The documentary South Korea: A Nation to Watch chronicles the emergence of South Korea as a force not only in the world economy, but also in culture, through various musical as well as cinematic exports. Much of the success of South Korea from this perspective, however, is focussed on the manner in which the dynamic South Korean economy, above all tied to the radical successes of the South Korean high technology sector, has played a pivotal role in the rise of South Korea.
At the very outset of the film, the emergence of South Korea is set against the contrast of the Korean peninsula’s historical past, such that the rise of the nation is also the story of the rise of developing nations in the world who were outside of the traditional Western order of dominance. As the film demonstrates, crucial to such exponential growth was the technological sector, whereby South Korea was able to provide high quality technological devices for consumer electronics goods. Once this infrastructure was established, largely manufacturing parts for goods from other countries, South Korea was able to venture into the technological market itself, with its own independent automobile companies as well as its electronic giants, which are now found the world over, such as LG.
South Korea had grown in 2009 to the world’s ninth largest export economy, while also ranking number one in the world for particular goods such as memory chips, display screens and ship building. Arguably, what is crucial in this respect is that whereas there is an emphasis on electronic goods, the presence of ship building demonstrates how diversified the South Korean economy is. This diversification is further amplified when we consider the South Korean cultural exports, such as the aforementioned films as well as K-Pop music, marking the diversity of the South Korean economy as a whole.
Arguably, what the film demonstrates as a whole is that a truly diverse and growing economy is not merely the result of a country’s success in a singular market, or with a singular good. When a country has a diverse economy, it is not over reliant on certain products or certain market conditions. For example, if South Korea had entirely focussed on one aspect of its economy, and on one particular good, such as memory chips, the fate of its economy would be tied to solely to memory chip technology. In so far as memory chip technology is always advancing this would place unneeded pressure on this precise sector of the economy; furthermore, if a country specializes in one technological export, then there always exists the chance that another nation may suddenly emerge as a competitor with regards to this same good and thereby damage the economy. The story of South Korea’s success in technology must therefore be thought above all in terms of its diversity.
At the same time, however, it is also important to note that South Korea’s successes are closely tied to the developments of its technological sector. In this case, the opinion can certainly be argued that South Korea is over reliant on technological exports, and above all, technological exports that are closely connected to the field of consumer electronics. Whereas this is a fair point, it can also be argued that consumer electronics and technology is itself such a diverse field, that any economy that focusses on this area is itself a diverse economy. One way to illustrate this apparent paradox is that technology is different than, for example, a country that relies on natural resources for its economic resources, such as oil exporting countries.
Such exports are limited by how much they can produce based on the finite amount of natural resources; furthermore, when changes in oil prices fluctuate, the economy is heavily hit. Another key point in this regard, is that the development of alternative energy sources would marginalize the relevance of oil exports. What South Korea’s case demonstrates, I would suggest, is the exact opposite: there is a sense in which technology is everywhere, it is so prevalent, and technology itself will always be a market that is in demand, precisely because it affects so many other sectors of the social, cultural and economic space. The use of, for example, the aforementioned memory chips clearly covers an extraordinarily wide range of gadgets, from mobile phones to automobiles to computers. Such goods will always remain in demand in a technocratic and technologically oriented society.
The challenge, as mentioned above, is however that there can always exist new challengers who may produce better technological goods at better prices. This then threatens South Korea. South Korea, in my opinion, has addressed this issue in two main ways as evidenced by the documentary. Firstly, it has sought to diversify its economy, for example, also encouraging tourism sectors, where, as the film states, imports rather than exports are essential, i.e, the importing of tourits, as well as its strong culture industry. Secondly, South Korea understands in my interpretation of the film that the very nature of technology is growth and development. The exporting of technology is not the mere production of goods, of raw materials, It is a constant process of exporting, but also one of constant revision, of research and development so as to maintain relevant in this highly competitive economic sector. South Korea has clearly maintained both a commitment to a diverse economy and technological development and it is these factors which explain its massive success.