Korea’s sustained economic growth over the last half century has been truly phenomenal. No doubt, China has made dramatic economic strides during the last three decades, especially considering its economic size. Still, China’s per capita income in 2009 was, in purchasing power parity terms, less than one-quarter that of Korea’s level. China’s per capita income would have to grow at a steady rate of 8 per cent per annum for nearly two decades-not an easy task?before it can match today’s average income in Korea.
Korea is also one of the relatively few developing countries (including Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, and, more recently, India, and Vietnam) that have convincingly narrowed the gap between themselves and the rich countries over the last three or four decades. In terms of purchasing power parity, Korea’s per capita income was $28,000 in 2008, 40 per cent of the average income in the US.
My own involvement with Korea, on behalf of the World Bank, started in the summer of 1973, and was to continue and deepen for more than a decade. I headed two major economic missions to Korea in 1973 and 1976, and remained one of the principal Bank interlocutors with Korean economic policy makers till 1984. I was also the main spokesman for the Bank on the Korean economy at the Annual Consultative Donor Group meetings in Paris. Internally, within the World Bank, I was able to play a significant role in the Bank’s expansion and restructuring of its lending program in that country, because of my very upbeat assessment of Korean economic prospects.
In personal terms, my association with Korea was probably deeper and longer lasting than with any other country, except my homeland, Pakistan. It provided me a window on Korean economy, society, its remarkable bureaucracy, and the upcoming chaebol (large, family-based business groups) in what was perhaps one of the most important decades of Korean development. Through things big and small, my understanding of?as well as admiration?for the Korean economic model grew during that period and my strong confidence in Korea’s future never wavered, notwithstanding the financial crises of the mid-1970s and the early-1980s.