[OUTLOOK]The decade of no progress

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[OUTLOOK]The decade of no progress

As was the case 10 years ago, politicians are busy at the National Assembly revising the laws on politics and elections in their favor. A decade ago, there at least was agreement among the political parties when they revised the laws. Today, the parties don’t even bother putting up a show of solidarity.
Politics is not the only thing that has not made progress. President Kim Young-sam had also talked incessantly about reform 10 years ago. What we saw, however, was the bitter experience of a financial crisis and its aftermath. A decade ago, we also talked about globalization. Yet we remained so isolated that it was only recently that we were barely able to ratify our first free trade agreement. Also, over the last 10 years, we have not been able to pass the $10,000 level for gross national product per capita.
Perhaps it is not surprising that others have caught up with us. The prediction that Baoshan Iron & Steel of China will surpass Posco in five years to become the world’s No. 1 steelmaker and China’s boast that it will turn the state-run China State Shipbuilding Corp. into the biggest shipbuilder in the world after catching up with Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. do not seem like just empty words. China has grown annually at 10 percent over the last 10 years. On the other hand, we have struggled to achieve even a 3 percent growth rate.
Although the Chinese government still claims to pursue socialism, it treats its businesses better than the Korean government treats Korean firms. Socialism or not, the Chinese government works hard to provide a better environment for its firms to work and compete in. Moreover, the Chinese government has announced its ambition of getting at least 50 Chinese firms included in the world’s 500 largest businesses in the next five years.
While it takes Samsung Electronics seven months to get a government permit to expand its semiconductor factory, the deputy mayor of Shenzhen in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong claims that investors can get business and factory permits in two or three months in his city. Such a difference ultimately determines national competitiveness.
Ten years ago, China wanted to learn from Korea. Today, China has stopped trying to learn from Korea because there isn’t much to learn. On the contrary, it is Korea that is eager to learn from the newly rising China. These days, Chinese language classes are more popular than English language classes in Korea.
In 10 years, we have been surpassed. What is more frightening is the thought of what would happen if we continue this way for another 10 years. At the start, the participatory government proclaimed a list of the 10 most promising industries that Korea could develop. Unfortunately, the government did not follow up on the proclamation. Words are not enough to grow an economy.
In 1992, when Deng Xiaoping was leading China, he urged his country to “continue at this pace for 100 years.” Deng Xiaoping died and was replaced by Zhang Jemin, who in turn was replaced by Hu Jintao. Nevertheless, China has unwaveringly continued at the same pace for a decade.
If we, on the other hand, continue at this pace of ours, we will be doomed. We need a new vision so that we can hear news about Koreans abroad rushing to return home and invest, instead of the gloomy news that Koreans abroad are starting to dispose of their properties in Korea. We need a vision in order to have a future. Our situation 10 years from now depends on this.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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