Rim Report No. 21, September 2001
Korea: Asia's Economic Phoenix
by Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, Ph.D.
We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of Pacific Rim Report.
Patrick Lloyd Hatcher is Kiriyama Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim for Spring 2001.
A military historian by profession, Hatcher taught in both the history and
political science departments at the University of California at Berkeley
prior to his retirement. One of Cals most sought after guest speakers,
he was honored with the MacArthur Award from the Institute of International
Studies at Cal in 1987 and was the recipient of the UC Berkeley Instructor
of the Year Award in 1988.
Currently at work on his fourth book, Americas Korean Odyssey, Hatcher is also the author of North Atlantic Civilization at War (M.E. Sharpe, 1999) and Suicide of an Elite: American Internationalists in Vietnam (Stanford,
1990) as well as numerous articles and other
writings. He helped narrate the film Napoleon and Wellington and
is often seen on KRON-TV (NBC) in the Bay Area as a national security
Patrick Hatcher received his Ph.D. in history
from the University of California at Berkeley.
Prior to embarking on an academic career, he had risen to the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. From 1996 to 1999 Hatcher served
as a judge for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and in 1999 he chaired
the panel of nonfiction judges. He has taught at other Bay Area institutions,
including St. Marys
College, UC Davis, and Golden Gate University.
Hatcher has led educational tours for the Library
of Congress, the Art Institute of Chicago, the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the University of California
Bear Treks travel program.
These remarks were extracted from Dr. Hatchers forthcoming book, Americas
Korean Odyssey for the 2001 Kiriyama Distinguished Lecture which
was presented on April 11, 2001 at the University
of San Franciscos
Lone Mountain Campus.
Please note that Korean personal names and the
spelling of place names in this article follow
the new (2000) standards of the National Academy of the Korean Language.
For reference, the traditional spellings
of common places are shown in parenthesis where
We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of Pacific Rim Report.
With archeological evidence dating back 5,000 years, the Korean peninsula has a history as rich as any place in Asia. During
the last five millennia, Koreans borrowed
furiously: Chinese Confucianism, Indian Buddhism, Arab mathematics,
Southeast Asian rice, French fast trains, American baseball. But Koreans
never lost their uniqueness; instead they Koreanized imports, later
trading their own versions with neighboring states. As the wellspring
for Japanese culture, Korea enriched her island neighbor. In fact,
the interaction among China, Korea, and Japan dates back some 2000
years to the Han dynasty and grew as the Korean kingdom of Silla unified
the country in 676 A.D. Sillas capital, Kyongu, known as the City of Gold, numbered nearly a million inhabitants. Visitors from Baghdad came as traders to its famous fairs; Indian Buddhists came as pilgrims to its special shrines. Almost a thousand years before Royal Academies appeared in Paris or London, a Korean king established Sillas
Royal Confucian Academy.
In 935 A.D. the Koryo kingdom replaced Silla and built on its foundations. For the next five hundred years Koreans continued to open their society to the greater Eurasian world. Trade with Song dynasty China brought luxury goods. Goaded to surpass Chinese porcelains, Korean artists created a sage-green celadon that set the standard for excellence, so much so that the Japanese kidnapped entire villages of Korean potters. Unfortunately, swift moving Mongol horsemen ravaged both China and Korea, forcing the Koreans, master shipbuilders then and now, to construct fleets for the invasion of Japan. By 1316 Mongol power collapsed as swiftly as it had come. The Yi dynasty built a new Korean kingdom, Choson, which ushered in a golden age. Koreans had moveable type before the Europeans did, even printing medical encyclopedias. Science and the arts flourished. Korean timepieces included a cuckoo clock with an Asian call.
Trouble returned in the form of a Japanese invasion.
They, like the Mongols, ransacked the country.
Help arrived when a Korean naval engineer designed the worlds first ironclad ships. Koreas
Admiral Yi Sunshin employed these turtle ships
to decimate the low-tech Japanese fleet. Japan withdrew. That southern
invasion came in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century Manchu
invaders struck from the north. By the eighteenth century Korea had partially
recovered and world literature gained an epic love story, Chunhyang,
in the process. Unlike Shakespeares lovers, the Korean Romeo and Juliet, while suffering, live to see justice triumph. In a century in which Napoleon codified French law, Korean literati amplified Chinas
Ming Code for Korea.
