web analytics

A lesson from South Korea

Written By: - Date published: 8:19 am, May 10th, 2017 - 9 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, corruption, International, Politics - Tags: ,

The election of Moon Jae-in to become President of South Korea is a breath of fresh air.

What the South Korean electorate has been dealing with for nearly a year shows a sickness between their political and commercial orders. They have been incredibly tightly intertwined for nearly half a century.

President Park Geun-He was impeached late last year by Parliament, ousted as President, and indicted on charges of collecting or demanding US$52 million in bribes. Samsung’s top executive, Lee Jae-Yong (whose family owns it), is also under arrest and trial. It’s claimed she also tapped retail conglomerate Lotte, and semiconductor conglomerate SK.

The exposure of alleged paid corruption from Samsung to the President of South Korea has led to the downfall of them both.

It has exposed the dangers to democracy from strong state-directed development growing so interdependent on the local corporations and families that it has protected and developed (and let me confess, if New Zealand had proportionally as many locally-owned multinationals as Korea did, we would be a very rich and exceedingly influential country). The codependent relationship of locally grown corporations and the South Korean state go back to Park Chung Hee in the 1960s and 1970s, before that to American colonisation and local response, and before that to the imprint of Japanese bureaucratic machinery. There’s history, some bad, much good.

You can get a real sense of how these mighty South Korean companies called “chaebol” that now stand astride east Asian business have grown like vines around a great tree, here.

The word “chaebol” comes from the combination of the characters for “rich” and “clan.” It applies to large groups of interconnected companies that are usually dominated by wealthy families. South Korea has several, but the best known outside the country are Hyundai, LG and Samsung. Others include Hanjin, Kumho, Lotte and SK Group.

Now, there’s all kinds of democracy, and who the hell are we in New Zealand to demand a democratic purity test? Korea started off in a far worse place socially and economically than New Zealand only forty years ago. On most economic measures they outstrip us. But there appears to have been a price, which the South Korean people have noticed.

The Korean people have now elected Moon Jae-in.

I sure ain’t saying he’s what many New Zealanders would consider socially liberal. He opposes homosexuality, for example. But he’s planning to dump their equivalent of the SIS, and dump the oppressive security laws, greatly tax the wealthy, roast the mega-corporations and who gets on their boards, clean out corruption, and hugely strengthen the public sector.

His election is a chance in some small measure to expose to sunlight this interdependence between chaebol and democracy. It’s a real lesson.

9 comments on “A lesson from South Korea ”

  1. gsays 1

    i understand the new sth korea leader is seeking to build bridges to the nth korean regime.

    • Ad 1.1

      The key question for the new leader is whether he softens relations with China’s leadership, and hardens it with the US. That will clarify the view of him from Pyonyang.

      • adam 1.1.1

        Ad, the South Korean military will not let him get to far from the USA. They just won’t, they rely on to much intelligence and hardware to operate without their help at this point. And some of the military are steadfastly convinced, rightly or wrongly – that they will be fighting a shooting war, before it is all over.

  2. Ed 2

    Here’s a really interesting article on the exact subject you mention.
    From ‘Guardian long reads’ series.

    ‘My two messed-up countries: an immigrant’s dilemma
    While her birthplace, South Korea, stood on the brink of political chaos, Suki Kim watched her adopted home of the US go into meltdown after Trump’s election. Stuck between past and future, she found herself in an impossible position’


  3. saveNZ 3

    Interesting post. NZ doesn’t seem to have any big companies that are global household names – mostly because we sold off parts of our assets and IP offshore and continue to do so as our economic strategy. Now we seem to be getting corruption too, (worst of both worlds) so maybe we will just have small to medium corrupt offshore companies…

    Anyone else think this is a backwards strategy?

    The closest we might have is Fonterra and the farm and assets themselves are being sold off so it will not be long before Fonterra as we know it as a Kiwi owned and run brand is lost.

