The Next Global Superpower is… Korea?

Image Courtesy of: in-south-korea/Korea?! Are you scoffing? Readers, when you spied my headline did you think, “Mr. Hyena’s insane! Korea’s not a superpower; it’s a dwarf peninsula shuddering in China and Japan’s shadow! Korea’s a bisected baby-tiger south / starving-hermit north mess! Korea? Superpower?! Absurd!” Hear me out, netizens. I’ve categorized abundant facts explaining why a unified Korea (or even a solitary south) will emerge as world leader. It’s already preeminent in crucial categories. South Korea is not the destitute orphan pickled vegetable of the 1960’s or the laughable Hyundai of the mid-1980’s. SK is wired, willing, savvy, sexy and it works harder than any other hominid nation. Reunited with its surly sibling, it’ll be the Seoul center of the planet.

Direct E-Democracy: As the “most wired nation,” South Korea is 15 years ahead of the USA in broadband speed with 95% of its households online. Connectivity is aided by cramped population density in a tiny land — imagine 50 million people in Kentucky. South Korea dwells in a futuristic web frenzy with obsessive chat-room flaming, gambling, porn, games, avatar identity and social networking. The political plus: a vigorous “digital populism” instigated by bloggers and citizen reporters. Online residents of SK have overwhelmed corporate media, destroyed celebrity reputations and organized violent massive street protests at blazing speed. Politicians are now attentive. South Korea is consistently voted “Best E-Government Nation” because popular opinion is carefully consulted via government email, online polls and cyber forums.

Hardworking Economy: In 1960, SK was a famished pauper with a per capita annual income of $100. Since then, “The Miracle on the Han River” has boasted the world’s most explosive economy; 8.7% annual growth from 1960-1990 transformed it from agricultural hick into techno-metro sophisticate. SK is #1 in digital technology, #1 in shipbuilding, it constructed the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa in Dubai), the largest shopping center (Shisegae Centrum City), the biggest boat (cruise ship “Oasis of the Seas”), it houses Samsung, LG Electronics, Hyundai-Kia, Cyworld, POSCO, etc. How’d SK do it? Relentless education, long work hours (2,390 hours per person annually, 34% more than Americans) and brave creativity — they own the 3rd largest number of patents and they’re the “Most Innovative Country” according to Global Innovation Index. Meanwhile, though North Korea is one of the globe’s poorest nations — its citizens average 4 inches shorter in height than southerners due to malnutrition — it does have mineral wealth. Goldman-Sachs believes a unified Korean economy could rival Japan’s by mid-century.

Robot Future: South Korea is programming itself to become Cyborg Central and I wouldn’t wager a won against them. Currently ranked 6th in the world, the government is investing $750 million to become the world leader by 2018. Here’s a quintet of recent robo-projects: 1) They invented Mahru-Z (a blue “boy”) and Mahru-M (pink & female) — household helpers touted as the world’s most advanced ’bots in mimicry of human movement. 2) They’re building “Robot Land” — a combination grad school, R & D robotics center, and theme park with 340 robots, including 364-foot tall Robot Taekwon U, known as Voltar the Invincible to Americans. 3) They’re developing English-teaching robots to replace up to 30,000 human instructors at language institutes. 4) The government’s goal is to get a service robot into every home by 2020; one might be “Sil-bot,” a companion for elderly who plays games and maintains simple chitchat. 5) The DMZ inspired an “Intelligence Surveillance and Guard Robot” that detects and interrogates intruders, sounds alarms, and can fire with a Daewoo K-3 machine gun. Robot sales will soar exponentially in the next decade, with SK poised to prosper.

Image Courtesy of: Might: Do you regard Korea as a frail, tiny protuberance? Ponder this incredible math — combine the active forces and reserves of both NK + SK and you get The Biggest Army in the World (wiki reference below). That’s right: Korea has 10.2 million soldiers, triple the USA military (3.3 million) and towering over even China (7.02 million). A unified peninsula would possess both northern nukes and tunnel-building skills plus southern shipbuilding prowess. I’m not saying a whole Korea would be the toughest tiger, but Japan and China won’t be waltzing in like they have throughout history. rates the SK forces as 12th worldwide with NK at #20, and many pundits believe joint-Korea military strength is the principal reason Japan and China oppose reunification.

Massive Mineral Wealth: More arithmetic for you: The Rand Corporation estimates the cost of Korean reunification at $50 billion, Credit Suisse insists $1.5 trillion is the expense, and Stanford fellow Peter M. Beck posits an alarmist $2-$5 trillion. Question: Who’s got that kind of cash? Answer: North Korean mines. 360 minerals are sequestered in the Hermit Kingdom’s caves, many trapped by flooding and NK’s appalling infrastructure. Billions of tons of coal, iron, zinc, magnesite, nickel, uranium, tungsten, phosphate, graphite, gold, silver, mercury, sulfur, limestone, copper, manganese, molybdenum… worth an estimated $2-$6 trillion (Goldman Sach’s figure is $2.5 trillion). Reunification could be entirely paid for by these mines, perhaps with change left over.

Education & IQ Edge: Serious schooling is credited as the main ingredient in South Korea’s leap from rags-to-riches. SKs between 25-34 years old are now more likely to have an upper secondary education (97%) than anyone else in the world (claims an OECD report) and they’re #1 in reading and #4 in math (noted the 2007 Program for International Student Assessment). This places SK at #2 on the planet, behind Finland, even though SK is burdened with the largest class size in upper grades (20.1 Finns, 35.6 SKs). In 2005, more South Koreans were accepted into Harvard and Yale than Chinese or Indians, even though those nationalities outnumber them 22-1. Not coincidentally, South Korea also boasts the highest IQ of any nation, with Kim Ung-Yong as global champ. His IQ is estimated at 210. He could proficiently read Korean, Japanese, German and English when he was three years old.

