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  June 21, 2002  

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The Koreas


Red Syndrome fires up Korean society

SEOUL - As the South Korean national soccer team has stunned the world with its success at the 2002 World Cup finals, the country's thriving economy has embraced two new buzzwords: "Red Syndrome" and "Hiddink Effect".

Millions of "Red Devils" have brought the normally sedate streets of South Korea alive with color and cheer as the nation has backed the underdog red-uniformed national team, which defeated Italy to advance to the quarter-finals and meets the Spanish team this weekend. (See Asia Times Online's Roving Eye series on Korea beginning on Monday, June 24.)

The Hyundai Research Instituted (HRI) has issued a report on this so-called Red Syndrome from an economic point of view and determined that it is an example of the national spirit that brought South Korea from the brink of bankruptcy after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

"It reminds one of the post-1997 Asian financial crisis camapign when a huge number of people joined the campaign to collect gold as a means of helping the government repay foreign debts," the HRI said.

That kind of dynamics, in which South Koreans enthusiastically pitch in during hard times, has greatly helped the nation climb out of economic hardship faster and more successfully than other countries, the report concluded.

The HRI report forecast that the Red Syndrome spirit will serve as a locomotive for the country's economy, which is still struggling to recover fully from the Asian financial crisis.

The report said South Korea's "RED economy" - coining an acronym from "resilient, enthusiastic and dynamic" - can inspire market participants the same way the Red Syndrome has brought millions of soccer fans out into the streets.

"The spirit of the Red Syndrome can be seen not only in the World Cup fever but also in Korea's early economic recovery from the financial crisis in 1997 and the growing popularity of Korean films, dramas, songs and other cultural products in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations," HRI vice president Kim Joo-won said.

Kim stressed the need to take advantage of the RED economy so it can contribute to the country's leap into the realm of advanced economies. "As seen in the Red Devils' crimson waves, the most important thing is fostering an atmosphere in which people and companies work in a transparent, fair and spontaneous manner," Kim said.

HRI researcher Park Dong-chul hopes that the South Korean soccer team's unprecedented feat of defeating Italy to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals and the millions of orderly cheering people in the stadiums and streets will greatly enhance the country's image abroad.

"We can expect enormous economic gains with the greatly improved national image and the values of Korean brands in the international market," Park said, noting that the world's major television stations and newspapers are showing upgraded versions of South Korea's economy, society and culture while the World Cup soccer games are being held here.

Park called for the government to launch an agency to handle investor relations for the country and play a leading role in the world's political and economic arenas.

Jeon Hong-taek, vice president of the Korea Development Institute (KDI), said South Korea's advance into the quarter-finals and successful hosting of the World Cup events "have reminded the whole nation of the 'can do' spirit". Jeon praised Guus Hiddink, head coach of the South Korean national soccer team, for his role in destroying widespread cronyism based on blood, regional and school associations by selecting and training the national team in a transparent manner based on fundamentals and competition.

"Hiddink emphasized fundamentals and produced results, and we now witness Korean businesses using what the Dutch coach did in soccer as a benchmark for their own performances," Jeon said.

Samsung Group has already completed a contract to use Hiddink's image in its advertising and recently produced a video program on Hiddink's leadership style for in-house broadcasting. Samsung, the nation's largest business group, is leading the recent trend of emulating Hiddink's management skills that has spawned numerous books here.

Korea Institute of Finance fellow Chung Han-yong also noted that South Korean businesses are paying keen attention to Hiddink's management skills, hoping "such attention will have a positive impact on ongoing economic restructuring efforts".

The government is also happy with the impact Hiddink has had on the South Korean economy and society. "Hiddink brought the Korean national squad into the World Cup quarter-finals by selecting players on a strictly competitive basis and focusing on enhancing their physical strength which is fundamental to soccer games," said Park Byong-won, director general of the Finance Ministry's Economic Policy Bureau.

"I hope the Hiddink effect helps the country's economy steadily improve its fundamentals and allows the principles of openness and competition to take root," Park added.

Red Syndrome spices up men's fashion
The Red Syndrome is also changing the traditionally conservative fashion of South Korean men. More and more men, including office workers, are sporting bright reds, yellows and pinks and gaudy neckties are increasingly popular, a drastic change from their long-held tastes for monotone sedate colors, industry sources said on Thursday.

Puma Korea, a sportswear brand, saw its recent red T-shirts sales jump 10 times from last year, and as much as 60 percent of the sales were made by men. The company said female shoppers previously accounted for nearly all of its red-shirt sales.

LG Fashion's Maestro casual unit also enjoyed more than a 70 percent gain for red, orange and pink garment sales around the World Cup period compared with last year.

The use of these colors is expanding to knitwear, trousers and even jumpers, and designs are easier to match with the fashionable colors.

To ride the wave, Cheil Industries plans to add about 10 percent more red items to its Galaxy casual-wear collection and will make brighter dress shirts, T-shirts and neckties for its Embio casual suit unit.

As for neckties, the taste for plain monotone colors is gradually turning to red, green, yellow and orange patterns. The Red Syndrome has men increasingly donning vivid colors and sporting a more fashionable look, LG Fashion officials said, adding the trend will likely last for awhile.

(Asia Pulse/Yonhap)

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