  4. Whispering Kate 4

    I wish him well but I see in the near future some CIA meddling going on and a subtle destabilisation of his Government. I can’t see the US putting up with his refreshing way of clearing out corruption and making friendly moves towards North Korea. Fun games ahead for the poor bugger – I hope he has a heavy security detail surrounding him.

  5. He might be advised to head to Germany to find the lessons of reconcilliation the Germans learned after the wall came down.

    Does the Korean peninsula show a polarity of political view? Are they opposites or on a spectrum?

    Good luck in the years ahead to anyone who lives there or close to there – sometimes a little plant gets squashed when big beasts position for ascendance.

  6. Sable 6

    In my opinion SK (like Japan) is another US enclave. I would say making meaningful change there especially in areas of surveillance, etc, would be far from easy given the US’s propensity for meddling.

    Lets revisit in a year or so and see how many of the promises have been fulfilled.

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    NZ has much to learn from Korea – the routine prosecution of the corrupt parts of outgoing administrations is a good place to start.

    We’d do well to learn some economics – because Billy the Braggart has never had a clue wtf he was doing, and the self-styled experts at Treasury plainly aren’t much better.

    Significant taxes on property accumulation & speculation. An immigration service that isn’t a rubber stamp. Lower crime levels by an order of magnitude. Cost effective health service second only to Taiwan.

    If Korea had NZ’s natural resources they’d be richer than Croesus.

    The main difference politically is probably that while NZ governments lick the bottoms of corporations and hope their supposed expertise will benefit the public, Korean governments contract corporates and hold them to performance standards. They privatized their telecoms but broke them in two and kept legislating until they actually competed. Remember Max Bradford’s power theft? The lying companies would have been obliged to actually produce the promised savings or lose the assets, be broken up, and have their CEOs in prison. McCully would be in prison for decades just for what we know now…

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Fast-tracked Northland water project will accelerate economic recovery
    The Government has welcomed the decision to approve a new water storage reservoir in Northland, the first of a number of infrastructure projects earmarked for a speedy consenting process that aims to accelerate New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.  The Matawii Water Storage Reservoir will provide drinking water for Kaikohe, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 day ago
  • Tokelau Language Week reminds us to stay united and strong
    Staying strong in the face of challenges and being true to our heritage and languages are key to preserving our cultural identity and wellbeing, is the focus of the 2020 Tokelau Language Week. Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, says this year’s theme, ‘Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • NZ announces a third P-3 deployment in support of UN sanctions
    The Government has deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion (P-3) maritime patrol aircraft to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions imposing sanctions against North Korea, announced Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark. “New Zealand has long supported ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Pacific trade and development agreement a reality
    Pacific regional trade and development agreement PACER Plus will enter into force in 60 days now that the required eight countries have ratified it. Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker welcomed the announcement that the Cook Islands is the eighth nation to ratify this landmark agreement. “The agreement represents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Securing a pipeline of teachers
    The Government is changing its approach to teacher recruitment as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue, by boosting a range of initiatives to get more Kiwis into teaching. “When we came into Government, we were faced with a teacher supply crisis,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “Over the past three years, we ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Border exceptions for a small number of international students with visas
    The Government has established a new category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies, in the latest set of border exceptions. “The health, safety and wellbeing of people in New Zealand remains the Government’s top priority. Tight border restrictions remain ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed
    The Government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand, say Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Health Minister Chris Hipkins. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • International statement – End-to-end encryption and public safety
    We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security.  It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ministry of Defence Biodefence Assessment released
    The Ministry of Defence has today released a Defence Assessment examining Defence’s role across the spectrum of biological hazards and threats facing New Zealand. Biodefence: Preparing for a New Era of Biological Hazards and Threats looks at how the NZDF supports other agencies’ biodefence activities, and considers the context of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020
    New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020 Hon David Parker’s response following Thomas Piketty and Esther Duflo. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, wherever in the world you might be. I first acknowledge the excellent thought provoking speeches of Thomas Piketty and Esther ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago