Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reading :: Crisis and Change

Crisis and Change: South Korea in a Post-1997 New Era
By Jasper Kim

A few days ago, I reviewed Steinberg's The Republic of Korea, which detailed ROK history up to 1989. But some significant things have happened since 1989—especially the year 1997, a watershed year that saw a dramatic financial crisis and, consequently, deep changes across critical sectors of the ROK (p.11). In this 2005 book, Jasper Kim discusses the changes wrought in economic policy (Chapter 3), law (Chapter 4), politics (Chapter 5), foreign policy (Chapter 6), social change (Chapter 7),  infrastructure (Chapter 8), and education (Chapter 9). The changes are deep, by Kim's account, and generally very positive.

In Kim's account, "the pre-1997 [1961-1997] Old Order Korean economy was largely based on government-led economic development," and the close ties "fostered crony capitalism" (p.17). He documents the rise of the chaebols (p.18), including the dynamic in which the government provided the chaebols with financial aid and took on the financial risk, insulating the chaebols from the ramifications of their business decisions (pp.18-19). Politically, the Old Order was largely drawn from the Gyeoungsang province; the executive branch dominated the others; and politics were dominated by men, with little space for "female participation in society, especially in the political scene" (p.20). The Old Order, Kim says, was based on factionalism (p.22).

The 1997 financial crisis upended the Old Order. For one thing, crony capitalism took much of the blame for the crisis, and reforms in the "financial and corporate sectors, capital markets, and securities regulation" resulted in an economy that was "more closely integrated into the global economy" (p.31). For another, ideology changed: the executive branch was no longer considered untouchable (p.32) and the Internet destroyed government-journalism collusion (p.33). In foreign policy, the ROK "has acquired a more equal footing with respect to Korea-U.S. relations" due to its "sunshine policy" toward North Korea (a split with the US) (p.34), but abetted by other factors, such as the US' 2004 decision to pull 1/3 of its troops from ROK, as well as new military hardware tech (p.35).

Beyond these, the social sector has changed considerably, creating a split in perceptions between pre-war and post-war generations: The post-war generations have grown up in a world in which the ROK is an industrial power, a member of the UN, a high-tech heavyweight, and a producer of Pacific region pop culture (p.37).

Overall, this is an optimistic and hopeful book about the ROK. If you're interested in the country, take a look.

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