[OUTLOOK]Learn the lessons of Dubai

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[OUTLOOK]Learn the lessons of Dubai

Seo Jeong-min, a Middle East correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo, published a book about the unlimited imagination and creative leadership in Dubai. Once I opened the book, I read through to the end, even though it was nearly 300 pages. It is hard to believe that a work of nonfiction could be a page-turner like this.
The miracle of Dubai is no longer a news item. The media have covered enough stories about the city and many people have already visited there. Mr. Seo also did not pay attention to the miracle itself. He focused on what has turned the small emirate on the Arabian Peninsula into a cutting-edge global hub that attracts countless people and technologies.
Countries throughout the world are having battles without bullets in this era of economic war. In the introduction to the book, Kang Shin-jang, an executive director at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, wrote that one should create something that no one else can even imagine in order to win the economic war in a short period of time. Economic war is, in fact, a competition of imagination and creativity, he concluded.
With the vivid imagination that created the Thousand and One Nights, the people of Dubai conduct unprecedented projects and events. At last they have made a wonderful mirage that lures people. Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler and chief imagination officer of the country, led the project of imagination and fantasy. Some 2,000 smart people from around the world took part in transforming the fantasy into reality. That was the birth of the Durabian Night.
Dubai is merely double the size of Jeju Island, a resort island in Korea. It sizzles with temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celcius. The city was a barren place with hardly any natural resources except a little bit of petroleum. Despite all these disadvantages, the people of Dubai are competing to have the world’s tallest building. They have built the world’s largest artificial island and an underwater hotel. They have made a ski resort in the desert and the world’s first seven-star hotel on the coastline.
Mr. Mohammed presented a vision that his country would become a small but strong country with unusual imagination. He treated disadvantages as opportunities. He had a vivid imagination. He did not care about customs and traditional practices but was a practical person. As a result, he has created a legend.
The miracle of Dubai can be applied to our situation. Korea is surrounded by superpowers, but this geographical disadvantage can be changed into a blessing, if only we take a different perspective. If we look out to the Pacific Ocean, the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Yellow Sea are our inland seas. The East China Sea is a gateway to the large ocean.
Massive populaces and markets lined both sides of each inland sea. Beyond that lies a vast continent. If you draw a circle with a 2,000-kilometer radius with Incheon International Airport at its core, 43 cities with populations of more than 1 million come inside the circle. Some 600 million people live within our inland seas.
When Roh Moo-hyun was a candidate running for the presidency in 2002, he pledged to make our country a center of Northeast Asia. That was a good plan because he meant to use our country’s geopolitical disadvantage as an opportunity for us.
However, the pledge has been forgotten after four years. In the face of resistance from neighboring countries, he changed his plan from making the country a center of the region into making it an economic center of the region. Then, the plan was changed into a logistics and financial hub, then into a global logistics network. The big ambition has ended up as a humble plan because he only shouted empty slogans and could not see the difference between practical benefits and causes. He did not have sufficient vision or imagination, either.
The key to a country’s success is leadership. Leadership combined with imagination and a practical mind can make our country dynamic and a hub in Northeast Asia. A leader who pulls a cart loaded with briquets, holds the hands of the poor and does nothing else can never have sufficient imagination. In next year’s presidential election, a leader who inspires hopes and dreams should be elected. We have paid the price for our wrong choices. We can’t afford another failure. If one wants to become a leader of the country, he or she should learn the imagination of Dubai.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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