[Viewpoint] Asian values reboundThese days people are showing a greater interest in Asian values again. The term “Asian values” appeared for the first time in the early 1970s. The term was used by Western scholars and journalists to describe the most important factors behind the successful economies of East Asia’s newly industrialized countries, such as Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, which have achieved high rates of economic growth since the 1970s.
Experts said that the rise of the four Asian dragons was due to paternalism emphasizing loyalty to family and obedience to the state and Asia’s Confucian traditions, which are viewed as somewhat authoritarian.
Until the mid-1990s, Asian values were understood as a positive expression describing Asians’ diligence and sincerity, efforts that had created a series of economic miracles. Even some Western media outlets lavished praise on Asian values, saying things like, “They will play a leading role boosting the world economy for the 21st century,” coveting East Asia’s rapid economic growth in the 1980s.
However, after the financial crisis erupted in Asia in 1997, “Asian values” were degraded and held responsible for the much of the financial chaos.
They were regarded as emphasizing blind loyalty to family and corporate organizations, and they were severely criticized for justifying authoritarian regimes in the region.
In addition, these values were held accountable as the culprits behind shallow regional connections, anti-patriotic nepotism, and corrupt bureaucracy rampant in the respective nations of Asia
People insisted that these values were a huge contributor to an increase in corruption and inefficiency from the inside and became the “root cause” of the unprecedented financial crisis at the end of the 1990s.
Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics recipient, played a decisive role in the demise of Asian values. In his landmark 1994 article, “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle,” he warned that Asia’s newly industrialized countries would reach their economic limits sooner or later.
He wrote in the article that the rapid economic growth of Asia’s newly industrialized countries was not achieved by enhancing productivity through technological assistance and institutional development, but was nothing but a mathematical result of excessive input factors of production, such as labor and capital.
His inauspicious prediction seemed about to come true, as the Asian financial crisis occurred three years later.
However, the Asian economies, which at times during the financial crisis a decade ago seemed to have fallen into an inescapable pit, revived in less than one year.
Skeptics also argued that a long-term recession would set in, saying, “Asia’s miracle, it is all over,” when the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.
However, Asia’s economies recovered much more quickly than economies in other parts of the world, such as the United States and Europe.
The same may be said of the U.S.-based financial crisis whose effects are still being felt worldwide. It was predicted that Asia’s emerging economies would not escape a recession for a considerable period. People insisted that Asia’s supposedly export-dependent economies would not recover as long as the U.S. and Europe were in a downtrend.
However, this time as well, Asia has shown a remarkable recovery and is getting back on its feet more quickly than any region in the world.
There may be some special reasons for Asia’s ability to bounce back. The latest edition of The Economist, a weekly British magazine, in its briefing “On the rebound,” highlighted the hidden reasons behind Asia’s swift economic recovery.
Asian countries have been able to make the most of any opportunities to claw back from an economic abyss through their manufacturing capabilities, while export flows have resumed swiftly. Thanks to a sound financial structure, they have been able to boost their economies in a smooth and effective manner, some economists are suggesting.
It is certain that Asia’s unique characteristics have helped the region do well in each field. This is the reason that Asian values have been given special attention again.
On the home front, Korea stands at the forefront of this surprising phenomenon. Although the government and domestic experts say that it is still too early to conclude that our economy is definitely recovering from its slump, many people overseas are carefully observing Korea’s amazing economic recovery. They are paying careful attention to the real ability of the Korean economy, which is showing more powerful stability among Asia’s economies.
Perhaps we should even be talking about “Korean values,” as our achievements don’t necessarily have to be lumped under the name of Asian values. While they might be similar, the very root of our preserved strength lies in our country with our workers.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo