[VIEWPOINT]The Dragon Is Stretching Its LegsFrom ancient times, Korea has felt the ripples of change in China. Even now, we have physical reminders of the closeness of our neighbor, notably the yellow dust and rain clouds, which cross the Yellow Sea to Korea.
We are geographically destined to be influenced by China, which today is undergoing such rapid and drastic change. I recently visited Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu and Beijing to look at China's projects to develop its western region.
When I visited China years ago, I heard Chinese people say they would rise to world power again some day, like a crouched dragon stretching its legs and flying up into the sky. I considered it fantasy back then. But this time, I saw with my own eyes the dragon unfolding its wings. I was amazed － and at the same time, scared. Though China has a socialist political doctrine, it is following capitalistic pragmatism when it comes to its economy. That is why foreign capital from around the world is pouring into China, contributing to its extensive development. Go to the Pudong area of Shanghai and you will see skyscrapers being erected. This reflects the total foreign capital that has come to the Pudong area alone － so far, $33.6 billion. Korea as a whole has so far attracted $60 billion.
Development was taking place everywhere; Chongqing, 2,000 kilometers from Shanghai along the Yangtze River, and Chengdu, in Sichuan province, at the center of the western region development plan, were filled with the din of construction. In areas of the cities located along the Yangtze River, modern industrial facilities are springing up, and the largest dam in the world is being constructed on the Yangtze. The dam will not only prevent floods, but will generate 84 billion kilowatts of hydroelectric power a year, and will enable ships capable of carrying 5,000 metric tons to sail into Chongqing, far inland, saving a massive amount on logistics costs. If this dam is completed, it will literally change the map of western China.
China is emerging as a manufacturing center, where 300 of the world's top 500 multinational companies are operating. China's gross domestic product surpassed $1trillion last year. What has allowed China to take this "great leap forward"?
First is the successful attraction of foreign capital. I was greatly impressed by Chinese government officials' earnest endeavors to attract foreign investment. China is indeed a "merchant nation."
Second is the the country's concrete middle- to long-term development plans, and its dogged implementation of them. In the 1980s, China focused on developing Guangdong province, which includes Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong. In the 1990s, Shanghai was at the center of the development plan, and China will continue to concentrate on developing its western area for the next 20 to 30 years. The Yangtze dam construction will dislocate 1.13 million residents, but China is pursuing the historic construction, overcoming the pains it will cause the people.
Third is the introduction of capitalism, which was a very radical step. China is putting practical interests before ideology. Defying the notion that it goes against socialism, China recognizes individual difference, based on hypotheses such as Deng Xiaoping's assertion that wealth and ability are virtues. In China, students can enter certain middle and high schools by offering contributions, which is unthinkable in Korea.
Most of our exports to China are high-technology products. But it seems that China may outrun us in days not so far off. China has the technologies to build nuclear weapons and launch satellites.
What should Korea do when China really takes off? This is the time for us to think about how we can develop in tandem with China. There is a way. I wish politicians, and not just businessmen, would visit China, this fast-emerging future powerhouse.
The writer is chairman and CEO of Korea International Trade Association.
by Kim Jae-chul