[LETTERS to the editor]For economic power, invest in science

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[LETTERS to the editor]For economic power, invest in science

South Korea’s economy is in a pickle. Adding to the problems in the negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States, the current account deficit troubles the Roh administration, which promised a 5-percent economic growth rate this year. For now, the Bank of Korea announced it will raise interest rates to 4.25 percent to prevent inflation caused by rising oil prices. The proposed FTA meets continued resistance as the Korean public fears Korea will become “economically colonized.” I have one suggestion to President Roh and future presidents to avoid such economic dilemmas: Invest in basic science.
Basic science sets the ground for applied science. For instance, basic computer science paves the way for cutting-edge semiconductor production.
Many developed Western countries have been investing in basic and applied science, which enables them to wield the power of intellectual property rights to pursue their interests. This power is being wielded by the U.S. at the negotiation table with Korea in its demand for lengthened patents. Such power is also significant in the world market, since patents can lead to a monopoly or oligopoly in certain fields.
In this regard, what cards does Korea have in its hand? Koreans regard Samsung Electronics as a blue chip company. Perhaps, but it may daunt them to hear that Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters generate $5.8 billion annual revenue, roughly half of Samsung Electronic’s annual profits. In addition, competitive countries focus on developing cleaner engines and hybrid cars, and test their products on Formula 1 races. I have always wondered why there are Toyota cars but no Hyundai cars in the race. It turns out that Korean motor companies mostly reinvest their profits on reproduction ― in other words, imitation. If anti-FTA protesters pointed this out, it would be interesting what proponents of the FTA would say in defense.
Overall, the lesson we can learn from Mickey Mouse is embarrassing but crucial: Think science. Korean products lack price competitiveness compared to China, and lack quality competitiveness compared to Japan. To overcome such flaws, and to avoid being subjugated by an FTA, Korea’s scientists must receive support, but should not end up like Dr. Hwang. I urge President Roh to actually INVEST in biotechnology, in which he seems to be greatly interested.

by Kim Taeho
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