Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heyday of the Tiger: Last Hurrah before Korea Yields to China

As the global economy shakes off the worst recession in modern history, a host of observers have noted the resilience of Asia in general and Korea in particular. According to common perception, the economic tiger is roaring once more and has been leaping from strength to strength.

If truth be told, though, the reality is a bit more complex than that. As in centuries past, Korea is now caught in a pincer movement between the goliaths of China and Japan. Due to the squeeze from both sides, the tiger’s presence on the global stage will continue to lose its mojo over the years to come.

Granted, the slippage of the Asian tiger down the ranks is not inevitable. A ray of hope lies in the efforts of policymakers to bolster the local economy by reshaping the patterns of commercial activity and economic output.

The leading lights in Korea have joined their peers in mid-tech nations around the globe – ranging from Singapore and Malaysia to Latvia and Slovakia – in the call to move up the ladder of creativity and focus on high value-added services. The product lines on the agenda span the gamut from robotic hardware and nanotech compounds to financial services and medical tourism.

On the downside, though, the plans cooked up thus far have been squarely pedestrian and unremarkable. As a result, the initiatives on the table will not enable the nation to keep its position in the front ranks among the trading nations of the world.

Given this backdrop, the future looks cloudy for Korea. Even so, the morrow need not turn out to be bleak.

With a hefty dose of creative effort and a hearty commitment to wholesale change, the prospects downstream could look more cheery. In this sense, at least, Korea is no different from other mid-tier countries around the world.

If the tiger is to remain in the big leagues in the global forum, it will have to alter its stripes in a sweeping fashion. Sadly, though, transforming a lumbering tiger into a nimble fox is easier said than done.

In that case, the golden age of the dynamo will be on its last legs. The way things are going, the Korean tiger is slated to slide into the twilight starting in the late 2010s.

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