In 1960, South Korea was a famished pauper with a per capita annual income of $100. 8.7% annual growth from 1960-1990 transformed it from agricultural hick into techno-metro sophisticate.

Green Goals: SK President Lee Myung-bak — a keynote speaker at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen — promotes an ambitious 20-year “low carbon, green growth” plan to vault his nation into world eco-leadership. Recent polls reveal that 53% of South Koreans view ecology as more important than economic growth. Responding to this are mind-boggling, beautiful eco-urban designs swarming out of Seoul: “farmpartments” for city vegetables, 50-floor towers constructed of geo-textiles and photovoltaic glass (Seoul Commune 2026), and giant greenhouse eco-domes (Ecorium Project nature reserve). Hyundai is racing hard to be car champion of fuel efficiency with its Hybrid Blue Drive. President Lee (surnames are first in Korean) was launched into office because he was the wildly popular mayor of Seoul, largely because he restored the Cheonggyecheon stream that was buried under concrete in the 1970’s, and established “Seoul Forest.”

Cyber Warriors: Cyberwar is the “warfare of the future… cyber attacks have the potential to damage our way of life as devastatingly as a nuclear weapon,” claims former director of US National Intelligence Michael McConnell. North Korea is prepared for this combat. Its elite corps of perhaps 1,000 cyber soldiers has already disrupted USA and South Korean networks. North Korean hacker-attackers are as skilled as the American CIA, claims Byun Jae-jung, researcher at South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development. (The USA is ranked best in the world by McConnell.) To counter NK viral intrusion, SK has assembled its own squad of 3,000 computer specialists. The resulting cyber-standoff duplicates the 38th parallel stalemate. Compelled by fear of each other, North and South Korea are developing cyber battle-skills superior to other nations. This will merge if they’re ever reunified.

Image Courtesy of: bx.businessweek.comSeductive K-Culture: Intense interest in South Korean socio-cultural products — dubbed “hallyu” (craze for all things Korean) or “Korean fever” or “Korean wave” — is a tsunami that’s engulfing the world. A 23-year-old Cambodian man interviewed by The Economist (1/25/10) dismissed American and Japanese cultures as “insipid relics” that have been conquered by the lure of hallyu. South Korean soap operas, video games, K-pop, fashion, and movie stars are obsessions throughout Asia, and in distant locales such as Chile, Hungary, Mexico, Norway, and Argentina. SK movie stars are mobbed at airports and chased by women on scooters; SK black market DVDs are sold in North Korea for ten times the price of American DVDs ($3.75 vs. 35 cents), and South Korea sells ten times as many cultural products to China as vice-versa. Why are youth infected with Korean fever? Is it the portrayal of a techie-mod lifestyle? Is it the emotionality and desirability of its stars? (Koreans are known as the “Italians of Asia” and a Washington Post reporter described SK male actors as “sensitive but totally ripped.”) Is any of this economically or politically important? Yes and yes. Seoul’s cultural exports double or triple every three years, and their trend-setting success sells other SK products, everything from shampoo to sweaters. Hallyu also promotes tourism, and former President Roo Moo-hyun once predicted that “hallyu will reunite the peninsula.”

Conclusion: I’m already a fan of kim chee and my cell phone is a crimson Samsung. In the future I might buy an eco-Avante, I might live in either a seasteading village-vessel made in Korea, or in a green sky-tower community designed and built by Koreans. At night, while my Korean robots clean house and cook dinner, I might relax in my Korean pajamas and watch Korean cinema on my giant plasma screen made in Korea. My conversation might be sprinkled with Korean words that I use to describe my new culture. Life is accelerating, and Koreans seem like they may be moving faster than anyone. I applaud the “Miracle on the Han River.” I admire their ability to jump out of the poverty ditch. South Korea is an inspiration. So will Korea be #1? In the last fifty years SK exceeded everyone’s expectations, so I won’t underestimate their ability, their perseverance, and their future.

Hank Hyena is editor of The Extropist Examiner, and his blog is at

85 Responses

  1. anna says:

    I am an English teacher living in Seoul for the past five years and have observed and experienced Korean culture and people extensively. In my opinion, I don’t think SK people care too much about being a “Superpower,” as much as they are into challenging themselves to achieve more. I do agree with the shortcomings of Koreans such as racism and the rigid memory-based educational system, but at the same time, any society has its flaws. In the end, what’s to be commended must be commended. And they’re pretty remarkable people who’ve built up a pretty remarkable country.

  2. Andy Tai says:

    First, superpower is defined as the meaning used in the sentence “the USA is the sole superpower of the world in the 1990s.”

    Second, Korea is between two great countries, China and Japan. Both China and Japan share many of the traits that you described of the Koreans. Hard working, emphasizing education, etc. High tech development too. What do you think make Korea unique?

    The biggest military part. If need to, China and Japan can arm more soldiers than the Koreans. 10 million? Not that much.

