The essence of the experience of East Asia has been on technological capability building and dynamic industrial transitions from one stage to the next. While many studies for understanding the catch-up process and post catch-up agendas exist, empirical and comparative studies that consider the transition from catch-up to post catch-up are still rare. The significance of this research can be summarized in two ways. First, this study verifies the conformity of existing major catch-up to post catch-up transition studies with quantitative evidence. Second, by comparing commonalities and patterns from South Korea and China, this study examines the generality of the discourses and arguments about the transition from catch-up to post catch-up. The reflexive study of understanding transition from catch-up to post catch-up was conducted with a technology cycle time (TCT), self-citation ratio at a country level, and the basic research expenditure of Korea and China by using the US Patents and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) patent citation (for technology cycle time & self-citation ratio) and OECD’s database (basic research expenditure and gross domestic expenditure on basic research) for time period from 1998 to 2012. Empirical evidence of technology cycle time, self-citation ratio and gross domestic expenditure on basic research matched well with the prior transition arguments. First, Korea’s case shows a post catch-up trend with an increasing technology cycle time while China’s case presents catch-up trend (short-cycle period) and shifts to post catch-up trend (post catch-up trend). Self-citation ratios for both countries show increasing and converging pattern. In terms of basic research activities, both countries show increasing pattern. Korea exceeded the gross domestic expenditure on basic research of Japan and the US. Even though, China’s gross domestic expenditure on basic research has been tripled from 1998 to 2012, China’s gross domestic expenditure on basic research has still a long way to go to close the gap and to show a converging pattern. Many developing countries that once experienced a certain level of successful catch-up did not overcome the middle income trap have fallen behind. Understanding transition process of catch-up to post catch-up discussed in this paper may present a better understanding of long-term sequential development and economic sustainability of developing countries.
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