External Factors of the Korean Economic Development

     If we look at the reasons of the rapid and miraculous development of South Korea’s development, external factors carry vital role as much as the policies of the Korean government. Science and technology in South Korea were obtained from external powers. Thus, as much as the internal factors, external factors are one of the crucial points of the economic development. In his “The Roles of the United States and Japan in the Development of South Korea’s Science and Technology During the Cold War” paper, Park Tae Gyun, mentions the external factors of the development. According to Park, U.S. policies towards Korea was the primary determinant of the development of science and technology thus the economy. Minnesota Plan in 1950, transfers of advanced technology from Japan in 1965, establishment of the Korea Institute for Science and Technology in 1966, and launching of the military industry in 1971 are the major events in terms of the science and technology development in South Korea.

     After the independence of Korea from Japanese colonization, important science professors believed that the science and technology is one of the most important things in the restoration of Korea. Therefore, education in science was critically important. Eventually, they submitted to the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) with a plan which promoted science and vocational training by the establishment of the Ministry of Science and Education. However, the policy of the United States Army Military Government in Korea became a hurdle because of its bounded financial resources. Besides, they were thinking that South Korea was incapable of developing advanced science and technology. However, in the mid-50s, U.S has changed its policy and Minnesota Plan was conducted in order to reconstruct Seoul National University by the help of the University of Minnesota. The primary aim of this aid was the College of Engineering, College of Agriculture and Forestry, Medical School, and College of Natural Sciences. What was important about the Minnesota Plan that its concentration on the development of science and technology and focus on providing aid for science and technology to existing colleges. Moreover, it was providing faculty training so that scholars and technical specialists who would lead the reconstruction of the Korea could benefit from the new courses and teaching methods. Furthermore, with the Minnesota plan, new equipments to educational facilities at Seoul National University were supplied. Step by step, the education system Americanised in the College of Engineering. That meant practical connections between school and industry rather than on theoretical knowledge were focused. As told, Minnesota Plan was one of the critical points of the reason and the know-how behind the rapid Korean science and technology development. A good education of the public is one of the must haves for a permanent economic development. In addition, science and technology will provide sustainable innovation power to a nation. By sustainable innovation, that nation will be always on top of the other nations and the other nations will be trying to catch it.

     The science and technology boomed in the mid-1960s when South Korea sent combat units to Vietnam War actually. Subsequently, United States announced that US$ 150 million  will be provided as developmental loan and a research center for applied sciences will be considered. Eventually, Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) was established. Many scholars agree that the establishment of KIST was the critical turning point in the development of Korea’s science and technology. In addition, by the establishment of KIST and the Vietnam War, Korean administration started to develop the idea for its own military industry. But the U.S. did not want it because of the security reasons of the peninsula. In other words, U.S. wanted to prevent South Korea from developing a nuclear bomb as well as enhancing the capacity of its navy and air force. An important factor that eased the transfer of military technology was the Nixon Doctrine, which weakened America’s engagement in Asia. Since the U.S. was reluctant to military reinforcement in Korea, the Nixon Doctrine which caused a reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea, brought a change to President Park’s industrial policies. Now, Park could build research facilities for the development of defence in 1970s.


Image: Linkedin.com, Korea Institute of Science and Technology

     Japan had also played an important role for Korea’s economic development. The funds achieved through Japan during the normalization talks immensely contributed to South Korea’s economic development. Particularly, the Pohang Steelworks Project benefited hugely from the normalization. Park thought the steel industry to be crucial to building a self- sufficient nation and to serve as a foundation for heavy and military industries. As well as funding, technology transfers and advice from Japan was also very important. Korea acquired the Japanese model of industrial restructuring which helped Japanese heavy chemical industry to succeed.

     In conclusion, U.S. policies during the Cold War time and technology transfer from Japan was major external determinants of Korean scientific and technological development. In this regard, he most important dates are the Minnesota Plan in the 1950s, the establishment of KIST in 1966, transfers of advanced technology from Japan in the 1960s and 1970s and assigning of Korean troops to Vietnam. Despite of the existence of external factors, this development could not be achieved without the invaluable efforts of the Korean government officials, scientists, technicians and above all, sacrificing Korean people.


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