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[Opinion] A Spanish Wake-Up Call

Posted September. 22, 2006 05:59,   


Spain is the brightest post in Europe nowadays. For the past five years, its economic growth rate has been twice higher than that of the rest European Union (EU) member states. While other EU neighbors marked an average of 2.2 percent growth last year, Spain recorded 3.4 percent. Spain has emerged as the world’s 8th largest economy. This country is now looking to repeat its glorious days of the 15th and 16th century Spanish empire, which sponsored Columbus to discover the continent.

Spain is courting Asian countries for friendship, in particular, Korea, China and Japan. It is so eager to boost exchanges with Korea that next year it will open a Cervantes culture institute in Seoul. The third Korea-Spain Forum, which was held in Jeju Island between September 19 and 20, was also part of its effort to strengthen its ties with Korea.

Incidentally, the event was launched at the request of Spain. The forum is a venue where the leaders from two countries gather together annually to discuss ways to enhance bilateral exchanges and cooperation, and this year’s event grabbed attention with Jordi Pujol, former Prime Minister of Catalonia and one of the prominent figures in Spin’s political circle, attended the meeting.

He opened his remark by saying, “Few imagined that Korea would develop this much in the 1960s.” He said that Korea is a prime example where economists made a conspicuous error in predicting the future and explained that such an error was made because they overlooked some features of Korea. In other words, they failed to realize that Koreans are enthusiastic for learning, harshly self-disciplined and proactive. But he made poignant remarks about Korea as well. He said that Korea might be regarded as a country with a closed mindset and protectionist sentiment.

He admonished Koreans, saying, “When surrounded by fortress, you might feel secure for now, but you will be isolated from the rest of the world and left behind in global competition.” And he pointed out that the negotiation between Korea and Spain, which has been trying to export its world-class oranges, has been going nowhere for the last 10 years. Spain’s favorable attitude toward Korea might come from its shrewd calculation eyeing on the broader Asian market with high purchasing power. Still, Mr. Pujol’s remarks deserve attention as a wake-up call for Korea.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com