NewAsianist’s interest in South Korea keeps growing. Despite being a distance from our tropical main area of interest, it has an honorable position here as the biggest Asian Tiger and a stellar example of how a country can propel its economy into (and often past) the ‘developed world’ by setting the right conditions for growth. Its recent past of colonialism, war, political and economic hardship has set its focus firmly on the future. Surrounded by two economic behemoths and the worst kind of next door neighbor, South Korea has emerged to produce the ‘Miracle on the Han River’ as an inspirational and very Asian model of progress. On the surface, outsiders have watched the growth of high tech and full service cities, major events like the Olympics and World Cup, and Korean brands like Hyundai, Samsung and LG become household names. Beneath that, citizens have enjoyed rapid advances in health, quality of life and education. Nominal GDP is 15th in the world, and 12th by purchasing power parity (PPP).

Interesting economic news continues to come out of South Korea. Six new free economic zones (FEZ) are under construction as model business/lifestyle cities. This week, it ended three years of difficult negotiations with a “sweeping” free trade deal with the USA. The deal removes tariffs on 95% of traded goods and is the US’s largest and most open FTA since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. The government is currently exploring other avenues of investment with parliamentary debate on tax breaks for Islamic sukuk. Tourism is increasing from other countries in the region thanks to the recent popularity of Korean TV, music and movies.

South Korea still faces obstacles unlike most other modern countries, as the past week’s military news from the peninsula has shown. But the people’s ability to push ahead and stay focused on progress is one of the things that makes the country so fascinating. We’ll continue to stay focused on South Korea too.