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Cholsoo Charles Lho

CGC Connections

Cholsoo Charles Lho

Jan. 5, 2005

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Global Connections

Happy New Year and welcome to the inaugural CGC column.

The launching of this new column comes at a particularly difficult time. The seismic ocean waves of December 26, 2004 which hit the shorelines of the South Asian nations surrounding the Indian Ocean obliterated entire towns and villages. The scale of human loss and economic destruction - not by man made terror this time but by nature's overwhelming force in the form of tsunamis - were simply inconceivable. In a matter of minutes, more than 150,000 met with sudden death while many more were injured and millions were left homeless. Indonesia and Sri Lanka collectively accounted for more than 100,000 deaths while India and Thailand also registered tremendous casualties. The global community at large, from governments to NGOs and multinational companies to private citizens, are now in the midst of mounting an unprecedented salvage effort to prevent further loss of life from injuries, hunger, and the spread of contagious disease.

Perhaps one lesson to be learned from this momentous event is how connected we all are in this fragile and ever shrinking planet. In today's internet era, that sense of connectivity is growing rapidly as both the speed and substance of information delivered enable us to share our views and input on significant world events. Not only is the internet and the unhindered flow of information already assisting the salvage efforts in South Asia, it is also prompting serious discussions for Japan, the United States and the developed Pacific Rim economies to help South Asian nations in installing a regionwide tsunami-alert system like the ones already in place in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, had these affected countries had such warning systems in place, the human casualties could have been significantly less while the cost of such a system would've been a mere fraction of the anticipated economic damage that is expected to surpass ten billions dollars.

As 2005 begins, Korea is also reminded of global connectivity and the value of information. But it is not limited to the recent natural disaster where many Koreans also perished or a Pacific regionwide tsunami-alert system of which it is already a member state. More importantly, Korea's strategic understanding of global connectivity and the value of information will determine how successful Korea will be as a nation in the years to come.

With record exports surpassing US$250 billion in 2004, Korea has performed remarkably within the span of a generation to overcome abject poverty and to establish itself as the world's 12th largest economy. Qualitatively, it has grown to become a world leader in the manufacturing areas of mobile phones, semiconductors, liquid & plasma displays as well as automobiles, shipbuilding and electronic instruments. Information technology now accounts for a growing and increasingly dominant share of the nation's economic output and Korea's broadband penetration into business and households rank highest in the world. Many of the value-added products and services also seem to be getting ever smaller in size or invisible in cyberspace. Quite literally, tiny chips with varying functional capabilities and containing millions of pieces of information are becoming thinner and smaller than a fingernail.

What does all of this mean? It means that Korea has taken off in an irreversible course towards globalization and it has little choice but to keep moving fast. Economically, this means making globally competitive goods, stepping into global sized markets, selling globally recognized brands, and speaking global language based on globally relevant ideas. Unless it keeps harnessing the powers of R&D and timely information as they relate to higher value added products and competitive overseas markets and away from the shorelines of basic manufacturing and industrial goods, both China and Japan have the potential to overwhelm Korea as 'economic tsunamis'. Sandwiched between these two Asian economic superpowers, there are non-economic issues of seismic proportions on the horizon as well. The unstable Pyongyang regime and the nuclear threat from North Korea as well as the looming strategic rivalry between the United States and China all demand that Korea puts a serious premium on strengthening global connectivity while sharing mutually beneficial information.

We at Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI) take this challenge seriously. It is in this light that SERIworld.org, our English language website, was launched just two months ago in order to communicate with the rest of the world to share our knowledge about Samsung and Korea and to explore globally relevant themes. In return, SERI hopes to develop the capacity to better think through the variety of economic and security challenges facing Korea today as the global interest in Korea has grown in tandem with its economic size. There's an acute need for SERI to initiate this effort because Koreans, despite their spectacular development of recent decades, have by and large yet to catch up with the global scale of thinking. The inauguration of this CGC column is yet another small part of that effort.

Such is the power of global connectivity and therein lies our mission as Korea's leading private think tank to keep us informed and connected to the world and vice versa. We invite our readers as well as prominent leaders and thinkers in business, government, academia and other professions to contribute their thoughts. Through the CGC Column and our website, SERI will bring people around the world closer to create an interactive dialogue, to share productive information and to promote global cooperation particularly as they relate to Korea and Northeast Asia. So please stay connected!

Sincerely,Cholsoo Lho, Ph.D.Executive DirectorCenter for Global Cooperation

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