Does Korea want to be Israel? Park Geun Hye-Nomics: Creative Economy

It has already been a year and half since the inauguration of the Park Geun-Hye administration in South Korea. During the time the government has focused its energy on demonstrating to the public the what the new ‘Creative Economy’ is. While many Koreans do not appear to be able to clearly grasp the real meaning behind this term, some politicians and business enterprises have been openly following Park’s idea.


The planning of the Creative Economy is being led by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. The ministry’s most influential figure, Vice Minister Yoon Jong-Rok is pro-Israel having translated Jerusalem Post columnist Saul Singer’s ‘Start-up Nation’ into Korean. The idea of Creative Economy has been strongly influenced by this book.

The book explains how Israel became an economic leader despite lacking natural resources as well as a technologically advanced state despite being surrounded by enemies. Given that Korea has limited natural resources and also faces an enemy at its border, Yoon argues that we should follow these creative ideas and policies from Israel.

Contemporaneously to Yoon’s political rise over the past year, the relationship between Israel and South Korea has been rapidly expanding in all its dimensions: economic, cultural, academic and military. At seemingly every level, from government to academia, the trend of following Israel has been gaining popularity to the point where we are now seeing a number of MOUs being signed between institutions and organizations from the two countries.

Keeping pace with these developments is Gyeonggi Province, the most densely populated region of South Korea, which tried to sign an MOU with Israel’s joint public-private Yozma Fund last year. Yozma Fund, which was launched in 1993, is famous for investing in venture capital enterprises.

It seems that not only the government but also private companies have been taking an interest in Yozma. The Yozma Creative Economy Forum was held in Korea on August 27th, 2013 and supported by the Korean government and major Korean companies including Posco. Gyeonggi Province eventually dropped the plan at the end of the year because of a lack of capital investment.

On April 7th, at Israel’s suggestion, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that next year both countries will launch a cooperative event called ‘Creative Economy Day’, and have agreed to establish a joint Economic Committee that will meet annually. In addition, both parties have decided they will continue talks through which they hope to settle on a date on which to begin FTA negotiations originally scheduled to be finalized by last summer.

Not surprisingly, the arms trade between the two countries is also steadily increasing. The South Korean government recently bought more than 50 Spike missiles from Raphael, the second largest military company in Israel. This weapon was used in ‘Operation Cast Lead’, which caused 1,400 fatalities and 5,300 injuries in the 2008/2009 Israeli assault on Gaza. As is well known, Israeli weapons can easily find an overseas market because Palestine is used as a testing ground for these weapons.

The Korean government is also focusing on developing a ‘creative’ national defense, often drawing on the example of ‘Talpiot’ (meaning ‘best of the best’ in Hebrew) which is a special unit of the Israeli military. Only 50 elites can join Talpiot  annually, and they must serve in the army for at least 9 years. Once they have finished their military service, they can secure elite jobs such as professorships or corporate leadership positions. On February 4th of this year the South Korean Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning signed an MOU to establish a Korean version of Talpiot. Some argue that during two years of compulsory military service for men in Korea, soldiers would also have a more meaningful time if the country could ‘creatively’ change its military system into one like that of Israel.

Some people might say this kind of relationship is not unusual between modern states. But it is important to remember that Israel is not a normal state but rather a brutal colonial one. It perpetually denies the rights of the Palestinian people and consistently attacks the Gaza Strip. Its wealth and development is based on the illegal occupation of Palestine. Are ‘creative’ Korean politicians and businessmen unaware of these facts or simply just choosing to close their eyes to them?

In fact, the myth of Israeli economic development has been exaggerated. Israel’s unemployment rate has been increasing; 6.8 per cent in 2011, 6.9 per cent in 2012, and 7.1 per cent in 2013. These figures are almost double those of Korea. Israeli venture capital enterprises, which are the role models for Park government, usually follow a model of developing new technologies in order to sell them on to foreign companies. Strictly speaking, they are interested in grabbing large profits rather than raising their own companies. 80 per cent of the successful Israeli venture enterprises are taken over by foreign companies, while 70 per cent have experience establishing their own ventures.

This means many Israeli ventures have not practically helped to increase employment or contribute to the national economy. CPU chip technology was developed by Israel, but now Intel is the most famous CPU chip company. By the same token, the technology of digital printing was transferred to HP while that of mobile phones was transferred to Motorola. This means that only a few companies have been able to monopolize this capital which has resulted in social inequality.

According to OECD statistics from 2010, Israel has the fifth largest income gap between the upper and lower class among OECD member countries. During 2011, there were several huge demonstrations inside Israel against the countries economic policies. It started as a ‘cottage cheese protest’ over the inflated price of this staple commodity. The struggle continued until 2013 and people criticized their government for rising inflation and the privatization of public corporations. The ratio of fiscal deficit to GDP ran at 75 per cent in 2011. Israelis are not satisfied with their economic system.

Many pro-Israel groups insist that South Korea and Israel have one thing in common, having an enemy. They claim that both countries are faced with confrontations with their neighbors: North Korea and Palestine respectively.
They also say that we should work on strengthening military force. But before thinking of this, we need to remember that both South Korea and Palestine have suffered from colonial occupation under Japan and the UK respectively.

Even though the nation has not been able to solve all of the historical problems associated with colonial occupation, South Korea was liberated from Japan eventually on August 15th, 1945. Contrary to Korea, Palestine has suffered from an additional colonial state, Israel. The ‘start-up nation’ still has been expanding its land ‘creatively’ by stealing Palestinian territory; reducing labor costs ‘creatively’ by using Palestinian people illegally; exporting fresh farm products ‘creatively’ by robbing Palestinian water resources; and selling special weapons ‘creatively’ by using Gaza as a testing ground.

A state cannot learn to be creative by imitating a military occupation. If the Korean government really wants to become a healthy state, it should hold Israel to account for the occupation, colonialism and apartheid of Palestine.