    For Korea to be a superpower, Korea needs to overshadow other countries in its neighborhood, not to mention the rest of the planet. Do you think China and Japan are weak and falling apart (as, say, China in 1900) and waiting there for Korea domination? The world is now seeing the rising of China as the next superpower. Korea cannot even expand either to the west or to the east, as both China and Japan will block it in the first attempt. Do you think China will let Korea annex Manchuria? Korea does not have the room to be a superpower. Korea can be a medium power, but not a superpower.

  3. Jun says:

    This year of 2011, I visited my back home country for the first time after more than 20 years living as Korean Canadian. Leaving S.Korea for Canada when I was a young kid was also my childhood memory of the country back then. To me, S.Korea is now more than 98% different from what I remembered it as! EXTREMELY CLEAN, and has highly efficient world class high-tech public transportation dotting all over the country- I heard that it is the world’s 2nd best in traffic infrastructures. Complex web of the Subway lines in some of the big cities are superb! (They clean tunnel with high-tech gear cart regularly and have awesome elongated digital ad embedded in the tunnel so that from the view inside the train is one stationary ad for anything from upcoming movies in theatre to a moving cartoon) Some places i visited (such as the city of Daegu) were meticulously cleaner than Toronto that you can’t even (almost literally), find a single garbage piece although no police chase or slap of fine (it’s not like Singapore). You can’t imagine unless you actually see yourself, how IMMENSELY HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING South Koreans have (I can’t agree how a “salary men” could afford to wear $900 suit from a viewpoint of average Canadian). Even the women’s fashions seem to be way more flamboyant and fancier than most of what Canadians see in their shopping malls. I think that fashion design students in colleges from Canada would greatly inspired and even taken aback by the South Korean fashions (To some one who might say Koreans are copycats of the Japanese fashion; NOPE! Vast majority of Korean young people or the “salary men & women” dress distinctively from the Japanese and even their hairstyles are different from their next door neighbor; you don’t find any similarity in fashion b/w them even abroad in other countries) It seems that even average people in remote farming areas have VERY high standard of living in very well furnished houses equipped with high-tech gears which impressed me quite a bit (actually they seem to be better off than many of the city dwellers in Canada – i’m sorry if i’m being offensive). Also washrooms are so clean and hi-tech that they use hand dryers equipped with some kind of UV rays that kill germs on your hands – even all the shopping malls’ food court cupboards use the similar system of UV rays to dry utensils and kill if any remnants of germs. Although my family missed the Canada’s indigenous Tim Horton coffee while in Korea, hardly any Canadian coffee shops could match either private or franchised coffee shops in Korea in terms of the trendy,flamboyant,clean, details oriented atmosphere. Although South Korea is very small geographically, architectures are MASSIVE and have impress facades as well as meticulously designed inside structures. So many things in the social life of S.Koreans seem to be visual oriented that i think is way they are developing even higher taste for quality products, innovative programs for so many areas in life ( planners, highly innovative inner city recycle programs etc) Customer/client ‘first’ services in Korea are truly exemplary that some (sorry) rather, many Canadian businesses could learn from. I believe even the medicine in many ways are more developed in South Korean than Canada – even Japan and Britain send doctors to learn in korea (e.g.robotic surgery; certain cancer patients are said to have higher survival rates in korea than the USA).
    So many things are staggering in korea; it is truly a “MASSIVE” country, believe it or not.
    btw.both japanese and korean languages share similar linguistic roots as some academia put into separate category of “Japanese & Korean” language group which is a part of broader Altaic/Uralic language groups which includes Mongolian,Turkish,Hungarian,Finish etc. Interestingly,Chinese belongs to Sino-Tibetan language group. Both are non-tonal languages unlike the Chinese language that uses tones. Exactly same S.O.V=Suject,Object,Verb grammar order and exactly same honorific & non-honorific ending of sentences (depending on to whom you’re speaking to) and strikingly similar intonation and pronunciation of many words. One reason both ancient Japanese and ancient Korean had to develop their own writing system based on alphabetical system were because of the Chinese writing characters which is perfectly suited for tonal language of spoken Chinese had limitations in expressing the non-tonal languages of Korean and Japanese. That was why koreans developed “Idu” system before “Hanguel” and though “Idu” was still insufficient for ancient Koreans there are evidences in japan that “Idu” was used also in Japan.
    Please pardon me for too long comment.

    • Somedude says:

      Old post I know. Jun, you’re joking, right? I live in Korea, and there are plenty of good things one could say about it. But clean? Are you blind? There is garbage in the streets everywhere. Streams in my town never freeze because of all the chemicals. Bathrooms are clean? Did you only use bathrooms at department stores and five star hotels or something? Rest assured that 99% or more of Korean public restrooms are disgusting, just like they are in the rest of the world. Oh, and those silver suits don’t cost $900.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Actually updated in 2011. SK is now ranks #7 and NK dropped down to #22. A combined Korea would have 75,500 tanks, compared to Japan’s 900. A unified Korea would also out-weigh the Japanese in its Navy, Air Force and man power. Not to mention Korean troops are better trained in all fields.

    In short, If a United Korea enters a conventional war with Japan, Korea would win in a matter of weeks. SK alone could probably defeat Japan. No offence to any Japanese people. Just stating my opinion.

  5. kornel says:

    basically nice article here. but many things are missing: the source. many data was put here, but many of ’em don’t have any valid source. it just ‘the OECD bla bla bla’ or ‘the globalfirepower bla bla bla’ without any footnote/endnote about the original report.

    my suggestion: learn how to reference, and edit this article. this is academically bad article.

    to other anonymous: the picture definitely shows korean character, the hangul. i learnt chinese, japanese and just started korean so i know..