The nineteenth century deconstructed most of
this rebuilding. At one time the throne had no
king, with three Dowager Queens conniving for power. When King Kojong
finally ascended the throne (1863-1907), he became the last of twenty-six
Yi monarchs to rule an independent Korea. By then the peddler-predators
of the West had set their imperial eyes on the one remaining Asian door
they had not forced open. Even the United States played at gunboat diplomacy.
In 1866 the uninvited armed schooner General Sherman steamed up the Taedong
River to Pyeongyang. Unwelcomed by the locals, the crew unloaded their
muskets into these civiliansPearl Buck replaced by G.I. Joe. The
dispersed crowd waited for their ally, a fast moving low tide. Once it
grounded the vessel, they surrounded the Sherman, killed its crew and
burnt the ship. Secretary of State William Seward did not take kindly
to this naval immolation. It took time, but by 1871 an American Asiatic
Squadron steamed toward Korea on what the New York Herald called
the Little War With the Heathen. America almost lost, so fierce did Koreas tiger warriors fight. Having captured only one island near Inchons
harbor, the United States began peace talks.
The Koreans prolonged the discussions to the point where the ever impatient
Americans withdrew in disgust to go gunboating elsewhere.
Even after this bitter encounter, King Kojong
and his reform-minded advisors saw no choice
but friendship with the United States, hence the Korean-American Treaty
of 1882. By then a failing Qing China, a rising Meiji Japan, and an ossifying
Czarist Russia all placed pressure on northeast Asias main land bridge, Korea. Kojong hoped that the United States would replace China as Koreas protector. He hoped in vain. The dreamed of ally failed the first test. Kojong requested a military advisory team. The Commanding General of the United States Army, Philip Sheridan, sent his West Point classmate, William Dye, to lead a four-man team. Dye had terrible judgement in men: of the three he brought along, none had military experience of note and two hated Korea, where they spent their time drinking and carousing. Finally the Koreans dismissed them. Such was the fiasco of Americas
first Korean Military Mission. Worse followed.
While the United States dallied, Japan, determined
to colonize Korea, bested China in the Sino-Japanese
War (1894) and then Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1905). Asias
Britain had arrived. This western Pacific war attracted President Teddy
Roosevelt who tilted toward Japan. He offered his services to end the
war and had his Secretary of State sign the Taft-Katsura Memorandum,
a deal in which Japan would respect American interests in the Philippines
in return for American recognition of Japanese interests in Korea. Russia
lost a war, Japan won a colony, Korea lost its independence, and Roosevelt
won the Nobel Peace Prize!
Drained of resources by forty years of Japanese occupation, divided unnaturally at the end of World War II, and devastated by the Korean War, a damaged Korea bled its way through the first fifty years of the twentieth century. Even the world peace of 1945 eluded war-weary Koreans. Instead, they inherited an internal struggle between two Korean camps, a blood feud. Those who had collaborated with the Japanese, especially the land-rich yangban [scholar/official]
elite, faced off with those who had fought against
the Japanese, especially nationalists on the left. Why such fierce hatred
of the Japanese occupation? Four World War II examples suffice: Japan
took Koreas rice, forcing Koreans to eat Manchurian millet; Japan forced Koreans to speak Japanese, take Japanese names, and worship at Shinto shrines; Japan used over 200,000 young Korean women and girls as prostitutescomfort womenfor its soldiers; Japan dragooned almost 2,000,000 Koreans to work in the worst jobs in Japan, women down into mines, men into heavy industry. Yet some Koreans noted that Japan modernized their country, building Koreas
first railroads. But this, and other industrial
achievements, did not erase wartime atrocities.
From 1945 to 1950 Koreas internal conflict grew from a guerrilla into a civil war. On June 25, 1950 Pyeongyang upgraded hostilities into a conventional war, its northern army attacking the southern army. Two days later the United States committed its forces, thus turning a national struggle into an international war under United Nations
mandate. Modern warfare made Korea a wasteland.
Seoul fell four times, first to the North Koreans, then to the Americans,
then to the Chinese, then back to the Americans. By recapture number
four nothing worth capturing remained standing. Meanwhile, bombers blasted
North Korea back to the Stone Age. After three years and one month of
fighting, casualties numbered almost four million, half of them civilians.
