South Korea

Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg bzw. dem Kore­akrieg war vieles in Deutsch­land und auf der ko­re­anis­chen Hal­binsel ähn­lich. Die weit­ere En­twick­lung ver­lief dann aber recht un­ter­schiedlich. PAUL WHEATLEY in­formiert über die poli­tis­che und wirtschaftliche Lage im

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From war to eco­nomic won­der

Di­vided into democ­racy and dic­ta­tor­ship af­ter a cat­a­strophic war. Sep­a­rated by a mil­i­ta­rized bor­der. And home to vastly dif­fer­ent eco­nomic mod­els. Sound fa­mil­iar? Yes, there are more than just sym­bolic sim­i­lar­i­ties between post-sec­ond World War Ger­many and the post-war Korean Peninsula. Af­ter 1945, West Ger­many slowly re­cov­ered from the Sec­ond World War and — with Al­lied guid­ance — de­vel­oped into a highly suc­cess­ful democ­racy, with its fa­mous so­cial-mar­ket econ­omy. Like­wise, af­ter the end of the Korean War, in 1953, South Korea em­braced cap­i­tal­ism and democ­racy, with enor­mous growth rates. But the paths di­verge in one ma­jor re­spect: fol­low­ing a peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion, com­mu­nist East Ger­many and the cap­i­tal­ist West were re­uni­fied. There is lit­tle sign of this hap­pen­ing on the Korean Peninsula. Far from being part of a uni­fied sin­gle state, or even one of two sep­a­rate pros­per­ous en­ti­ties, the North is char­ac­ter­ized by dic­ta­to­rial rule and a des­per­ately poor pop­u­la­tion.

Po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment

While much hope across the globe has been in­vested in ne­go­ti­a­tions between US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, few South Kore­ans seem to ex­pect that mean­ing­ful progress will be made. Af­ter all, for decades, they’ve seen count­less head­lines come and go about rap­proche­ment.

Still, Ra­mon Pacheco Pardo, a se­nior lec­turer in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, be­lieves there are some promis­ing signs. In par­tic­u­lar, he says, the elec­tion of South Korea’s pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in 2017 has in­vig­o­rated re­la­tions between North and South. Through­out the elec­tion cam­paign, says Pardo, Moon “made it very clear that en­gage­ment with North Korea was go­ing to be his way of deal­ing with Py­ongyang and Kim Jong-un”. Meet­ings between Moon and Kim Jong-un helped pave the way for the 12 June talks between Kim Jong-un and Trump.

The re­al­ity for now, how­ever, is that the North re­mains blighted by a poor econ­omy, a dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, ex­e­cu­tions and labour camps. Pardo ex­plains that North Kore­ans “know what is go­ing on out­side the coun­try — and they know the North is not a par­adise”. And we know “from de­fec­tors”, he adds, that “they don’t be­lieve [the pro­pa­ganda] that the North is more de­vel­oped eco­nom­i­cally than the South”.

While the North is the poor­est coun­try in north-east Asia, the South en­joys im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth — and this in a coun­try that, up un­til the 1980s, saw years of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule, mar­tial law and mil­i­tary takeovers. In­deed, it held its first truly demo­cratic elec­tions in 1988, the same year its cap­i­tal, Seoul, hosted the Olympics.

The im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion

Fast-for­ward two decades and South Korea is among the most tech-ad­vanced coun­tries on the planet, go­ing from mass il­lit­er­acy to being an eco­nomic pow­er­house in two gen­er­a­tions. Ed­u­ca­tion has played a ma­jor role, re­flected in high achieve­ments in the in­ter­na­tional PISA tests, though this presents its own prob­lems. The num­ber of hours that kids spend in school and in af­ter-school pro­grammes can seem re­lent­less. A typ­i­cal day for many chil­dren is to start school at 8 a.m., fin­ish at 4 p.m., head home for a quick din­ner and then go on to fur­ther lessons at one of the thou­sands of hag­wons (pri­vate cram schools) un­til 9 p.m.

In 2014, The Econ­o­mist re­ported that par­ents spent around $15 bil­lion (€13 bil­lion) on pri­vate tu­ition. And a 2017 study re­vealed that 83 per cent of five-year-olds and 36 per cent of two-year-olds re­ceive pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion. The pres­sure from this over­whelm­ing fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and suc­cess at work is cited as a rea­son why South Korea has the high­est sui­cide rate of all in­dus­tri­al­ized OECD coun­tries. For young South Kore­ans, con­nec­tions made dur­ing school and univer­sity are ex­tremely im­por­tant. Anne Ladouceur, Cana­dian-born owner of the web­site Kore­a4­ex­pats.com, ex­plains that they become part of a net­work of friends and as­so­ciates dur­ing their ed­u­ca­tion and it is through these con­nec­tions that a whole world of op­por­tu­ni­ties opens up. “These con­nec­tions help them through their life,” Ladouceur ex­plains. They can de­ter­mine whether or not they get into “a good univer­sity, get a good job and good wages”.

Tra­di­tion meets moder­nity: South Kore­ans are proud of both as­pects of their lives

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