  6. gabriel says:


    Late in the game with this reply.

    After a few nights of watching Korean film (some of the best cinema in the world), I have been missing my time I spent living in an all Korean rooming house in Los Angeles.

    Korean language and culture is so fascinating to me.

    So I searched ‘Korea global superpower’ because I suspect that Korea has what it takes to be competitive. I mean, their culture is so powerful.

    Koreans seem smart to me on a level beyond simply the fact that they had to memorize tests and Hangul. There is something about them that has a wisdom that I suspect is a carryover from the fairly recent shamanistic elements of Korean society.

    I believe that the way a language sounds, the aesthetic aspects of a language beyond the definitions of the words, influences how it’s speakers think. Korean is supposedly annoying to some Westerners, but to me it is so expressive and animated. I suspect that beneath the often stoic and reserved surface (of older generations of Koreans, younger people seem more open) there is an intuitive, emotionally intelligent core.

    To surmise, Korean people just seem more honest, with themselves and with each other, than many cultures I have encountered. This is not to say ‘Mexicans are liars’ or ‘the French are dishonest’, just that Koreans seem to me to ‘wear their hearts on their sleeves’, meaning that they are not afraid to show emotion.

    Certainly they are not the only culture to be this way, but I find it more pronounced. This I have observed by living with Koreans and watching their films.

    Also the way Koreans move, their physical gestures, is very animated.

    I don’t know where i am going with this really, except to say that I could see Korea really swallowing up neighboring cultures, and people adopting Korea as their parent culture, in language and attitude.

    Now regarding the more economical and militaristic aspect of this discussion, I read a book that addressed this called ‘The Next Hundred Years’. It predicted that basically as far as Asia is concerned, Japan will dominate for a very long time.

    The argument was that Japan has better access to the Pacific and thus better control of global trade. China will never rival it, and Korea basically must ask permission from Japan to send out ships. Japan is like the gatekeeper to the Pacific. The book said that Japan is just simply in hibernation at the moment, but will awaken again.

    As an aside, the book finalized its predictions by anticipating WWIII. This war would be between a couple main factions. Japan would ally itself with Turkey, the U.S. with Poland. I think the idea was that Turkey and Poland are both in geographical positions to control the oil of the region, Turkey being located strategically over the Bosporus and the Suez Canal.

    Poland is a land gateway to Russia, and in the geo-politics of the future, this book alleges that Poland will emerge as a superpower in Russia’s vacuum.

    • Bradley says:

      Interesting view point. As you said it is correct that the Japanese have a geographical advantage for their land mass is in-between one of the most busiest shipping lanes in the world. However as of today, due to Maersk’s Triple E class container ships’ large hull there aren’t ports deep enough for the container ships to entre and exit. That is in Pusan South Korea. Despite this fact there are numerous factors that will limit the development of a nation, so only through time we will know what can or will not occur.

  7. Lisa says:

    Props. I could see a reunited Korea catching up to Japan. SK is doing fine on it’s own right now as well.

    Sure, they’re not perfect–but looking at the resilience and determination of the Korean people, I could definitely see it happening.

    Go Korea! Haha.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Korean descendants conquered China twice in the past.

    Koreans (Kim Hambo from Silla) originated Jin dynasty and they conquered China (Northern Song) in 1127. Their descendants restored Jin dynasty in 1616 (changed the name Qing), and conquered China (Ming) again in 1644. They colonized China until Chinese got independence in 1912.

    It is reasonable that Korea is the next superpower.

  9. Anonymous says:

    lmfao yes korea k-pop?…….. yes 95% full of disgusting plastic surgery yep then i guest those idiots chaisng theo disgusting korena k-pop plastic surgery fuck ups like to take plastic pussy. lmfao korean r all fake this news is SOOOOOOOO biased

    • Anonymous says:

      hmmm oh yes most of hollywood only do the boobs anyway so guess that don’t really count neither does botox and injecting silicon into their noses and cheeks ay

      Yeah fake like the big hollywood movies where somehow there’s always a happy ending with the yanks coming to save the world from commies, terrorists or the zombies?

      Biased based on what? obviously you skipped most of the whole article and read the korean pop part cos the writer only wrote what has happened up2 now and hinted at the POSSIBILITY that it could happen in the future. He didn’t say anything like “KOREA IS NEXT WORLD POWER”.

      You expressed no facts and a shitload of opinion and your calling the writer biased? If your not gonna read the whole article then you should just piss off and go watch the E! channel

  10. Anonymous says:

    Keep up the good work Korea!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think that the image, which is used to expain ‘Seductive K-Culture’, is not Korean girl because the letter holded by the girl does not seem to written by Korean.

  12. Anonymous says:

    korean military isnt 10 million… now i dont believe anything you said cause thats a flat out lie :\

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Research it quickly and you’ll find out that my facts are correct. The 10 million is a composite of both North and South Korean militaries, plus their sizable reserves.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I like your point. However, readers are not going to believe if all logics are only from technology advance in Korea. Your point will be strengthened if Korean and Asian history in the past supports your point.

    Korean, Mongol, and Manchus are Altaic people who are genetically closest. They were evolved during glacial period, so they have a bigger brain than any other races. From Siberia to Manchuria and Korea, land covered with ice, and harsh environment pushed humans in Northeast Asia into extreme. Barely survived people who had better intellectual power remained. They are now Koreans and Mongols. Japanese were Koreans who moved to Japanese island 2000 years ago.

    Mongols conquered China and built the biggest land empire in human history with tiny population. Manchus conquered China too. Manchus are actually Korean descendants. Manchus were unified by Silla royal family, and majority of Manchus were ethnic Koreans.

    Other Altaic people were mixed with other races. For example, Turkish were heavily mixed with Middle Easters. Japanese were mixed with Ainus. Mongols are mixed with Russians. Manchus disappeared after mixed with Chinese. Only Koreans are maintaining pure blood. The highest IQ rank of Koreans (and next Japanese) is not coincidence or result of education. It is from genetics.

    Mongols and Manchus conquered China and built huge empires in human history with just one million population. They became world superpower with small population even without advanced technology and advanced weapons. Their only weapon was their brain.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Korean descendants conquered China twice in the past.

    The history of origin of Jin and Qing dynasty was finally broadcasted in KBS. The originator of Jin(金, Kim) dyansty was a Korean who name was Kim Ham-bo.

    Royal family of Silla (Korean dynasty) moved to northern Korean penninsular and founded Jin dynasty (AD 1068). They conquered China (Northern Song dynasty) and moved capital to Beijing. This country was destroyed by Mongol’s Chingis Khan in 1234.

    But, their descendants restored Jin (金, Kim) dynasty in 1616 (changed to Qing(淸) later) and conquered China (Ming dynasty) again in 1644. They colonized China until Chinese got independence in 1912.

    Watch Korean History Special by KBS:

    Short version with English subtitle:

    Full version:


  15. Anonymous says:

    Lol, korean are sure good at wishful thinks.

    Talking about superpower when they are still estentially a vassal state of the USA and their army is still under the commandship of a US general, make you wonder how much pills they have taken before they write such entertaining article.

    I guess the only realistic goal for them is to become a comedy superpower or a plastic surgery superpower (which they have already earned these titles anyway).

    • greatsingapore says:

      Well,please don’t understimate Korea. I am sure they will become more powerful as their technology continue to dominate the world. And,to talk about plastic surgery,I still praise them for their huge success in surgery. You have to give credit when you should. Moreover,Korea ranks below Taiwan,Japan and Singapore in number of people per population who underwent surgery.Just because Korea has highest technology in plastic surgery,people are naturally inclined to think that Koreans undergo plastic surgery the most.Please get your facts right before you criticize.

    • anon says:

      wrong, the army is not commanded by a U.S general. The general is there to command the US troops stationed there to train with them.
      They are not a vassal state, not even close. the two countries signed a military agreement. SK depends less on the U.S now, they are simply very close allies.

      Also, the two reasons you gave are inconsequential, even if they were correct. A superpower is not just all about military. It’s also about resources, influence, culture, etc etc.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’m currently a high school student in South Korea, and I can’t agree with you on the part about education. The education we receive here is mostly memorizing and learning how to solve problems faster. All South Korean students have to take a test called Su Neung to go to college, so most of the studying is oriented at getting a good score. There is very little room for creativity in our education system, and after three years of ‘intense training’, most South Korean students become problem solving machines instead of being creative. This is why South Korea has no Nobel Prize winners in science. Overeall, I think this article is a huge exaggeration of SK’s education system and South Korea in general.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank Hyena, the author – thanks for your information. I am writing another article specifically on South Korea’s education system, for another site called What I discovered is what you have mentioned here, that SK’s students do not generally perform very well in America’s top universities due to the emphasis on memorization and little training in creative thinking. But have you read Hplus’s new article on South Korea? Read that, I think you’ll enjoy it. Thanks again

  17. Jack says:

    Haha, a Cambodian says he likes Korean culture?
    That’s because there was a huge wave of korean investment in the country up until the golbal crisis. Or rather, up until the last Korean election, when the president, who favoured Cambodia, and thus enouraged all his business cronies to invest, was replaced by one who doesn’t much.
    Also marriage of Cambodians to Koreans has recently been banned, again. It seems Korea has a prostitution problem, and not enough ‘workers’.

    Korea got it’s start by huge investments and trade agreements from the US as a bolster to the communist north.

    Koreans are xenophobic, and generally regarded by expats, and even visitors as pretty nasty.

  18. Rosencrance says:

    한류 or “Korean Wave” aside, this article misses out on some pretty big points. Yes, Korea has performed a miracle by developing so rapidly but it cannot really be considered a leader or innovator in education since corruption is still a big problem in Korea and if you can buy a degree, then the degree isn’t worth anything.

    Moreover, that massive combined Korean military that the author envisions is off by a factor of five: the South’s forces are under a million and the North’s are just over a million, so I don’t know where he gets 10 M from. If South and North were to combine, they’d have a total population of about 61 M. One in six Reunified Koreans in the military would be a gross misallocation of human capital. As if that wouldn’t be enough to tank their economy, the cost of reunification would put a bullet in the head of the Miracle on the Han (River) for a few generations. When you look at the German reunification woes and costs and understand that the Korean disparities in income are more severe while their populations are closer at about 2:1 as opposed to the former W.& E. Germanies’ 4:1 or 3:1, then the picture grows grimmer.

    But the author gets one thing absolutely right: 김치는 진짜 맛이 있던 말이야.

    Having lived in the Republic of Korea for two and a half years, I can tell you that it’s a great place full of great people, but some Koreans’ aspirations of becoming a superpower are a bit unrealistic. But also unrealistic are other Koreans’ inability to feel a level amount of pride at the Miracle on the Han amongst their great accomplishments in the 20th and 21 centuries.

  19. SFMD says:

    Yes Yes, All praise to the Glorious Korean peninsula. (sarcasm)

  20. Jaybe says:

    hey you guys miss something, what about england..? there were many population. or they had enough land? they were just island but once became
    super power. Anything can be changed.
    Our view is too short..!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have only two comments.

    Education- I am a professor in one of Korea’s top universities, and while I would agree that Korean youth are hugely more educated than their American counterparts, they are not better educated. The focus of education, up to the uni level, is on test taking. They become memorizing machines that are forced, and even physically brutalized by both teachers and parents, to study for 14 or more hours a day in order to pass entrance exams into top schools.

    This means they are not given time to develop independent or creative thinking, social skills, the ability to make responsible choices, or even a mature personality and outlook on life and the world. My freshman students are more akin to the average American 16 year old in those aspects. Besides this, there is a huge problem with suicide among young people, brought on by the demands of a competitive educational system, and later, a competitive and corrupt corporate environment (they top the OECD countries for suicide. Many university students prefer to spend their week drinking and carousing than actually studying- why not? It’s the first time they’ve ever experienced freedom and a chance to make choices. The professors are pressured to inflate their grades to compensate.

    As to halyu, particularly in music, the vast majority of it is fluff that has been copied from the west, reworked a little, and spat back out. They’ve even ripped off entire songs (particularly old disco or rock from the seventies and eighties, like Blondie), which the young listeners believe are entirely Korean creations.

    TV is, at times, used to explore issues (which has been noted) that the West dealt with decades ago. Or, to support and spread stereotypes about foreigners and other minorities- foreigners are typically portrayed to be either evil (drug users, pedophiles, etc.), or insipid, dancing monkeys for their entertainment.

    I do agree about some of the movies, however. I have many favourites from Korea: Oldboy, JSA, The Chaser, Memories of Murder… But they seem to be the exception.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank, the author, thanks for your information. I actually wrote another article on South Korean education, for another publication called, and as I researched it I was dismayed to learn everything that you mentioned in this email, the corporal punishment, the suicides, the rote learning. South Korean high school students do test very high internationally, but as you point out, it is at a high cost and very deceptive. SK students at top universities in the USA also have a very high drop-out rate, far higher than Indians or Chinese. Thanks again for your comments.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Another Korean spouting off about how great Korea is…going..back…to….sleep….

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank Hyena, the author. I have been called many things before, but never “Korean” —
      I am just your average white guy

      • Joe Quirk says:

        You lie, Hyena! You may be white, but you are not average. I thought your articles about sexbots and male circumcision showed a dedication to research that couldn’t possibly be topped. I was wrong. I’ve been interested in South Korea for years. You bring it all together in a very entertaining & illuminating way here. Bravo!

      • Valkyrie Ice says:

        I have to agree with Joe, Hank. You are far from average.

        I can see your points about Korean net density and the fact that they are even more technophiliac than even Japan has been in the last few decades. As such, they offer a preview of the kind of changes a highly networked society is going to have to undergo due to that very interconnectedness. The USA is presently in the early stages of that transition, and regardless of corproate obstructionism, and political shenanigans, will inevitably begin to adopt some of the same behavior as the S Koreans, especially in regard to public direct access to the political machine. Politicians are about to learn that dollars cannot buy every vote, and the more outraged their constituents are the more danger they are in of losing their jobs regardless of however many millions they rake in on the side. The more connected people are, the less tolerant they are of being sold out by politicians, as S Korea showed, and Iran and the US are presently showing.

        S. Korea may or may not become a superpower, but it is, and will be, a shining example of what universal internet access and improved education can do for any former 3rd world country, and it won’t be too many more years before we begin seeing many more countries like it.

  23. Anonymous says:


  24. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the sentiment but I think it will end up more like Japan. Lets say a Japan 2.0 with new fresh meet to try the new things but not with the muscle to keep at the top. The muscle I mean is the man power. To be a super power you need to produce like one. I do no think they are going to beat china or india in the long run. After this young nation sheds its new skin they will become like Japan… old and tragic. Because they won’t have the kids to keep powering it.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank, the author — regarding your comment “they won’t have the kids to keep powering it” I’m assuming you mean that Korea’s population is dropping, like Japan’s. Korea will still have “kids” of course, and those kids will be among the best-educated on earth. Like Japan, Korea is also deeply invested in robots that will do everything blue-collar, plus teachers, technicians, etc. I don’t think a high fertility rate and a large population of children is necessary in the future if you have robot workers, and if your children are well-educated and innovative. Also, if all your workers continue job-training and education so they don’t become “old and tragic.” Thanks for your comments – !

      • Anonymous says:

        Koreans seem to go for quality more than quantity. Couple that with a strong sense of ‘long term view for effects’ and you get a powerful mixture.
        The West looks to the balance sheet next year, not any further in most cases. That’s why we have not been able to come close to solving the air pollution issue which is more than 30 years old. It’s about time, the East had more influence, and I am a Westerner, was born that way, not sorry!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Very cool article! I have a couple of comment (just options).

    A thoroughly homogeneous culture (like SK, xenophobia and all) could be compared to a bee hive or society ant. SK might lack diverse perspectives that could lead to increased creativity, but their efficiency has ensured success in an increasingly “corporate” world. As long as they continue absorbing ideas & knowledge from outside SK, their success will grow.

