I am all for learning from others. I also believe in benchmarking. But in order to learn and benchmark from others with much sense, we must compare apples with apples. In the last few years, it is vogue to compare Malaysia with South Korea. Suggesting that they have moved forward far better than us and as such we must been doing rather badly. They somehow feel that we screwed up and should have been more like South Korea. Some of our politicians and their supporters are perhaps using this comparison to win votes through half-truths.
Let us just for a while suspend our intelligence and agree with them. Let us list down what we need to have in order to become like South Korea.
1. We need a communist North Korea (complete with Soviet back-up) to taunt us so that America will adopt us like a favourite son. Being an ally to the USA, Korea received enormous sum of aid, first from the US and then from another ally, Japan. Accordingly from 1946 to 1978 they received USD 60 billion from the US. During the same period the entire African continent received only USD 68.9 billion. Indirect aids and support were also forthcoming with preferential treatment in most areas between the two countries, in trade, social and cultural.
2. We need to almost completely disregard the environment in the first 20 – 30 years of industrialization. Many do not know that until recently, the tap water in Seoul is completely unsafe for consumption! While we in Malaysia can still boast about our ‘oldest rainforest’, Korea has almost completely destroyed their original forestry. Air quality has been a major challenge for decades with acid rain, sulphur oxides, and annual yellow dust .The environmental degradation was made worst by the damage done by US military bases – from oil spills, noise pollution, water contamination from waste water and chemical.
3. We need to throw away democratic rule till about the 80s. In South Korea, the civilian government took over the military one rather recently, in 1987. Yes we need an authoritarian military to rule the country with ‘kuku besi’ type of management. It was bloody. Assassinations of head of states and all that would have become part of our political history.
4. We need to rely almost 50% of our energy needs via nuclear power. They have four nuclear reactors and each station houses four or more units, totalling around twenty! They are building 3 more reactors. Today many experts are saying South Korea is perhaps the most dangerous nuclear sites in the world. We must be willing to take the risk of all the possibilities of a nuclear disaster, like the March 11 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. But the problem is that the very people who are fond to compare South Korea with Malaysia are the very same people who go into conniption when we build a little state of the art rare earth plant like Lynas. I wonder, can we and do we Malaysians have what it takes to be like the South Koreans when we have so many who are so weak at heart?
I hope the above four items will be suffice in helping you see why it is not smart to do a direct comparison between our two countries. There are many more unique contextual backgrounds between the two countries that we must consider if we do not want to make the mistake of making an apple to apple comparison. For example we have a unique challenge of an economic imbalanced not only between ethnic groupings but also the need to factor the imbalances with location – urban and non-urban as well a land mass separated by South China Sea. Each nation has their unique challenges and must rise to the occasion.
Kindly note, that in no way I am saying that South Korea has not done well. Their growth is spectacular. They have also made a clear effort to correct their past mistakes like cleaning up the environment and reforestation. I was at awe with the country when I visited it two years ago. Their urban planning, public transportation and world class brands are areas we must learn from. Their people are hardworking, diligent and fit like a navy seal. I could hardly find obese people, men have muscular bodies and their ladies have legs from heaven!
Just like outsiders will feel at awe when they visit Korea, many feel the same towards Malaysia. A German client simply could not believe how we could live in peace for all these while. Visitors be they from Europe, Middle –East, the US etc are amazed, astounded and overwhelmed with our uniqueness – our unity in diversity.
I hope political leaders and their supporters have a little more sense of balance when they want to get votes and win over people. While we want to move forward and make our country a better place, we must not resort to lies, half-truths and distortions. That will make our voters support ‘HARAM’.
We must not be willing to sacrifice the journey for the goal, the means for the end. Thank you.