Shenzhen.
Taiwan is a small island off the southeast coast of China. It has developed into an economic tiger with high-tech manufacturing and high incomes. The island has a separate government from mainland China and has a capitalist economy. There has been historic tension between Taiwan and Beijing ever since the Nationalists moved here in 1948. Economic trade between Taiwan and mainland China has brought the two sides closer together.
Japan is made up of a number of large islands. After its defeat in World War II, Japan worked to recover and become a core manufacturing country and the second-largest economy in the world, although that title is now held by China. Japan has a homogeneous society in which about 99 percent of the population is Japanese. Family size is low and the population has begun to decline in numbers, causing an economic concern about the lack of entry-level workers.
Korea is split between an authoritarian-controlled North Korea and a capitalist South Korea. North Korea is isolated with a weak economy. Its citizens are denied basic human rights. South Korea has developed into one of the economic tigers of Asia. South Korea has a strong manufacturing sector that produces high-tech electronics and information technology. Thousands of Korean and US soldiers remain stationed on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas.