[OUTLOOK]Patriotism can overcome obstacles"Forty-five cents!"
The border guards who stood in a booth that resembled a subway ticket office demanded that anyone crossing from the United States into Mexico must pay 45 cents.
I had reached Matamoros, Mexico, on the border, by driving eight hours from Austin, Texas. After I parked my car in Brownsville, Texas, I paid 45 cents to cross the border. I was now in Mexico. I got to downtown Matamoros in 10 minutes by taking a taxi, in which I knocked the fare down from $10 to $5. Many shops were adorned with Christmas trimmings, but the shops were makeshift huts crudely painted. The local commodities offered by these shops could not lure me to open my wallet. The Mexican youths passing by cast a sidelong glance at me and sniveling children with dark eyes followed me wherever I went. The scene resembled something from Korea during the war-battered 1950s.
My recent tour of prosperous U.S. cities and a shanty border town in Mexico helped me experience the way people suffer from the mismanagement of state affairs. The self-respect of any people is determined by the wealth of a state. A corporate force is the main force that creates state wealth. To strengthen people's power and to make a nation prosperous, the government should assist firms and the people should work hard. All of this enables people to keep their self-respect. Koreans have neglected this principle for a long time.
The day after I went to Mexico, I visited Samsung's semiconductor factory near Austin. Buildings covering 203,000 square meters were spaced in the vast land of 1.2 square kilometers. The construction started in April 1996 and was completed in July 1997, and the factory now produces 150 million 28mega DRAM chips annually. The factory earned a $3.4 million net profit in 2000, but showed a deficit of $2.5 million in 2001 due to a downturn in the semiconductor industry. But with rosy business forecasts expected this year, some 1,000-factory workers are in high spirits.
Koreans should not necessarily be proud of the fact that a large, Korean-owned semiconductor factory stands in the United States. But we can take pride in the success of this factory when many of its competitors, who had entered U.S. markets, closed down their factories or sold them. Toshiba has sold its chip-producing assets to Micron Technology. Hynix Semiconductor Inc., beset with financial woes, is negotiating with Micron to form an alliance. NEC Corp., a Japanese chipmaker, is cutting down its production. And Fujitsu is closing down its U.S. factories.
So what's the secret of Samsung's survival? It's simple. Samsung has penetrated the local market. Samsung's organized and continual effort to assimilate into America explains its success. Only 20 Korean managers account for 1,000 workers in the Samsung factory. The factory recruits the top foreign graduates of U.S. universities every year. Presently, 134 Americans recruited over the last five years hold major positions in the factory. The factory and the people of Austin are closely related. Austin residents even gathered in front of a local broadcasting company demanding apologies for expressing concerns that Samsung, a Korean firm notorious for extorting workers, would open a factory in the city.
The assimilation of a corporation into a local community is an achievement that, until now, has gone unfulfilled during the 100-year history of Korean emigrants in the United States. The fact that the residents of Austin, which aspires to become another Silicon Valley, laud the venture of the Korean firm, is enough to evoke patriotism in the hearts of many Koreans.
My sad feelings about a small border town degraded by bad politics was replaced by the good feelings I had for the Korean firm. Samsung's success in foreign markets is itself the practice of patriotism by a company.
The economic prospects of Korea are dark and the political situation in Korea shows signs of confusion this year. Through what means will Korea cope with this situation? I believe patriotism is an important means that can lighten this year with hope, although that thought may sound old-fashioned.
Labor and management should cooperate in creating a wholesome business environment if they are to place themselves in the service of a country. The government should assist labor and management out of a genuine feeling of patriotism. The politicians should turn down profit-making ventures and ponder their actions in terms of patriotism. The press should exert patriotism by providing an alternative and a direct public opinion ?in the right direction.
Let's overcome the imminent peril by the means of patriotism.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin