Side Views

Back on your own feet — Tay Tian Yan

FEB 17 — My friend Karim recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos and came back with a story to tell.

Although Davos is only a pocket-sized town in Switzerland, it is nevertheless elegant and culturally rich, and makes a perfect venue for the global forum.

In the past, European politicians and business tycoons attending the forum used to be swelling with confidence and pride, but not this year under the weight of the European debt crisis.

The crisis has effectively suppressed the confidence level of many a European, while the bleak outlook of the single currency robs every optimism towards the future.

During the forum, European participants slammed the financial system, grumbled about their politicians and felt disgruntled at the social system, as they voiced their woes over their predicament.

Having heard this, a Korean participant stood up and said: “I guess you know the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Our situation back then was very much worse than what you are now experiencing. Our national debts ran high, banks collapsed one after another, as millions lost their jobs overnight.

“Our department stores refrained from playing Christmas songs during the festive season so as not to incite the consumers. Some families went into bankruptcy and parents had to send off their children in tears into custody.

“We were down but not out. We were soon back on our feet again.”

During the Asian financial crisis, the Koreans took out all the jewellery they had at home to donate to their country as they tried to help their country pull back from the brink of collapse.

Today, people from Greece and other European states take to the streets to vent their anger, looting shops and destroying public properties that stood in their way.

South Korea managed to free itself from the scourge of the crisis not simply on the money donated by its people, but the resolution of its people to turn their country’s fate around.

The Koreans positively adopted the changes, while the government and large corporations embarked on prudent belt-tightening measures, liberalisation and enhanced efficiency while encouraging the public to invest and compete.

Korean companies restructured and reinvented themselves as they jacked up their competitiveness, productivity and R&D capacity, resulting in the emergence of truly world-class branding.

Within a couple of years, South Korea settled all the debts it had owed to the IMF as the integrity and health of its financial system got fully rehabilitated.

The Korean economy took off for a second time, and Korean products have since taken the world in a big way, from smartphones, electrical appliances, cars to soap operas.

Their uncompromising spirit should be emulated not only by the Europeans, but also Malaysians who are stuck in the middle of the development spectrum. —

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.


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