Remembering ’Steel King’
Let’s keep Park’s legacy alive for better future
South Korea has lost one of the greatest contributors to its economic miracle. Park Tae-joon, honorary chairman of the nation’s top steelmaker POSCO, died of lung disease at age 84 on Tuesday. His death reminds people of how he spent his life dedicating to turning Korea from a poor country into an economic powerhouse.
It is no exaggeration that the nation could not have achieved its brilliant economic growth and modernization in such a short period without him. He established Pohang Iron and Steel Co. (POSCO) in 1968 by utilizing reparations paid by the Japanese government for its colonial rule of Korea. During that time, building such a steel mill in the country was seen as a pipe dream.
However, Park demonstrated his pioneering spirit to prove that nothing was impossible. His can-do spirit surprised not only the nation but also the world, laying the foundation for the country’s manufacturing sector and export industries. It has been often said that steel is the “rice” of industries. POSCO under the leadership of Park played a pivotal role of igniting Korea’s growth engine.
One may say that Park was no match for the world’s industrial pioneers such as Andrew Carnegie. But he was second to none as far as tenacity and perseverance were concerned. His passion for the country to achieve economic success made him overcome adversities. His vision for national prosperity contributed to what Korea is today.
It is no accident that he has become an icon for the nation’s rapid rise from the ashes of the Korean War. He has been described as an “iron man” with his never-exhausting entrepreneurship and frontier spirit. Park was already famous in 1978 when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited Japan. Deng reportedly asked the president of Nippon Steel Corp. to set up steelworks like POSCO’s in China. The president told Deng that there was no such figure as Park in China.
This anecdote shows Park had gained international recognition for his achievements, not to mention POSCO’s status in the global steel market. What’s somewhat regrettable is that many Koreans are not aware of Park’s feats and POSCO’s role in the economy. They have taken his contribution for granted. Now it’s time to re-evaluate what a great change he made for the country.
Of course, no one is without fault. Park’s career was shadowed by his advance into politics. He was a four-term lawmaker from 1981. He headed the now-defunct ruling Democratic Justice Party in 1988. And in 2000, he served as prime minister under the late President Kim Dae-jung. But we should not let his political life denigrate his reputation as POSCO’s founder. We must keep alive his legacy to make a new leap forward and move toward a better future.