From a per capita income of just $80 in 1962, three times poorer at the time than North Korea, from 1965 to 1990, South Korea achieved an average growth of 9.9%, the highest in the world. Today its per capita income is $30,000, and a number of its companies are global market leaders. A focus on early authoritarianism under President Park Chung-hee as the reason for Korea’s rapid growth and transformation obscures the complex myriad programmes and tough deliberate choices made in the process. This involved, at its heart, the strategic reorientation from protectionism to export-led growth and the rapid refocusing of society on competitiveness. Looking back, over nearly 60 years later, this seems logical and, following Southeast Asia’s subsequent development path, passé even. At the time it was revolutionary. ‘Get on with it’ best summarises the thinking of General Park Chung-hee, the boss and president of South Korea for 18 years.Or as he put it more politely, ‘We need wordless deeds ...

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