SECOND OF TWO ARTICLES
IF JAPAN IS the industrial superstar of Asia, South Korea is
proof that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
With seven giant trading companies - including such familiar
names as Samsung, Hyundai and Lucky Goldstar - South Korea is
rapidly becoming Japan's head-to-head technological rival. By 2000,
South Korea will have its own bullet train.
And though it may sound audacious for a country that was dirt
poor and agriculture-based until the 1970s, South Korea intends to
join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) by early 1997.
Only one Asian country has cracked this elite economic circle:
One American trade official, who asked not to be identified by
name, said, "It's a wonderfully schizophrenic relationship where
the Koreans detest the Japanese but have done an excellent job of
copying the Japanese structure of the economy."
For South Korean resident Kim Young-sam, being admitted to the
exclusive club of advanced countries would be more than an economic
triumph. It would be a sign that this small country of 44 million
has arrived as a free-market democracy.
For the United States, South Korea's entry into OECD would mark
another kind of transition for South Korea - from dependent to
competitor. Though South Korea still ranks far behind Japan as a
U.S. trading partner, South Korea's rapid expansion and
protectionist policies could eventually raise Japanese-style
trading troubles with the United States.
Several major St. Louis companies have already set up
operations in South Korea. Among them are Monsanto, with three
companies and $80 million in annual sales. The St. Louis chemical
manufacturer's stakes include a joint venture with a South Korean
company, an industrial chemical company and a sales operation.
Ralston-Purina has four operations: a breakfast food factory,
an animal feed plant, sales of Everready batteries and Protein
Technologies International, which makes foods from soybean
And now, says William Oberlin of the American Chamber of
Commerce Koreas, "the beer wars are going on."
As part of its push to win buyers in the tough Asian market,
Anheuser-Busch has a licensing agreement with Oriental Brewery Co.
Ltd. to produce Budweiser for South Koreans. The St. Louis-based
brewery claims to have more than 70 percent of the foreign beer
market, which nonetheless remains a small part of overall beer
consumption in South Korea.
While some critics question whether South Korea yet qualifies
as an industrial power and a genuine democracy, foreign observers
are generally amazed at its progress.
"This was one of the poorest countries in the world in the
1950s and '60s," said one U.S. official who has lived in South
Korea twice in 20 years. "Per capita income now is about $8,000. In
the 1980s, they had double-digit growth here. They have world-class
industries in shipbuilding, steel and autos, and they have a
healthy export sector in consumer electronics."
Forty years ago, Seoul was in rubble, as U.S.-led U.N. forces
battled North Korean communist troops.
Today, Taepyongo Street in central Seoul is 12 lanes wide and
clogged with growling buses, trucks and sedans - most made in South
Korea. Skyscrapers shoot up 40 and 50 stories.
Underground shopping centers, which double as pedestrian
underpasses, are bursting with compact discs, video tapes,
computers, sound equipment, leather goods, clothing and books. …