[VIEWPOINT]Kim has led Korea through change

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[VIEWPOINT]Kim has led Korea through change

Recently, I read in the newspaper that President Kim Dae-jung's popularity has decreased significantly compared with when he took office. The popularity of a leader is a barometer of the people's sentiment, and this, of course, is linked with the next presidential election. But we know well from history that popular presidents are not necessarily great leaders.

I approach this subject with great caution since I am a foreigner who has lived in Korea for only six years. But, as a resident of Seoul with first-hand knowledge of Korea's economic concerns over the last few years, I think I am entitled to say a few things.

Foreign investors encounter great difficulty trying to understand Korea's political and social issues. Looking ahead to only a few years living in Korea, they cannot be faulted for having a limited interest in this nation. Nonetheless, Korea's policies on its economy or industries are extremely important to companies that invest and do business here.

Korea is going through a transformation. There is no country that changes and develops so quickly. When I first arrived here six years ago, finding a variety of foreign-made products was difficult. Now imports jam store shelves.

A few years later I watched President Kim emphasize the importance of foreign investment in his first "Talk with the People." Foreign television viewers saw a translated version of the speech. Koreans' view of multinational companies has changed significantly since.

Many global companies are doing business in Korea. Well-known German companies, such as BASF and the Allianz Group, are here. So is the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart. My company, DaimlerChrysler, became the largest shareholder of Hyundai Motor Company.

Global companies increase productivity through the training of local employees and their corporate transparency; they increase the competitiveness of Korean industries and contribute to the local economy through exports.

It seems that the stereotyping of and hostility toward foreign companies, foreign products and foreigners have lessened greatly. For example, the negative perception toward foreign-made cars has diminished significantly. Koreans have come to know that healthy spending, according to one's choice and income, benefits the national economy, whether they are domestic or foreign products.

Korea has overcome the economic crisis faster than any other country in Asia and is gaining trust in global markets. Korea, thanks to its internal strength, was among the few countries in Asia that were little affected by the September 11 terror attacks.

The government has become much more aggressive when it comes to foreign investment, and related regulations have been revised and relaxed greatly in a short period of time.

Some people say many things still need to be improved and restructuring must continue. I agree. Before criticizing, however, we should appreciate that President Kim has created a more congenial environment for foreign investors.

An objective evaluation of President Kim's record will be done later down the road. The view of his record one hundred years down the road may or may not be glowing.

I do know that foreign executives who have lived in Korea the last few years give him high marks.

As a witness of the economic crisis, the efforts to overcome it, and the changes stemming from it, I hope that Koreans, later in history, will remember Mr. Kim as the president who showed them the importance of an open economy and established a foundation for Korea to strive as a globalized nation.


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The writer is president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.

by Wayne Chumley

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