One of the great advantages of studying South Korean affairs is that it provides a mirror in which to contrast Taiwan's experience. Since Taiwan and South Korea have developed along similar lines, there are many examples of the two studying, learning and adopting ideas from each other.
I correctly predicted the winners of the four presidential elections in South Korea between 1987 and 1994: Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- I have the newspaper clippings to prove it -- and then used that experience when looking at Taiwan, where I also correctly predicted the presidential winners, from Lee Teng-hui (
It's not that I am divinely accurate in my judgement, or that I have almost prophetic abilities like Kim Yong-ok -- South Korea's most influential philosophical thinker -- but rather that the democratization processes in Taiwan and South Korea have been mutually influential in ways that guide a keen eye.
When Chen won the Taipei mayorship as an opposition candidate in 1994, Seoul residents thought that if Taipei can do it, then why not Seoul? Two years later, the opposition candidate Cho Soon, a former vice president, was indeed elected mayor of Seoul. This is one good example of how Taiwan has influenced South Korea.
Then in 1996, Lee was elected president and the Taiwanese people stood up for the first time, once again influencing the South Korean campaign climate the following year. In December 1997, Kim Dae-jung, of the same political generation as Lee, was elected president amid the East Asian financial crisis, in what was not only a transition of power but also the first time in living memory that people from Jeolla Province stood up.
Kim Dae-jung's election gave great encouragement to opposition parties throughout Asia. Following that, Taiwan managed its first power transition in 2000, which also was a generational transition. Chen's election then stimulated the South Koreans, and in December 2002 South Korea's Internet generation gave the presidency to Roh Moo-hyun, a man born after World War II. In May that year, I told Chen during one of his trips around Taiwan that the year-end presidential election in South Korea would produce a left-leaning, anti-US, pro-North Korean president.
This makes it all but clear that the outcome of the presidential election in South Korea in December next year will be of great value as a reference when thinking about the outcome of Taiwan's presidential election in 2008.
Extrapolating the way Taiwan and South Korea influence each other to the Asian region as a whole, would surely imply that Asian nations also are studying, imitating and influencing each other.
When South Korea hosted the Olympic Games in 1988, it emulated the way Japan went about hosting the Games in Tokyo in 1964 by making it the overall framework for national development. With the slogan "All construction is for the Olympic Games," it mobilized both the general public's fighting spirit and economic development.
In the same way, Beijing is emulating South Korea of 20 years ago as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2008. The Chinese government is applying the strength of the whole nation by using the Games to build Chinese-style capitalism. Thus, Japan influenced South Korea, which in its turn now is influencing China.