Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Magandang araw! Good day!
For so long now did I harbor an admiration for certain leaders of the South, one of whom is the late Park Chung Hee of South Korea. Among the most admirable of developmentalist Asian leaders, I nurtured wishful thoughts that hopefully we can have the equivalent of Park Chung Hee for many developing economies so as to accelerate the graduation towards prosperity.
His governance style was authoritarian, which I surmise worked well for demonstrating political will in pushing through reform programs and the industrialization of his poor country. I am no dogmatist who contends that democracy is the only true best governance modality, though to my mind this is the most fit for my country the Philippines that has failed in attaining a mature developed economy via the martial law route.
South Korea was so poor as its economy was wrecked by two great wars, World War II and the Korean civil war. Right after the truce with the North, South Korea experienced the additional misfortune of selecting a corrupt leadership under Shingman Rhee which proved costly to the fledgeling nation.
Pushing through first of all with agrarian reform, by enticing the chaebols (big landlords) to divest in land and invest instead in manufacturing concerns, just couldn’t make a headway under that corrupt regime. And so it has to take the iron hands of a developmentalist authoritarian regime, under President Park, to rectify the malady and propel South Korea towards industrialization.
President Park thus enticed the chaebols to establish the strategic or heavy industries of the nation, with the state providing sovereign guarantees to their installation. The caveat was: the state will help the chaebols enable their newly owned industries and accumulate gains, but in no way should they engage in investments outside of Korea.
In an interview before with Dr. Antonio Arrizabal, former science & technology secretary and foremost expert on steel industry in the Philippines, he revealed that Park was forewarned by the Americans not to push through with the heavy industries. The first salvo of retaliatory measure was the American elites was the blockage of financing for the big projects.
Unwavering in his decision to pursue heavy industrialization, including the installation of steel and shipbuilding industries, President Park instead diversified the financing source. He turned to Japan for alternative financing, which the latter acceded to. The rise of Pohang Steel Works (once the world’s biggest steel producer) and Hyundai are clear testaments of the success of the industrialization program under the stewardship of President Park.
Very clearly, Park pursued a nationalist economic development policy regime for his country, using interventionist measures as well as capital controls. As shown by the experiences of other countries that have industrialized, state intervention and capital controls were necessary measures to propel their respective countries to industrial prosperity. Attendant social policies led to the creation of a huge middle class in the same countries, thus ensuring a steady and strong domestic market (consumption) for the manufactured goods of the country.
Park knew his economic lessons very well, and he coupled his vision with the determination and zeal to build a prosperous South Korea and a huge domestic market in the long run. And he was undaunted by external threats by the main imperialist power, the USA, of retaliatory attacks for establishing industries that would later compete with America’s and Western powers’ articles of manufactures.
For his deep patriotism and nationalism, he lost his life eventually. Inside the Korean government was a puppet of the Americans—the very chief of the Korean intelligence body (KCIA)—who snuffed off President Park’s life with a bullet.
I wish that the young Koreans and youth across the world today, who would become leaders in their own countries some day, would re-study the exemplar from Asia in the person of Park Chung Hee. No matter what threats may come from vested interests aimed at retarding the development of their respective country, they should go ahead just the same and stand pat on their wise judgement and decision to pursue highly ambitious yet doable and noble goals for their country.
Be ready to become martyrs for the cause of liberating your own country and people from poverty. For after you’re gone, there will be other patriots who will carry own your cause and bring your sublime vision to fruition.
[Philippines, 10 July 2010]
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