Korea Bailout Jimmies Open Hermit Nation $55 Billion IMF Deal, Signed Yesterday, Forces Koreans to Accept Foreigners in Economy. Series: Seoul Police Hold Back Stockholders Yesterday Who Demanded the Government Shut Down the Stock Exchange to Stop Further Declines in Share Prices. after Decades of High Economic Growth, Koreans Are Shocked at Their Nation's Sudden Decline. BY AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

By Michael Baker, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Korea Bailout Jimmies Open Hermit Nation $55 Billion IMF Deal, Signed Yesterday, Forces Koreans to Accept Foreigners in Economy. Series: Seoul Police Hold Back Stockholders Yesterday Who Demanded the Government Shut Down the Stock Exchange to Stop Further Declines in Share Prices. after Decades of High Economic Growth, Koreans Are Shocked at Their Nation's Sudden Decline. BY AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP


Michael Baker, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Everybody does their little part. If you've got a dollar, a mark, or a yen, you can drop it in a collection bucket around Seoul, and contribute to the nation's dwindled foreign reserves.

But saying it's a drop in the bucket is an understatement.

A $55 billion rescue loan - the biggest ever - was given to Korea Inc. by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Wednesday, in an attempt to reverse a nose-diving economy and stop Asia's financial rot from spreading to the rest of the world. The crisis has achieved what US trade negotiators never could: swinging open the reluctant door of the Hermit Kingdom to foreigners. "Outside-country people" will now be able to own half of a Korean company, for instance. Korea's antiforeign feelings go back centuries, when farmers grew accustomed to competing in a zero-sum game with farmers in the next valley or kingdoms across the sea. Many Koreans find it incomprehensible that their economy now needs to go through the "bone-aching pain" that President Kim Young Sam recently called for. "The country's pretty open in that we have lots of foreign trade. But the minds of the general public aren't that open," says Rho Sung Tae, president of Hanhwa Economic Research Institute. Many Koreans think American special interests are behind the IMF's market opening measures. "There will be resistance to this foreign presence in the economy," says Mr. Rho. Asking the IMF for help was the ultimate - if inevitable - capitulation. But opening the economy to foreigners and international standards shouldn't be much compared to the past. Koreans have experienced centuries of direct foreign domination, by Mongols, Chinese, and Japanese. In vain, they have aspired to control their destiny while nicknaming their country "a shrimp among whales." North Korea's ideology of self-sufficiency, known as juche, is a version of this old Korean ideal. And although North Korea is a cruel and bankrupt dictatorship while South Korea is an aspiring and affluent democracy, Southerners are rubbed raw by North Korean propaganda calling them a "lapdog" of imperialist Americans. Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Lim Chang Yeul, who negotiated the deal with the IMF over several tense days of talks, is known for nationalistic concerns, not liberal economics, and is seen as a heart-felt defender of the nation by xenophobic Koreans. The conservative policymaker is a tough negotiator, but analysts say a more liberal minister might serve his country's real interests better.

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Korea Bailout Jimmies Open Hermit Nation $55 Billion IMF Deal, Signed Yesterday, Forces Koreans to Accept Foreigners in Economy. Series: Seoul Police Hold Back Stockholders Yesterday Who Demanded the Government Shut Down the Stock Exchange to Stop Further Declines in Share Prices. after Decades of High Economic Growth, Koreans Are Shocked at Their Nation's Sudden Decline. BY AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP
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