    E-democracy? It’s tempting to recommend local improvements based on proven success. However, although the US government is tediously ineffective at solving problems, I disagree that a more representative, e-democracy would be better. If we want problems fixed, proven methodologies already exist for effective problem-solving and solution-design. It’s true these methods often use popular vote to establish the “desirability” of various options, but that is all. Beyond that small bit, democracy has virtually no role in solving problems. Based on my observations, neither do popular, elected officials. I expect that’s why significant national social problems tend to linger until the solutions are obvious to everybody. With it’s more unified culture, perhaps SK’s government has the advantage of earlier recognition of obvious solutions.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      hi — this is Hank Hyena, the author – thanks for your comments — I agree with the first one – although someone commented earlier that Korea’s xenophobia would slow it down, I don’t agree with that, using examples like WWII Japan and Germany, and your insect colonies as well, I suppose. Regarding your second point, hmm…. I have read various opinions stating that China has a present advantage because it is not “paralyzed by democracy” as the USA is, but the negative is that intellectuals prefer to live where there’s more individual freedom. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I think an e-democracy can vitalize any citizenry and nation. Thanks for your comments!

  26. Davison says:

    Do you think they will ever overcome their national urban myth of “Fan Death”?

    It seems very odd that a hi-tech “wired” society would allow such a ridiculous mentality to persist.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank Hyena, the author — thanks for letting me know about this — I’d never heard of FAN DEATH — it really is a weird and primitive idea — although not precisely related, there is also a huge percentage of “Pentecostal” Christians in South Korea

  27. Anonymous says:

    Italy is not influential in any way to the majority of Europe, comparing Italy to Korea is nearly an insult. Italy has had nearly no influence on the world over the last 500 years. “It is referring to an emotional, demonstrative character”- No idea what that means. The only true “Superpowers” in history have been The Roman Empire, the British Empire, and Alexander’s Macedonian Empire, and of course the Mongolians!

    • Anonymous says:

      Simply by not knowing what it means renders your whole point moot. When he compared Italy to SK, he was not talking, at that point, about economics, industry, or any other thing like that. He was talking about the mentality of SKs, the average emotional balance.

      That is what he was comparing between the two.

      • Rosencrance says:

        A better comparison between Korea and a European country would probably be between Korean and Ireland.

        Both have a love of drink. Both are next to a major power that has humilitated it historically, although Ireland has no corresponding power that it kowtowed to as happily as the Koreans did to China. Both have gone from undeveloped to pretty damned impressive in a short amount of time, the Koreans under the US military umbrella and the Irish as the poster children of EU development. Both are quite religious, but the Irish religion comes from Rome, whereas the Korean “religion” has more to do with being Korean.

        Neither will be a superpower, but both are pretty damned interesting.

        One major difference between the Irish and Koreans though has to do with racial identity. Every time that an Irish and a non-Irish procreate, the child can happily claim some abstract notion of belonging to the Emerald Isle, especially in the US. That’s why something ridiculous to the tune of one in six Americans claim to be of Irish ancestory. Koreans on the other hand view mixed children as decidedly not Korean. In this way, the number of Koreans shrinks with every generation irrespective of fertility or population replacement rates.

        If we can take President Obama as an example, we might one day in the distant future live in a world where many people are proudly African and/or Irish, but if the Koreans stick to their ideas of racial purity, then they’ll go the way of the dinosaur.

  28. CK says:

    interesting post!

    in my view, two things need to happen for this to become a plausible reality rather than
    an fanciful blog post:

    1. To truly be a leading nation and attract top innovators and workers from other countries, Korea needs to embrace a more cosmopolitan, open-minded attitude toward foreigners, immigrants, and different nationalities. There seem to be a few encouraging signs here and there (increased presence of Southeast Asians, for example) but I will remain firmly skeptical until the country fixes its execrable attitude toward blacks and other darker complected people. This collective insularity also extends to its business practices – the country is completely dominated by family-owned business conglomerates that practice what people call “crony capitalism,” resulting in endless self-serving circle jerks, making it difficult for new competitors to even have a crack at sk’s markets, and resulting in a certain level of stagnation.

    2. keeping all that in mind, the author’s charges of korea’s innovation (on the level of culture and education) and seem overstated at best. the real reason korea’s soap operas do well with developing countries such as Malaysia, Argentina, and Mexico is because its ideologically conservative themes grapple with cultural “””taboos”””” that Americans and other western countries got out of the way about sixty years ago–divorce, step children, feminism–i’m not kidding. One interviewee from Iran actually said outright that the popularity of SK’s soap operas in Iran had to do with the fact that it conformed to the conservative values of Islam. (korean FILM is a whole ‘nother story)

    As for education – while Korea has unparalleled math and science education, its heavy reliance on standardized testing and its vehement and unrelenting emphasis on skills such as precision, detail orientation, and accuracy virtually chokes out other vital assets in the global market, such as originality and interpersonal communication. I don’t want to undermine the importance of math and science education – it’s a huge problem in the US – but if Korea wants to transition from a nation of highly skilled manufacturers to a nation that produces, markets, and sells IDEAS and innovation, then they need to step it up. Let’s see them deliver a cultural export on the level of, say, the IPOD. then we’ll talk.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      hi — this is Hank Hyena, the author — thanks for your information. yes, I hear what you’re saying — about the conservative themes in SK’s soap operas, the xenophoboia, the faults of it’s education system — all great points.
      I do think they’re already quite innovative though – I am particularly impressed with their architectural design.
      thanks for posting your opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      South Korea already has a cultural export on the level of the IPOD, it’s their Samsung TV’s. They own the LCD market. And before the IPOD there was the Sony Walkman which comes from a xenophobic nation – Japan. When Sony had trouble with their LCD’s, who did they turn to? They turned to Samsung. Which company recently surpassed Ford to become the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the world? Also which automobile company was the only one to make profits in the billions, while everyone else was losing money including Toyota? It was Hyundai.

