From our correspondent in South Korea, Louisa Metcalfe:
Seoul - I sit reading about “dark clouds” moving over the Korean economy. Of course, the problem is common to all of the global economy, but a phenomenon which has been specific to Korea since the Lehman Brothers collapse of September last year. The continuing slide of the Korean economy begs the question: how will Asia, the apparent new beacon in the global economy, lead the world economy out of recession? Moreover, will the progress be facilitated by further cooperation as witnessed at the end of last year?
This is a question which is in part related to the recent news that a Tripartite Agreement has been formed between Japanese, Chinese and Korean leaders. Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, Japanese prime minister, Taro Aso, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, pledged “Tripartite cooperation” at Fukoka, Japan, on December 13th 2008. This agreement comes as somewhat of a breakthrough in Asia, after decades of mistrust and resentment toward the acts Japan committed during World War II, and before. Therefore, the subject of cooperation here in Korea seems to have witnessed symbolic progress - something which appears to be a result of the global economic downturn itself.
The relevance of this news resonates now as this week in Korea marks a year in power for the president Lee Myung-Bak. Yet despite talks of the Asian miracle of late, and hopes of economic success via cooperation in December, the ratings of the Korean president have been halved in the past year. This is arguably largely a result of the extent of the damage which has occurred in the Korean economy during this time. The past year has seen a vast decline in exports and capital reserves as the USA has become less able to consume Asian goods. Two of the traits which lead to nations such as Korea being held up as examples of the ‘Asian Miracles’.
So what now? Will the Asian miracle last? I see that this question may be subject to cooperation. Can and will the ‘Asian Miracle’ persist without external facilitation? For me, the answer is yes. The situation looks optimistic for the next year in power of Lee MyunBak. The Korean media is projecting that the president has finally accepted that the crisis means harder action must be taken, and his mantra has become, ‘Crisis equals Opportunity’. Moreover, the two words have the same meaning in Japanese, portraying an image that the national differences between the two countries will soon be offset, at least temporarily, in order to resuscitate the Asian economies.
The Tripartite Agreement promises to boost the Asian Development Bank, and supersede the "Chiang Mai initiative", created during the East Asian Financial Crisis, to allow bilateral swaps. Furthermore, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been further developed in recent years (for example, including China into ASEAN+3). The recent news of cooperation and change in Korea therefore comes as a refreshing change to the news of gloom and doom, with Korea, Japan and China comprising a quarter of the world’s population, and a fifth of the world’s economy. Thus portraying the potential for these countries, including Korea, to chase away the dark clouds over their economies over the coming year.
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