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What distinguishing factors help explain the rapid economic growth experienced by the South Korean economy over the past four decades?
As the South Korean economy has reached a more mature stage of its economic growth, what are the evolving challenges it has had to face?
What are its prospects of continued economic success in the increasingly globalised world economy?

The rapid growth and development in the newly industrialising economies (NIE’s) in recent decades has been nothing short of spectacular. Now among the world’s most dynamic industrialised economies, the NIE’s of Singapore, Taiwan Hong Kong, and South Korea which will be the focus, stand as perhaps the best examples of successful economic development. The economic development of South Korea, which has been among the most rapid in the world is typical of the ‘miracle’ that is the NIEs.

Korea has come far since the days it was ‘a nation of hungry rice farmers’, by pursuing an industrialisation-led development commitment since 1961, which has since produced annual GDP growth of 8.4% per annum, second only to China. The success of South Korea, has been identified by a number of factors including the shift away from import substitution strategies towards export orientated industrialisation, and the effective managing of the economy and authoritarian rule adopted by the government in order to accelerate the pace of capital accumulation, technical progress and structural change to produce economic growth beyond what could possibly occur in a free market economy.

NIEs, South Korea, are now recognised as ‘export machines’ boasting some of the highest trade/GDP ratios in the world. International economic relations began in 1964 with the recognition of these limitation of the domestic market and the ineffectiveness of pursuing substitution industrialisation strategies. As part of its new strategy for export expansion the South Korean government introduced new measures which included the devaluation of the won, which improved the competitiveness of its exports and introduced incentives designed to channel resources into export-orientated industries. Exporters were also supported by direct cash payments, permission to retain foreign exchange earnings for the purchase of imports, and the exemption from virtually all import controls and tariffs. The government in consultation with firms, set up ex...

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... favourable, but the high rate of success from the growth performance in the 1980’s will be difficult to replicate. The next phase of the Asian miracle that will involve China emerging as the world’s largest economy within 10 years and the re-emerging Japanese economy will provide substantial benefits for the Korean economy. Some important strengths of the economy include: a well educated and motivated workforce, a growing level of R&D, continued rates of high savings, greater regional trade links and potential for domestic growth through increased infrastructure investment, housing and personal consumption.

In summation, South Korea is an economy which initially through selective government intervention and now through domestic and international reforms, sped to economic might. Although there are many challenges in the longer term making South Korea’s future uncertain, (including the reunification with the ailing, unstable North) the fact South Korea has come so far argues well for the future. If South Korea can make the necessary changes to its economy to become a sustained industrialised nation then it will certainly take its place as an economic leader in the near future.

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