While Kim Yu-na’s victory – now celebrated across every media – still hung in the balance, an unusual article about Korea appeared in the Financial Times. It was distinguishable from most articles about Korea in that a) it did not primarily concern the situation in the North and b) it was pretty much unreservedly upbeat.
Its thrust was that South Korea’s status as an underdog is ‘wearing thin’, given that:
1) Its economy is practically as big as India’s
2) It exports more goods than the UK
3) This year it could make more money than the top 15 Japanese electronics firms combined.
A slew of further positive economic data followed this introduction, charting Korea’s path through the financial crisis (growth this year is expected to be 4.7%)
“Urbanised, sophisticated, wired-up and with a per capita income in purchasing-power terms of some $28,000 – only $5,000 behind arch-rival Japan – South Korea is on the verge of long-cherished rich-country status. It even makes Asia’s most popular soap operas.”
There was praise for Hyundai as the world’s fastest growing auto manufacturer, who, as a side note, were named Carmaker of the Year at the AM Magazine awards in Birmingham in the past week.
The article concluded with a list of the challenges that Korea faces, which it acknowledged to be ‘products of success’. Whatever you make of these problems, it was refreshing to see an article in which Korea’s problems took up a single paragraph.
As Seoul kicks off its Year of Design, Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s initiative to reshape the city and turn it into a ‘mecca for design talent’, one can only hope that this represents a turning point in the world’s perception of Korea.