Before this Korean Armageddon, Northern leaders
imposed a command economy directed by a Leninist
elite; after the war Southern leaders imposed a capitalist economy directed
by a militarist elite. With the armistice of 1953, if not before, both
halves of Korea took on the properties of independent states allied to
opposing sides of the globe-girdling Cold War, Seoul to Washington, Pyeongyang
to Moscow. Initially the northern economy recovered faster; it inherited
the natural resources on which to rebuild plus the large hydroelectric
dams on the Yalu River. In the 1930s Koreas gigantic Suiho Dam had only one rivalBoulder
Dam. And the Korean-based Nippon Chisso chemical
complex ranked as the second largest in the pre-World War II world.
Korea was not a poor Third World nation. It took
World War II, the temporary division in 1945, and the Korean War to make it one. The convenient demarcation
line along the 38th parallel, above which Soviets
and below which Americans took the surrender of Japanese troops, froze
with the onslaught of the Cold War. (In 1945 a Washington Committee gave
two US Army colonels thirty minutes to recommend where to divide Korea.
Working from a National Geographic map, they picked the 38th. One of the colonel-pickers was Dean Rusk.)
While the northern economy struggled, its southern
cousin suffered. South Korea could feed its people
for its strength rested on agriculture. As Koreas rice basket, it needed to find additional means to emerge as a First World trading economy. Truncated, each part required some of what the other part had. How to develop? Seouls leadership had problems. Americans brought from exile their Korean nationalist, Dr. Syngman Rhee. A good Christian for the jobor so thought the Americanshe became president of South Korea in 1948. In the immediate postwar years Americans tried to sanitize former enemy states and their coloniesGermany, Italy, Japan insisting that no fascists, militarists, or collaborators could return to positions within those restructured political economies. For two years Washington reconstructed the defeated; denazification was a prime example in Germany. War crimes trails took some players off the world stage but only the obvious ones. After the full arrival of the Cold War in 1947, Washington lowered the bar. Former enemy bureaucratic and business elites resurfaced within governmental and corporate structures. Rhees
government in Seoul quickly filled with such
Rhee, a cosmopolitan civilian with an Austrian-born
wife and a Princeton Ph.D., could not conceal
his dictatorial manner. In the early days of the Cold War, happenstance
placed two of Americas early Asian allies, Syngman Rhee of South Korea and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, in New Jersey. Devout nationalist and authoritarian personalities, both returned to rule the truncated souths of their respective nations. Soon Seoul and Saigon turned into battle capitals locked in a frigid war between Moscow and Washington. With time America tired of these two demagogues. Unlike Saigon, where the Kennedy administration orchestrated the coup that led to Diems
murder, in the case of Seoul a group of Korean
Army officers, without consulting Washington, staged their bloodless putsch. Rhee had earlier flown off to exile in Hawaii, which became the retirement state of choice for several Asian strongmen. A modernizing military elite took over the destiny of South Korea and worked an economic takeoff. How?
Known as the Miracle on the Han, that river corridor cradled Koreas infant economy as this Asian Tiger bounded from cub to cat in one generation. Military midwives managed this miracle. On May 16, 1961, supported by a group of colonels, Park Chung Hee rid Korea of the months of chaos that followed Rhees departure. But Koreas man on horseback came with collaborationist credentials. Born into a peasant family, the ambitious and upwardly mobile Park sidestepped Koreas class system by joining the Japanese army. Before and during World War II Park trained at an officers school in Japan, served with Japans Kwantung Army in Manchuria, and received a gold watch for his services from Emperor Hirohito. After World War II, with the country under US occupation, Park graduated with the second class of the Korean Military Academy in 1946. Yet he sided with the Yosu rebels against Seoul for which the government arrested him as a communist! [The Yosu army mutiny of April 1948 pitted disaffected Korean troops against Rhees
government and its American backers.] Chameleon
survivor, yes; communist sympathizer, no.
Economically the Han River colonels had great
good luck, both internally and externally. Internally
they did not have to face competition from returning western multinationals
such as Michelin in French Indochina or Royal Dutch Shell in Indonesia
because for forty years Korea had served as an exclusive economic zone
for Japanese businesses. Japans defeat freed nascent Korean firms.
Modeled somewhat on giant Japanese zaibatsu, these family-run Korean chaebol now had their day in the sun. Externally the Han River colonel-capitalists came into their own just as a group of Charles River political economists moved into the Potomac River corridor.
Filling the policy positions in the Kennedy administration,
activist academicsthose who wanted to test their modernization theoriesmarched
in. From Harvard came Samuel Huntington with
his influential Political Order in Changing Societiesnations
undergoing rapid industrialization need strong
governments, sometimes of a military nature. From M.I.T. came Walt W.
