Koreas development under spotlight
By Jung Sung-ki
Korea’s “rags to riches” success over the past six decades is a fairy-tale story for underdeveloped and developing nations worldwide.
The miraculous transformation of Korea from an aid recipient to a major donor came after strenuous efforts by all ― from the presidential office, policymakers and businessmen to men and women in uniform, social activists, and ordinary people and students.
A systemic analysis of the “Korean development model,” however, has been lacking, often leading to misunderstandings by the international community about the country.
For this, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War (1950-1953) and the landmark hosting of the G20 Summit in Seoul next month, a government think tank has published a collection of 60 stories that examine how the Republic of Korea (ROK) achieved rags to riches success.
A special collection, titled “Korea: From Rags to Riches” has been published in The Korea Times since February with commentary by professors, specialists from both here and abroad as well as former government leaders. It is replete with clear-eyed analyses and prescriptions for what made the Korean miracle, said Park Eung-kyuk, president of the Korea Institute of Public Administration (KIPA), a think tank affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Office.
KIPA is scheduled to hold an international conference on the Korean development standard model, Thursday, in Seoul.
Overall, the rags-to-riches series address four pillars of Korea’s dramatic rise from the ashes of the war: the leadership of the presidents, economy-oriented policies, maintaining stable security and public order, and industrial and technological success, Park said.
“The primary purpose of this collection is to share Korea’s development skills and knowhow with other late-comers,” Park said.
In this, little was mentioned about the negative aspects which emerged in the course of the high growth, industrialization and urbanization.
“The collection of works will become a worldwide treasure to help foreigners learn what Korea and Koreans did during their pursuit of fast economic growth and democratization.”
The collection will also serve as a textbook for foreign students living in Korea who want to learn and understand Korea’s modern history and its development record, as it will give people a balanced perceptive on the country’s growth and development, he said.
Noticeably, Park said, Russia and former Soviet Union countries have shown keen interest in the collection.
“Eastern European nations want to know what made South Korea become one of the world’s most powerful economies despite the scars of war, compared to the communist North Korea,” he said. “They want to study and compare the market economy and democracy with the socialist system.”
Park Chang-seok, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, pointed out that presidential leadership served as a “kingpin” in nation building.
“The South Korean leadership has been president-centric with the presidency always at the apex of the executive establishment, which often called for popular unity in the face of numerous trials and adversities,” he said in his contributed article to the collection in February.
Syngman Rhee (1875-1965), the first President of South Korea, played a decisive role in Korea’s independence from Japan and the founding of the Republic of Korea in the midst of social confusion caused by ideological conflicts. Rhee’s top priority was on keeping a liberal democracy and the market economy and beefing up a security posture against North Korea by consolidating defense ties with the United States.
Park Chung-hee (1917-1979) was credited with Korea’s industrialization by spearheading export-led growth in spite of his authoritarian rule.
A former Army general, Park launched the “New Village Movement” to develop countryside areas, whose occupants had remained mired in poverty.
One of the most valuable lessons from the nation building campaign was cultivating the “can-do” spirit among the people, which served as a driving force in uplifting Korea to become a prosperous country.
Park also prompted the country’s industrialization by initiating construction of the Seoul-Busan Expressway, a symbol of the “Miracle on the Han River.”
Chun Doo-hwan (1931-) was known for winning the bid to host the Olympic Games in 1988, which provided an occasion to upgrade Korea’s standing on the international stage. The hosting of the world’s largest sporting event helped the country expand trade and exchanges in all sectors. Chun attached great importance to utilizing economic technocrats and think tanks.
A policy toward North Korea blossomed after Roh Tae-woo (1932-) took office, succeeding his military peer Chun. After the Olympics, Roh boldly pursued the “Northern Policy,” normalizing ties with most of the then-socialist countries.
Kim Young-sam (1927-) was a fighter for democratization. One of the noticeable things Kim did was the implementation of the real-name financial transaction system. The system required all financial dealers to use their real names, which helped economic activities become more transparent.
He also depoliticized the military through massive purges of politically-oriented officers and intelligence agents.
Kim Dae-jung (1926-2008) was a champion of inter-Korean reconciliation. His “Sunshine Policy” of engaging the North culminated in the first-ever summit in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his life-long democratization drive and inter-Korean peace efforts.
Kim’s successor Roh Moo-hyun (1946-2009) succeeded the Sunshine Policy and put a top priority on dismantling the old authorities’ structure dominated by bureaucratic elites, corporate power and the rich. He also initiated a policy for building up a self-reliant defense posture.
The incumbent leader, Lee Myung-bak (1941-), is seeking a pragmatic line. A former CEO of Hyundai Group, Lee has successfully marketed Korea Inc.
Seoul’s hosting of the G20 meeting in Seoul is a feat for Lee, who also won a $20 billion contract to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates.
Driving force for economic development
Former Prime Minister Nam Duck-woo, who served as a key economy policymaker in the 1970s, said the strong resolve of political leaders, entrepreneurs ready to take risks and financial bureaucrats to support them were the three pillars that fueled Korea’s economic development.
“After tiding over the first oil crisis, heavy industries, which were sought after in the early 1970s under the leadership of President Park Chung-hee, spearheaded our exports and economic growth,” said the 85-year-old, who served in premiership between 1980 and 1982.
Park’s efforts to boost labor-intensive light industries had its own limits, he recalled. To break through, Park and his economic team turned to heavy industries such as steel, chemicals, automobiles and ships in the early 1970s.
Security and the ROK-US alliance
Experts share the view that a solid defense against a North Korean invasion and other threats has been the backbone for developing the nation.
Based on a strong military alliance with the United States, South Korea has successfully developed and modernized its armed forces, preparing to take over major combat roles on the Korean Peninsula in the case of an emergency.
“Not even an inch of territory we have now was free. It was earned by the blood and sweat of South Korean and U.N. soldiers,” Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup said in an interview in May. “Freedom is not free.”
He continued, “Achieving freedom requires sacrifice and contribution. I hope our people will have a stronger sense of national security because that’s the path toward the development of our nation.”
The 90-year-old, who led all major campaigns during the war, stressed the importance of the security alliance with the U.S. military.
“Defending South Korea would have been impossible without the help of the U.S.,” said Paik. “The United States played a decisive role. Although 20 other nations also thankfully sent their combat troops and provided medical support, about 80 percent of the finances and equipment came from the U.S.”