      In America (Detroit), who’s the people designing the cars these days? It’s Koreans –

      South Korea is #1 on the Global Innovation Index. Scientists in Korea are making a slew of discoveries (cloning, etc.). Countries such as Germany and Russia (during the cold war) had it’s fair share of innovation and they didn’t embrace foreigners at all. I could go on and on but I won’t, if you want to be simple minded then that’s fine. Korea has its fair share of faults but there’s no denying it’s growing influence int he world.

  29. Gongbao Jiding says:

    Hmm… another thing that wasn’t raised here is the Korean predisposition to racism and xenophobia. Koreans are easily more xenophobic than the Japanese, and their racism is of the “purity” variety, not the “assimilationist” variety of the Chinese. Americans aren’t often aware of this at first, because Koreans tend to be fairly warm towards them (they’re still grateful for our defeat of the Japanese and Chinese in WWII and the Korean War, and the aid we gave them in rebuilding their country), but there is a very insular element to their character which will probably prevent them from being a “superpower” as such. Oh, they’ll be a major player- like Britain, France, Germany, or Italy- but superpower? Not a chance…

    Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been to Seoul and hope to travel more in Korea (I especially covet a visit to Pyongyang), I fly Korean Air between the US and my adopted home in Shanghai, I’m crazy about Korean people (and their food!)… but they’re not superpower material.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I’m a bit curious to why you say that the “Oasis of the Seas” is South Korean, considering that it makes port in Nassau and was built in Finland.

    I also find it a bit funny that all the characters being depicted in the picture next to your “hallyu” text are japanese characters.

    Other then that, great article and an interesting read.

    • Hank Hyena says:

      Hi – this is Hank Hyena, the author — Oasis of the Seas was built by a South Korean company, in Finland — here’s some info on it:

      The liner was constructed by STX Finland – part of a larger South Korean shipbuilder. ‘Oasis of the Seas’ is now owned by US company Royal ……/largest_cruise_ship-world_record_set_by_

      Economy of South Korea – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – 2 visits – Jan 25
      MS Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest passenger ship, was built in Finland by South Korean shipbuilding group STX Europe.

      Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, is the pride of South Korea’s shipbuilding industry. Manufactured in STX Europe’s shipyard in Turku, Finland, the $1.5-billion ship was completed and turned over to the U.S.-based Royal Caribbean cruise line on Oct. 28, and two days later, left Finland for the United States. Oasis measures 225,282 gross tons, almost five times larger than the Titanic, having 2,700 cabins that can accommodate up to 8,500 passengers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, those are Korean characters. This just shows how culturally ignorant you are; you probably can’t even tell between Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean =.=

    • Anonymous says:

      No these are not japanese characters, but hangul. Some primitive characters that the koreans developed because their tiny brains can’t memorize all the hanzi/kanji. Lawl!

      • Alex says:

        If you had a brain, you would do some research online.

        Hangul is the only language registered in UNESCO, and is hailed by linguistic scientists to be the world’s most scientific and efficient writing system.

        If you look at history, you will see that pictograms or ideograms like the Egyptian hieroglyphics are, in fact, primitive writing systems that died off when phoenetic writing systems like the western Alphabet or Korean Hangul came into existence. Yet, some countries like China and Japan still use ideograms aka Characters. So, Hangul is primitive? One thing I want to make clear is that the Chinese writing system can’t even be typed unless it borrows from the foreign western alphabet albeit the pin-ying system.

        Now, since you said Hanzi, I have to say, you must be Japanese! Therefore, I would like to say that your writing system still is mostly borrowed from China’s ideograms because Kanzi is incapable of making a full expression of your own language. So much for nationalistic pride!

        Thanks to Hangul, Korea has the world’s highest literacy rate, according to OECD’s reports (do you know what OECD is?) among OECD countries. Now, being a member of the OECD is crucial because figures released from OECD countries hold statistical value while figures from non-OECD (meaning, underdeveloped in economy or politics) are propaganda-based.

        My post, however, is not about OECD membership, but about your ignorance.

        Just Google: “Hangul” and you will see, fool.

        btw, I’m a Korean who speaks Korean, Chinese, English, and French, with an Bachelor of Science from Columbia University. I didn’t pick up on speaking Japanese yet, but I think I will start learning it so I can kick your ass in your own language too.

        • Anonymous says:

          Even if you were right, people like you are those who hinder the Korean nation from becoming a superpower.
          Not just in my opinion. The general public is agreeing that foreigners get the wrong impression that Koreans are agressive, because some of us are agressive.
          Nothing personal, but rude language in English in a foreign langauge might not look good.

      • Anonymous1 says:

        Agressive language against a neighboring nation doesn’t look good, does it?
        Also, get the facts right before you post something. I don’t like Mr. Alex’s rude language, but I also think you are an ignorant person.

  1. April 22, 2013

    […] Korea ruled by Seoul provides other benefits too – it could potentially be one of the new economic superpowers of the 21st century. The entire north would be ruled as a gigantic special economic zones, with wages a fraction of the […]

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