Rostow with his seminal The Stages of Economic Growthmodernizing nations require substantial savings, forced if necessary, to achieve economic takeoffs. Parks
first book after the coup, Our Nations Path, Koreanized
the Charles River academics, calling for a military-managed,
fast-paced modernization for Han River nation-building. Between theory
and practice, PotomacHan serendipity prevailed. But an even more momentous Washington decision impacted South Koreas
emergence within the global economy.
The critical moment for postwar economies came
when American leaders, operating in their nations self interest, decided to transform the American market from a protected enclave into an open emporium for all those who sided with Washington against Moscow, creating economic containment of the Soviets. No matter that allies closed their markets, their goods could enter the United States, the worlds largest center for selling and buying. In the Truman administration this made sense due to the wars destruction. Where else could any trader trade? Who but the United States would loan, or give, capital with which to get started? As Europe and Japan recovered, the Eisenhower administration used the same bait to hold less developed states to an anti-communist course. Inasmuch as this worked for others, South Korea rode in with a tide of free riders. To jump start trade, economic assistance came in many formsTrumans Point Four and Eisenhowers Food for Peace. Finally the Kennedy administration housed it all in one institution, the Agency for International Development. And to monitor and manage the worlds
economy, the United States assumed early leadership
of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In addition to economic help, if a state felt
threatened, it could obtain military support.
Large American military missions appeared abroad. South Korea received
one, its second since the disaster of King Kojongs times. Known as the Korean Military Assistance Group or KMAG, it influenced its host counterpart. American bases within Korea assured Seoul that it could modernize its military with the latest equipmentfurnished free or purchased depending on circumstances. The Republic of Koreas Armed Forces soon looked like a carbon copy of its American allys military. Some states snuggled in closer, getting under the American defense umbrella, even its nuclear shield. Seoul snuggled. In like manner, a version of the American Central Intelligence Agency grew into the Korean variant, the KCIA. Differing from its American model, the KCIA included a domestic national police, a Korean Federal Bureau of Investigation. Seouls
combination of J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles
was the powerful KCIA director, Kim Chongpil, a graduate of the Korean
Military Academy in 1949 and a nephew by marriage of Park Chung Hee.
All in the family, Korean style.
With strong organizations in place, Parks government chose not to follow the South American and African examples of military rule where a recently installed group squeeze the same resources that its predecessor had squeezed, resulting in no net gain. Instead, Parks group determined to enlarge that which Rhee and Company had squeezed. Old cronies abounded; more importantly, hungry new capitalists appeared. Both worked with Park and Company to make South Korea the developmental state par excellence, achieving growth through cooperation.
Taking the phoenix by the wings, they took off,
economically. One biography tells the tale.
In 1915 a poor farmers wife in todays North Korea gave birth to a son, Chung Juyung. At eighteen this rural lad stole a cow, sold it, and ran away to the city. For a few years he delivered rice by bicycle and worked on the docks. Then he opened an auto repair shop. When Americans replaced Japanese, Chungs translator-brother got him construction contracts. By the 1960s Chungs company built projects in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In the 1970s President Park picked Chung and other Korean entrepreneurs to launch heavy industries. With no experience, technology, or even a dry dock, Chung chose shipbuilding. He went on a global search for capital without success, until London. In front of amazed bankers at Barclays he told the seafaring Brits that Korea, not Britain, had built the first ironclads, whipping out a 500-won bill featuring the famed 16th century turtle ships. Bemused, Barclays loaned him $50 million, and a Greek shipper ordered two 260,000-ton oil tankers. Today Chungs company, Hyundai, ranks as the worlds biggest shipbuilder. Hyundai means modern; and visitors to Korea find its green triangle stamped on rows of company apartments, cars, appliances, computers, and office towers. Before the Asian economic crisis of 1997, Hyundai Groups annual sales topped $90 billion, with Chung as Koreas
richest man, worth $6 billion. From farm to fortune.
