In 1986, I happened to visit two completely different countries for totally unrelated reasons, namely Turkey and South Korea. The experience left me with favourable impressions, and now I wish to recall my observations for several reasons. Back then, Istanbul seemed like a typical Third World city; full of congestion, pollution, chaos, confusion and anxiety. Upon talking to the Turks, it was clear how perplexed and torn apart they were between their European dreams for the future, their oriental past, and their ambiguous present. In the Korean capital Seoul, the scene was quite different. The city was suffering from disturbances and demonstrations protesting against the corrupt military government, to the extent that the hotel management provided me with a gas mask along with my room key, in case I decided to walk the nearby streets whilst a demonstration was taking place!
The Koreans were also experiencing a psychological conflict in a bid to rid themselves of the complex burdened upon them by the Japanese, who had colonized them in the past. They were filled with a desire to outdo the Japanese economically. At that time Korea’s economy was fragile and mainly dependent on “counterfeiting”, violating all acknowledged intellectual property rights. As the days passed both countries underwent a key historic transformation. Powers of creativity, brilliance, and economic excellence emerged par excellence, and political stability was achieved due to the firm establishment of democracy. Subsequently, both countries (Turkey and South Korea) reached record growth rates, and achieved distinction in the domains of education, space, anti-corruption efforts, media freedom, manufacturing progress, tourism and modern technology. Turkey became a manufacturing powerhouse for the European market, the Arab World, and the central Asian republics which had seceded from the former USSR. Turkey notably excelled in all kinds of light and heavy industries, its companies soon became requested by name, and the country experienced success in unfamiliar fields such as banking, communications, aviation, the film industry, television production and tourism.
South Korea too witnessed a great leap in the heavy and electronic industries, communications, entertainment, film and tourism. Today, giant Korean companies like “Hyundai”, “Kia” “Samsung” and “LG” have become part of the global economy, and key players in their respective sectors. It is also worth noting that Seoul is currently the most connected city in the world via the internet. The South Korean education system always ranks among the first three places at international level (regularly competing with Finland and New Zealand). South Korea has become the film production centre for the Far East (and competes with the US and India in terms of the volume of movies annually produced), and is now also the centre of ski tourism and family entertainment.
I am using the examples of Turkey and South Korea to show that there is a pressing need to re-classify “First World” industrial states, rising economies, and Third World countries. The need is clearly justified by the debt crisis arising in notable countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal, which are all suffering from major economic problems caused by reckless performance, bad governance, and the absence of follow-up, transparency and responsibility. Some countries must now leave the club of “major economies” and offer their seats to others, because their ancient glory is not sufficient for them to keep their places, especially in the presence of emerging, powerful and effective economies like Turkey, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, India, China and Malaysia. All these countries have developed their regulations, laws and tools to activate their economic, political and social conditions, thereby growing into successful economies. It has become illogical and unacceptable to continue to regard such countries with arrogance, condescendence, and the colonial and imperialist mind-set which existed in former times. The standards of success are well known and the achievements of these emerging economies are clear, which in turn places “tremendous pressure” on the status quo.
The competitive atmosphere that is currently stimulating the Arab Spring will go on to generate other candidate economies, but only after their governments have undertaken drastic reforms. Afterwards, such economies will be qualified to join the world’s greatest ones. Here I am talking about countries like Ghana, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, Tunisia, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. The world is changing, and relying on an old set of standards is not only a big mistake, but also a big insult to the intelligence of others. The rules of the game have changed, and the playing field has moved.