[Viewpoint] Korea vs. China’s galloping train

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[Viewpoint] Korea vs. China’s galloping train

Hangzhou is one of the oldest and most scenic Chinese cities. After a visit in the 13th century, Venetian Marco Polo declared Hangzhou “the finest and noblest city in the world.” The Chinese say, “Heaven above, and Suzhou and Hangzhou below.”

Resting alongside West Lake (Xi Hu), the city was the ancient capital of the Wuyue Kingdom (907-978) and of the Southern Song Dynasty in the early 12th century. Pagodas, bridges and wooden towers are peppered around the lake, which is surrounded by mountains, drawing celebrated poets and men of literature during its heyday.

Apart from its natural and historic legacy, today’s Hangzhou has another distinct feature. On the other side of the lake by the Qiantang River is a staggering view of a high-tech cosmopolitan city with high-rises and a sophisticated urban skyline similar to Shanghai’s Pudong district.

The new urban district, covering a size that is 12 times of Yeouido, is already home to a city hall, international convention center, shopping malls and parks. Modernization is an aggressive, ongoing process throughout the Chinese mainland. The newfangled look is hardly surprising, considering the country’s rapid rise to its G-2 global status.

But still, watching its galloping pace of development at close distance takes one’s breath away. Take the Shanghai-Hangzhou bullet train, for example. It has shortened the hour-and-a-half train trip to 40 minutes. The CRH380 high-speed train can speed up to 420 kilometers (261 miles) per hour, making it the fastest locomotive on earth.

China, which already has the world’s longest railway network, plans to add 13,000 kilometers of tracks to its network by 2012 and another 16,000 kilometers by 2020. A train trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong will be possible starting 2013. China’s industrialization is as superfast as its rail system.

It is not just the facade that is stunning. Anyone who watches Yinxiang Xi Hu - a virtual-reality live performance on the lake - would see his jaws drop, mesmerized by the creativity and spectacular scale of the performance that makes full use of the entire lake and its natural surroundings. Chinese directors transformed a typical love story folk tale into an epic picturesque dramatic spectacle using technology and dreamy music.

The show has drawn more than 500,000 people a year since its opening in 2008, raising 10 billion won ($8.9 million) in ticket sales so far this year. Most of the 300 performers are picked among the villagers.

Capitalizing on the natural features of the “Yinxiang” series, other Chinese tourist attractions have expanded, too. And the country has proven its potential in developing software as well.

Looking at the regional map with the tiny Korean Peninsula at the tip of the massive bulk of China, I am reminded of osmosis, which we learn in biology class at school.

The blueprint for running the East Asian economy had been set, with Korea, Japan and Taiwan designing and manufacturing parts for labor-strong China to put together. But the immense economic bloc comprised of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou on the Yangtze River has changed the mechanism.

Multinational technology companies are rushing to the Yangtze economic zone, and transformation will likely accelerate. China won’t be content as an industrial powerhouse and is gearing up to serve as the financial and logistics hub of the region.

Korea feels and absorbs all the smoke and heat coming from the Chinese locomotive. Can our country withstand the enormous osmotic pressure from the Chinese industrial powerhouse?

Leaders of the world’s richest and emerging economies have gathered in Seoul to tackle the biggest challenges to the global economy. Korea became the center of global attention for two days. But to be a lasting star on the global stage, there are many rivals to overcome and mountains to climb. Our foremost challenge is retaining our pace and competitiveness against the menacing Chinese locomotive.

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

by Heo Nam-chin
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