A lesson from South Korea
South Korea came on the international map around the same time as Indian independence. Today the South Koreans boast of a trillion dollar economy with just 50 million people which is in stark contrast to a 1.1 trillion dollar economy of India which has 1.2 billion people.
India needs to learn from South Korea many things. To start with, it will do well to learn from the South Koreans how to turn a covert inimical act from across the border into an advantage which can fill Indian coffers with millions of dollars annually.
India’s Border Security Force (BSF), the world’s largest paramilitary force, had on July 28, 2012 discovered a freshly-constructed 400-meter tunnel on the Wagah-Attari border, the designated entry/exit point at the India-Pakistan border for legal trade and movement of people between the two neighbours. After the initial hullaballoo triggered by the sensational discovery, not much is known what the Indian authorities intend to do with the Pakistan-built tunnel. Obviously, the tunnel had been built with ulterior motives and not for tourism purposes.
But this is exactly what the Indian government can do – and should do – if it were to follow an extremely successful and money-spinning initiative by the South Korean government.
Way back in 1974, the South Koreans got intelligence reports of suspicious structures close to the international border between the two Koreas which is just 20 miles or 37 kilometers from the South Korean capital of Seoul. The South Korean security establishment got cracking immediately and started investigations. It took them nearly four years and hard work in undating the reported area with water which revealed the existence of a tunnel.
Finally in 1978 the cat was out of the bag and three North Korean-built tunnels came to light. The longest of them is 1,650 meters long. The North Koreans shrewdly painted the tunnel interiors coal-black to give an impression that it was a coal mine that was subsequently closed. But the North Koreans committed a blunder. The area is not known for any coal deposits, though it has abundance of granite deposits. Probably in hindsight the North Koreans would have coloured the tunnel interiors in granite colors.
The South Koreans did not demolish the offending tunnels, a damning evidence of the inimical mindset of the North Koreans toward them. Instead they worked on these tunnels, a piece of engineering marvel, and made detailed plans for converting them into a tourist spot as the tunnels fall in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on North Korea-South Korea border. The South Koreans went about their restoration and value-addition work as a nation’s archaeologists would work on monuments of national importance.
The South Koreans made their own tunnel by using Tunnel Boring Machines, a technology that residents of Delhi are much familiar with, courtesy the rapid expansion of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The freshly-built tunnel was added to the original North Korean-built Tunnel No. 3 which this writer visited recently. The whole project was completed only a few years ago and it was in 2004 that the South Koreans put the border tunnels on its tourist map in a big way.
The South Korean enterprise is a run-away success as the visitors come back over-awed and thrilled, though the South Korean authorities have thrown open only 265 meters of the 1,600 meter tunnel to the public. But who cares as the project is a money-spinner? On an average more than three thousand tourists visit the tunnels every day. During the peak season – between September and November – the number goes up to twenty thousand or even thirty thousand per day. Since a tourist has to shell out eight US dollars for this tunnel tourism, one can see how much money the South Koreans are making every year.
Thus, a North Korean malevolent act has been converted into an economic boon by the enterprising South Koreans. The obvious question in the India-Pakistan context is: why can’t the Indians do the same?
Why S Korea is a developed nation?
It is a remarkable progress indeed for a country in half a century or less across the world and in human history ever. None could imagine that a small north-east Asian country like South Korea that came on the international map only in 1948 and lived on foreign doles till the 50’s, when many African states recorded a better economic growth, would become a roaring tiger in the global economy so fast. South Korea, a landmass of just about 100,000 square kilometers with a population of 50 million and an economy that has just about reached the trillion dollar mark, has already become a developed nation.
South Korea has formally declared long ago that it has banished poverty. If you see sporadic squatters using subways as night shelters, Seoul’s claims won’t be negated because the South Koreans enjoy a well-oiled social security system – something that is associated only with the likes of the Europeans and the Americans.
We all know that South Korea is a developed country, though it may continue to call itself a “developing country”. South Korea is the only country from Asia apart from Japan to qualify for the “developed country” tag – even China is years away from it!
But what is it that makes South Korea a developed economy. This writer just visited South Korea for a week and toured the far-off but economically vibrant Busan province, apart from Seoul and its peripheries. Here are some observations which indicate how South Korea has become a developed nation and come at par with leading European and American cities, the role models of development:
* There is not a single sign to be found anywhere in Seoul denoting that construction work is going on. This is the malaise of the developing nations. Only select cities in the world in Europe and America can boast of this.
* There is not a single beggar on the streets of Seoul, which houses one fifth of the entire 50 million population of South Korea and happens to be its largest city.
* You may be visiting the streets of Seoul in the wee hours but the number of female commuters does not go down drastically. In India, it would be virtually zero.
* There are hardly any damaged cars to be seen running on the roads in South Korea. This is against the unwritten thumb rules in India that every second car on the Indian roads is dented.
There is no honking on the roads and national highways.
(The writer just visited South Korea for a week).