From Japan's Colony to Competitor
Japanese firms paved the way for South Korea's spectacular industrial and technological rise. SOUTH KOREA
SEOUL — CARS crawl bumper to bumper along the boulevards of central Seoul. They pass office towers, department stores, and luxury hotels that seem to erupt from the pavement on an almost daily basis. It is a scene repeated throughout East Asia's booming economies. But there is one striking difference - none of the crawling cars is Japanese. Instead of Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas, Koreans drive to work in Daewoos, Kias, or Hyundais.
Korea has resisted the wave of Japanese goods and Japanese money that has swamped many of the economies of Asia. In the past two decades, Korea has emerged as an industrial power and a growing commercial rival to neighboring Japan.
For Koreans, living next to Japan and sharing a common cultural heritage has always been a mixed blessing. Koreans harbor deep anger at Japan, which brought them sorrow through invasions and colonization. But Japan has also been a model, forging a non-Western path to modernization that Korea is following.
As did Japan through the 1950s and '60s, for example, South Korea has since the '70s followed a deliberate policy of blocking the entry of foreign cars. High tariffs and other barriers promoted the development of its auto industry. Foreign companies, many of them Japanese, were compelled to transfer their technology into joint ventures such as Mitsubishi Auto's link with Hyundai. Now Korean-made cars flow into markets all over the world, often competing directly with the Japanese.
Other major industries - from textiles, steel, and shipbuilding to consumer electronics - have been following the same pattern. Today, Korean factories are producing advanced computer memory chips, challenging the Japanese after they have virtually driven out their American competitors.
In the initial period of Korean industrialization, Japanese companies supplied much of the technology. According to Japanese government figures, from 1962 to 1985, Japan accounted for 55 percent of the technology transfer deals, compared with 23 percent for the United States.
When the Koreans sought to build a steel industry in the late 1960s, for example, they were refused help by the US, Western Europe, and the World Bank. Only the Japanese government and Nippon Steel came through.
But Korean businessmen complain that, once they became serious competitors, the Japanese stopped transferring more advanced technology. Japanese officials dispute this, pointing to new waves of joint ventures between Korean and Japanese companies.
Trade is also a source of conflict. Japan runs a significant trade surplus with South Korea as it does with many other countries. Korean exports to Japan, particularly consumer goods like textiles and electronic appliances, are rising rapidly. Still, Korean companies find formidable barriers. An executive of a Korean maker of disposable lighters tells of mountains of paperwork and safety regulations that make it prohibitively expensive even to try to enter the Japanese market.
Koreans and Japanese share a common Mongolian racial heritage and closely related languages. Over the centuries, Koreans migrated into the Japanese islands. About 1,200 years ago, Korea was the more advanced brother, bringing Buddhism and Chinese culture to Japan.
But Japan turned the tables, launching a failed invasion of Korea in the mid-17th century in a bid to wrest the country from Chinese domination. Japan ultimately gained control in 1910, ruling Korea as a colony until the end of World War II. Koreans still grow angry as they recall the harshness of Japanese colonial rule. From the early 1930s, Japanese rulers forced Koreans to adopt Japanese names and speak in Japanese.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were sent to work as forced laborers in mines and factories in Japan and elsewhere in the Japanese Empire. About 900,000 Koreans and their descendants remain in Japan, as the nation's only significant minority group. Discrimination against the Koreans in Japan is an irritant in relations.
Koreans blame Japan, in large part, for the division of Korea at the end of the war into Soviet-occupied and American-occupied zones, which became communist North Korea and the capitalist South. Official diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan were not restored until 1965. Performance of Japanese theater or circulation of Japanese films was banned until recently.
Koreans are sensitive to expressions of Japanese nationalism. Last year, for example, Japanese Cabinet member Seisuke Okuno was forced to resign when China and South Korea protested his defense of Japan's wartime role. South Koreans are particularly disturbed by decisions of the Japanese Ministry of Education to revise textbooks to soften criticism of Japan's wartime acts.
``There is no sincere education of Japanese youth about their past responsibility for the war,'' says Kim Dae Jung, leader of South Korea's largest opposition party. He compares Japan unfavorably to West Germany.
``The younger generation doesn't understand how other people suffered [in the war],'' says Lee See-young, an official in the South Korean Foreign Ministry. ``They only know Japanese suffered.... It is difficult to expect them to think about other people.''
Only Chinese, who experienced 3 million to 15 million casualties when their country was invaded by the Japanese during the war, match the wariness with which Koreans view Japan's powerful postwar reemergence.
Japan has a great responsibility to aid the development of less-developed countries in Asia, says independent National Assemblyman Lee Chul, ``not only because of its wealth, but because it has a moral responsibility for what it has done in World War II.'' But, he adds, ``whether Japan is sincere in its leadership toward common prosperity, I can't say for sure. I am very skeptical ... so long as Japan does not give up its desire for economic domination.''
Still, ``for all of their dislike and distrust of the Japanese, Japan is a physically nearby, culturally nearby model that has made it,'' observes educator Horace Underwood. Koreans look to Japan for models to change laws such as education and traffic codes, points out the Yonsei University administrator who has lived in Korea more than 50 years. ``Even words borrowed from the West come through Japan,'' Dr. Underwood adds.
Japanese-language classes at Korean universities now are full. In fashionable shopping areas south of the Han River, which divides Seoul, Korean youths parade by in Western fashions copied from Tokyo's youth culture. Record stores display imported recordings of Japanese rock stars, even though such imports are still legally barred. And some Koreans admit to a shared sense of pride in the West acknowledging Japan's accomplishments.
``Ten or 15 years ago, when I used to go to fancy hotels in Europe, they ignored me,'' a Korean businessman recalls. ``Now I am treated with respect. They think I'm Japanese!''
The Japanese ``attitude toward Korea is slowly changing,'' says Koo Bon Oh, president of the Korea Development Institute, a major government think tank. Increasingly, he says, ``Japan is truly trying to help Korea grow together.'' Japan's basic outlook is ``more global than in the 1930s. But culturally, the Japanese go to the US or Europe, and even though they are rich, they feel inferior in many ways,'' the economist says. Japanese still feel ``more comfortable in Asia,'' where it is culturally more familiar and they don't feel inferior.
As Japan grows in strength, Dr. Koo says, ``they need friends on a long journey.'' The doubts among most Koreans remain strong, however. Japan pursues its ``narrow self interest'' at all times, political scientist Han Sung-joo says sharply.
``The question is if Japan can be less defensive and more open-minded - the way the Americans were when they were rich and powerful,'' Koo adds.
Fourth in a five-part series. Other articles ran Nov. 6, 13, and 15.