Success has an underside. On October 26, 1979,
President Park dined at a KCIA safe house in
Seoul. The host, Kim Chaegyu, had graduated from the military academy
with Park in 1946. Kim, now head of KCIA, discussed the disturbances
then rocking the country. They argued, Kim shot Parks bodyguard, then Park. Pandemonium: where would Korea find another smart dictator? Dummies came by the container full, but smarties were scarce. While the Carter administration ponderedthey dispatched an aircraft carrier and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance a second night of the colonels occurred. Chun Doohwan and Roh Taewoo installed themselves along with their classmates from the 1955 graduating class of the Korean Military Academy. Cadets of 1946 out, cadets of 1955 in. The outs used underground tunnels to flee to the American Eighth Army Headquarters. Anger flared in the cities, especially in the southwest. Gwangju (Kwangju) erupted. Seouls soldiers moved south, mowed down Gwangjus workers and student protesters, and Chun made himself president, visiting the Reagans in the White House. Those who went along got along; Richard Holbrooke of Carters State Department and later Clintons
administration accepted a well-paid consultantship
In fact, Hyundai got along as colonels came
and went. But colonels can cost. While Chung
had created his company, the colonels created conditions. Chungs
longtime collusion corresponded with that of most chaebol chiefs. In
1992 Chung ran for the presidency, lost, and found himself indited for
campaign finance violations. Guilty of diverting $81 million in Hyundai
money to his campaign, he received a three-year sentence, suspended
due to his age. But two dozen involved Hyundai officials went to jail.
Chung tried to regroup. Under President Kim Daejung he has spearheaded
investments in North Korea. Unfortunately, none showed a profit. At
a personal level he made North Korea a gift of 1,001 cows in return
for the one he stole in 1933. By 2001 his empire teetered on the brink.
Afraid to let it fail, the government funneled loans its way.
Run as a mom and pop store, the entire Chung clan breakfasted together at 6:00 a.m. But Chung could not forcefeed management talent into his seven sons. Mismanagement they learned on their own, with family members accountable to no one. At Chungs death in March 2001, the Korean media reported on The War of the Princes, as seven siblings fought for control of a Seoul dynasty. A likely outcome after Chungs passing was the accelerated breakup of Hyundai into five smaller sets of companies. The top chaebol founders have departed, their generation now history. Amongst them only Chung channeled capital northward. And communism came to capitalism with condolences at Chungs
death. On March 24, 2001 Song Hokyong led a
four-member group from Pyeongyang to Seoul, carrying a personal message
from Kim Jongil and a wreath two meters high. Forgiveness for the
Captains of industry to some, robber barons
to others, how did these chaebol-chieftains
and capitalist-colonels create the Miracle on the Han? In 1950 South
Koreas annual per capita income had fallen to under US$150; in 1997 it had risen to over US$10,973. Amazing, yes; impossible, no. First, a literate peasantry moved from country to city in increasing numbers, tempted by better paying jobs. (Literacy in 1999 was 99 percent.) Well-disciplined, hard-working, group-oriented, they filled labor-intensive jobs in export-oriented industries. Second, while crafty, Park was not a crook. He fired thousands of corrupt civil servants and jailed many civilian profiteers. You could get rich, but you had to earn it within Parks system. Third, to control this system, Seoul created a super-ministry, the Economic Planning Board. It reigned at the apex of the economy; imports came, exports went, as it, and it alone, allowed. Fourth, South Koreas Trade Promotion Corporation identified foreign markets, making chaebol offers they could not refuse. Fifth, the government nationalized most commercial banks, then took over the Bank of Korea, the countrys
This was a cozy yet creative way to fund an
industrial policy. But even miracle makers make
mistakes; in this case, big ones, first internally then externally.
Internally, they allowed the chaebol to grow stronger than the state
itself. Externally, in 1989 they failed to note that, the Cold War
over, the United States had imposed new global economic rules, Wall
Street style. Economic containment ended without notice. A new buzz
word appearedthe global economypoliced by the World Trade Organization, capitalisms best friend. With a take it or leave it attitude, the fattened First World took, leaving little for the famished forgotten world.
Hence the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Not
that Asian mismanagement had not helped. It had. Fault aplenty stretched
around the Pacific Rim.
Before the crisis of 1997, Korea suffered through
the crisis of 1979. The 79 fix came with higher value-added manufacturingBarbie dolls and T-shirts out, computer chips and designer jeans in. But the big fix remained unfixed; the chaebol grew too strong, squeezing out small and medium-sized industries from capital markets. This too big to fail syndrome held the government hostage, a clientelistic cabal. Parks successors knew this and tried to tame these tiger-titans. A new over-the-counter stock market provided funds for small-to-medium firms and venture capitalists. The state toughened laws against insider trading and sold its shares in commercial banks. Chaebol chiefs cringed, then countered. Through intermediaries, they bought the governments banking shares. By 1987 the five largest chaebol still comprised 75% of manufacturing. The government fumbled again, urged on by the World Trade Organization. No longer would Seoul require reporting on short-term loans. Eureka! The chaebol rushed in to avoid the loan controls then still in effect for long-term borrowing. But the Panic of 97 stampeded
owners of short-term capital who wanted their
money back immediately. This the chaebol could not do.
All this happened under civilian leaders as
Korea in the early 1990s meticulously rid itself
of military mandarins, the colonels closeted back in barrack cubicles.
President Kim Young Sams administration led the change (1993-98). By then Seoul had heard Washingtons clarion call for globalism. Korea tried to adjust under a Koreanized blueprint, segyehwa. Unfortunately, this tempted chaebol like Daewoo to borrow huge amounts of foreign capitol for risky investments in Eastern Europe and the successor states of the former Soviet Union. Daewoo sank $US3.5 billion into Uzbekistan Daewoo Motors in 1996. Where was the market? As of June 1997, Daewoo had investments in 380 projects in eighty-five different countries. After the Panic of 97 Daewoo
fell into bankruptcy, its CEO, Kim Woochoong,
an exile wanted for fraud.
This too will pass; the worlds eleventh largest economy has grown too big to fail. Hence the International Monetary Fund loaned Seoul an unprecedented $US57 billion. Why did they bet on Korea? Partially because the problems with Koreas
economy rested in the chaebol structure; fix
it and you help fix the problem. After all, Korea had used its deficits
for investments, not for consumption.
In fact, Koreas secret for rebounding remained a concentration, with big ticket infrastructure items dominating the governments capital budget. Their mottoAlways improve. Boats, planes, and trains reinvent themselves, Korean style. Before these came roads. Build them and they will drive, and they didKoreans owned 10.5 million autos by 1999. In 1970 the government completed an expressway from Seoul to Busan (Pusan), passing by Daejeon (Taejon) and Daegu (Taegu), major inland cities. They paved what had historically served as southern Koreas
main supply route (MSR) or line of communication
(LOC). Italy had built the closest example in the West, its Autostrada del Sol. As happened in Tuscany, the later Korean version tunneled through mountains and bridged high above valley floors.
Roads ran on land, ships on sea. Not only did
Koreans build supertankers for others, they
built container ships for themselves. Koreans never saw a container
they couldnt fill with export items. Ulsans global port, Koreas busiest with 148.03 million tons passing through in 1998, loaded products packaged in iron boxes the size of boxcars. Twenty-eight other ports along the long, indented coastline followed Ulsans
In 2001 glamorous infrastructures served planes
and trains. Seoul wanted an air-hub that would
rival Schipol in the Netherlands, a Northeast Asian version of that
Western European terminus. On March 29, 2001 a Korean Airlines flight
inaugurated Seouls dreamed of Winged City Airport. San Franciscos Bechtel Corporation built the Koreans an airdrome six times the size of Kansai International Airport near Osaka, Japan and twelve times the size of Chek Lap Kok International Airport in Hong Kong. Flattening Yongjong and Yongyu Islands in Inchons shallow harbor, connecting them with four runways, building a fast-train system to Seoul (2007), and spending US$5.5 billion, Seoul plans to load and off-load 27 million passengers in 2002. By 2020 it expects the figure to grow to 100 million. Seouls
sonic subways scheduled growth to meet this
To speed multiple millions around the nation,
Korea bought the French fast train, the TGV.
In a ferocious French fight, Paris gave way to Seoul. France builds
half the trains and shares the technology so that the buyers can
Koreanize the product for home use and overseas sales. Heavier than
other TGVs except the Paris-London-Brussels Eurostar, the Korean
model will speed from Seoul to Busan at almost two hundred miles
per hour (350 km/h), with 38 percent of the trip through tunnels.
The price tag grew to over US$13.4 billion; nevertheless, Seoul set
an opening date for the first section in 2001, last section 2003,
with each train carrying 935 passengers and
a new train leaving every four minutes! The TGV even came with its
own scandal, a reported US$11 million commission to Ms.
Ho Kichum and friend. After the payment, Ms. Ho married her trophy
husband, the Frenchman who headed the TGV sales force. The Korea Times labeled
such cases Scandals Hatched Under Skirts.
