[Letters] The Korean paradox

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[Letters] The Korean paradox

When we speak about Korea, a paradox is immediately apparent: European public opinion is much more focused on North Korea, one of the most closed, isolated and secretive states in the international community, whilst the attention that its southern neighbor, South Korea is due, is rarely given. Below the 38th parallel there is a story of recent economic success and burgeoning international prestige.

What is the name of North Korea’s leader? What is his nickname? For which reasons are North Korea often in the international spotlight? No doubt many readers would know the answers. Now, what is the name of South Korean President? This question would most likely go unanswered.

The Republic of Korea presided over the G-20 summit, held in Seoul on the 11th and 12th of November 2010. This clearly shows an esteemed international recognition which places the country amongst the major global economic, although not yet political, powers of the future.

South Korea is today the 15th largest global economic power and the fifth largest Asian economic power, after China, Japan, India and Russia. South Korea is also the leading global nation in shipbuilding, production of LCD screens and in the distribution of broadband per capita. It is the third leading nation in the production of semi-conductors, the fifth in automobile manufacturing and in scientific research.

Over the last ten years while the nominal GDP and the income per capita have practically doubled, public debt represents only roughly a third of the GDP. According to the IMF, Korea posted a 6.1 real GDP growth in 2010 and will reach a 4.5 growth at the end of 2011. Seoul’s economy is over 35 times bigger than Pyongyang’s and GDP per capita shows at least a tenfold gap.

The free trade agreement which Seoul recently signed with the EU will come into force on the 1st of July 2011, bringing with it an estimated increase in South Korean exports of 5.87 percent and an increase of EU exports of 1.4 percent along with the creation of between 300,000 and 600,000 estimated jobs. Cooperation with the U.S. has also strengthened following the Cheonan dossier, the naval frigate sunk by North Korea on March 2010, which claimed the lives of 46 sailors and caused an escalation of tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.

For a country that is formally still at war with North Korea and that until 15 years ago was considered an anonymous developing nation, taking part in the G-20, let alone presiding over it, holds an important symbolic value. The hosting of the G-20 summit was an event that was genuinely felt collectively. The streets of Seoul were filled with posters and billboards that drew attention to it.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak declared in 2010: “This year Korea hosts the G-20 Summit. We are doing our best to assure a strong and sustainable growth on a global level. We are continuing to lay the foundations for a global financial security net and to reduce the disparity between advanced economies and emerging markets.”

If Brazil is the Latin American role model, and South Africa the example for the rest of its continent, South Korea is certainly starting to be perceived as the successful case study in Eastern Asia of the last decade. Korea is a country that weds a model of sustainable economic development with following its democratic obligations in a region where a ubiquitous political instability reigns, mostly caused by North Korea. Let’s talk more about the Korea that counts.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Emanuele Schibotto, a PhD candidate in Geopolitics and Geoeconomics at the Marconi University in Rome.
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