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
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. …