Skirt or no skirt, to keep ahead globally Korea
built a new technology district, Songdo Media
Valley, between Inchon and Seoul. Korean techies pride themselves
that their nation ranks as the most wired and wireless place in Asia.
The Internet has made their homeland cyber-crazy. But they, too,
watched the dotcom bubble burst. Koreas high-tech KOSDAQ stock exchange tumbled 80% since its peak in March 2000steeper than NASDAQs
Where does the required energy for all these projects come from? With Siberian winters and Sumatran summers, Korea needs to heat and cool itself as well as feed its future energy-intensive industries. It imports 97 percent of its power sources. To reduce pollution, Korea has turned to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and electricity, 32% of which comes from nuclear plants. Nor has Seoul reneged on the Kyoto agreements to reduce greenhouse gases. To meet these goals it has invested in solar and wind power.
While Korea has never suffered a forced diaspora,
Koreans have gone global. In music, film, literature,
sports, dance, fashion, cuisinethey star. The Winter 2001 concert series at Carnegie Hall sold out the night Korean soprano Sumi Jo sang Puccini and Gershwin. The preceding year South Koreas film industry introduced world cinema to director Im Kwontaeks
masterpiece Chunhyang, one of over 90 films by this venerable artist. In the 1990s, a Korean-American novelist, Chang Rae Lee, gave readers two bestsellers, Native Speaker and A Gesture Life. In Los Angeles the starting pitcher for the Dodgers is often Park Chanho, and Korean women have won more Olympic Gold Medals in archery than all other nations combined. In California, the Cleveland San Jose Ballet turned to Choi Kwangsuk to dance Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.
In New York, veteran fashion designer Lee Younghee
presented a recent collection of traditional and modern apparel. And
for global taste buds, annual exports of kimchi in 2000 exceeded 20,000
tonsa feast of
For global politics South Korea has a galactic
president in Kim Daejung. His peace offensive
led to an historic meeting in Pyeongyang with North Koreas leader, Kim Jongil. This sunshine triumph occurred on June 13, 2000. Since then a series of steps, some forward, some backward, have slowed but not stopped this Korean détente. The biggest obstacle remains US policy. In search of an enemy, post Cold-War America targeted poverty-ridden North Korea, demonizing its leaders. The Clinton administration used Korea for two of its moral disasters: the refusal to sign the landmine treaty and the testing of a Star Wars sequel. In the first disaster Clinton officials maintained they could not sign because they needed land mines to defend South Korea. This decision put Americans in an exclusive club that included the Buddha-busting bandits in Kabul who also refused to sign. Even though land mines have now killed more children than soldiers, the issue remains off the Bush administrations radar. In the second disaster Clinton apologists saw in North Koreas Taepodong missile an armed rogue state readying a blow at North America, hence the need for a space shield. This decision put Americans in an exclusive club of one. Even though world leaders warn of an arms race into space, the Bush administrations radar conjures an even greater missile threat than his predecessors.
Now the US has a Space Command at Peterson Air
Force Base, Colorado and the Air Force surpasses NASA in space funding.
Woes rocket in when wisdom wanders. In all of this the Pentagon continues
to view South Korea as a permanent military base. This will not stand
the test of time, but a peninsula reunification will, first and foremost
on Korean terms. To make sure of that, Kim Daejung has his own Unification
Minister, Lim Dongwon
While awaiting that future reunion, President
Kim Daejung has balanced foreign concerns, especially
Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and American with his domestic agendapeace with the North and recovery for the Southern economy. A juggler extraordinaire. South Koreas unemployment soared to 6.8 percent in 1998, labor unrest turned violent at places like Daewoo factories that tried to downsize, and gross national income in 1998 plummeted 7.9 percent. This too Kim addressed. He also found time to do some writing, devastating the crypto-fascist argument that Singapores former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew made in the journal Foreign Affairs. Lee confused Confucian order for authoritarianism, suggesting that Asian cultures cry out for strict leaders. In the same journal, President Kim turned this western democracy-be-damned thesis on its head with the following. There
are no ideas more fundamental to democracy than
the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Tonghak (a native
religion of Korea).
Most importantly, President Kims government has turned the economic
corner. In 2000 the South Korean economy grew
at 8.5 percent with predictions that it will grow at least 5 percent
in 2001, a year of little growth in the world economy. The Asian financial
flu has fled from the Land of the Morning Calm. Careful, reform-oriented
leaders will hopefully keep it at bay. The Korean economic phoenix flies