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Le Monde: Korea Surpasses Japan in Development and Influence

2006/06/08 Source

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The French newspaper Le Monde recently reported that the Republic of Korea (ROK), which has progressed a factory to a laboratory, and from a dictatorship to one of Asia's most dynamic democracies, surmounts Japan in terms of the swiftness of its development and likely its influence.

In the June 5 edition, Le Monde pointed out that while it took a century and a half for Japan to become the world's second largest economy and a center of popular culture, Korea was poised to be in hot pursuit of its neighbor.

In a feature story titled, "Korean Pop Culture Sweeps across Asia", Le Monde correspondent Philippe Pons wrote that Korea, unsatisfied with its "blue-ribbon" companies in the technological sector, has become the center of innovation and mass cultural exports to its neighbors. Its success was further validated when Japan, the world's premier youth market, of which TV series, talents and video games are all the rage, became one of its recipients.

The wave of Korean pop, or "Hallyu" (Korean Wave), in Korean terms, spread to cinema from the kitchen via cosmetics, revealing a new country that symbolizes the taking root of modernity in Asian identity.

Le Monde said that Korea fought its way out of poverty under the military regimes of the 1960s and 80s. In 1988 it hosted the Olympics in Seoul, a city without character, having been reconstructed quickly after being devastated during Korea's hostile war from 1950-53.

Today, the picture of lawn amid the gray metropolis is quite different from 15 years ago, when tear gas filled the City Hall Square. Now, Seoul thrives with a population of 10 million at the center, while urban surroundings bring up that number to 23 million inhabitants.

The newspaper said that Korea, the world's 10th largest economy, was still based on industry ranging from automobiles, steel, and shipbuilding, but the 1997 financial crisis taught the Koreans that it is not sufficient to produce and export while still depending on American or Japanese technologies. As it is closely followed by China, Korea needs a new engine of growth in the name of "innovation".

Noting that Korea was not content with mere innovations, Le Monde said the country was applying them to society: that's why Korea is the most "wired" country in the world (three-fourths of households have Internet connections), which has also made some portals serve as avenues for a democracy relay.

Recent polls indicate that people no longer read newspapers but consult "news guerrillas", or internet portals.

Thus the most surprising success for this small country of 48 million people surrounded by giant neighbors of China and Japan is that millions of Asians from Malaysia to Japan, from China to Vietnam watch TV series every evening or enjoy video games produced in Korea.

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