[Outlook]Vietnam is hot on our heels

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[Outlook]Vietnam is hot on our heels

An easy and clear way to predict Korea’s future is to look to China. Korea’s economy has long been dependent on China’s. If China sneezes, Korea catches a cold. This will worsen as time goes by.
We can find answers easily if we look at how China was five years ago, how it is now and how it will be in five years. In terms of its size and speed of growth, China is out of our league. With its landmass and population, China changes faster than Korea so there is no way to compete against it. Meanwhile, when looking at how things are inside Korea, one feels depressed. My generation benefited from rapid growth, but our children have a hard time finding jobs. Jobs for youth are disappearing, instead of increasing. That tendency is worsening, instead of showing signs of improvement.
China is not the only country to fear. India, another giant, has joined the trend and is redrawing the map of the world’s economy. New countries are emerging from every angle to lead the 21st century, such as Turkey, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. The countries that used to buy products that bore the label “Made in Korea,” are now taking jobs and sources of income from Koreans, placing pressure on us as rival countries. They are taking more than needle work, wigs and shoe factories, so-called industries of underdeveloped countries, from us.
These countries are developing automobiles, semiconductors and communication units. There are no specific industries that these countries want to avoid or are incapable of developing. It is meaningless to look to national per capita income to judge a country’s competitiveness.
With abundant cash flows around the world, boundaries have little meaning, and time is the only thing that matters in this era of unlimited competition. Amid this globalization, we are closing our eyes to the outside world but wasting precious time. That’s why Korea’s economy is losing competitiveness and its future looks gloomy.
If you still do not feel this sense of crisis, I would like to advise you to visit Vietnam. You will become aware of the situation. Vietnam is called the second China, or the little China, but it is still quite a big country with apopulation of 84 million.
Since unification under socialism in 1975, the country has grown little over the past 30 years. But every corner of the country is now realizing its potential.
I visited the country again recently. Vietnam has gone through drastic changes, particularly over the past two years. Even the gait of civil workers has changed. They used to walk lazily but now they walk in a fast and purposeful manner.
Government officials, no matter how high their position, accepted interviews any time they were asked. Now it is hard to arrange an interview even when journalists beg for one in advance. For instance, it is nearly impossible to arrange a meeting with the powerful, such as the head of the city development department in Ho Chi Minh City. He is like a god to foreign investors who want to establish development projects in the city. Socialism has disappeared and instead I could spot traces of capitalism.
During my stay, I met a journalist from Japan. Mr. Suzuki, 63, a correspondent to Hanoi of the Japanese communist party’s bulletin, Akahata, explained these changes to me. The reporter has covered Vietnam for more than 30 years. “Vietnam started a market economy in the truest sense last year. Older leaders have been replaced by much younger people.
“The country has made the final decision to open its doors and ease regulations. Leaders of the communist party agreed that a market economy was the only choice. You will see that the country will change drastically.”
The communist party and a market economy: I can’t conceptualize the combination and coexistence of the two. However, the Japanese reporter stressed the market economy in every sentence and highly complimented Vietnam’s new leaders. I even wondered about the guidelines for the Japanese Communist Party.
Anyway, according to the reporter, the Vietnam that started running the country by confiscating private properties has now made a U-turn toward capitalism even though the country stands for socialism.
What will Vietnam look like in 10 years? What will we have become as a country then? When thinking about this, I feel heavy in my chest.

*The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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