James Kim, Chairman and CEO, AMCHAM Korea
A crisis always reveals a nation’s true character and strength. In the case of their response to the emergency caused by COVID-19, the people and government of the South Korea won praise from around the world for their collective resilience and collaboration.
As the first country outside of China to face a major outbreak of COVID-19, Korea’s response was rapid, smart and effective. Through innovative drive-thru testing, rapid diagnosis and transparent information sharing, Korea has shown the world that it is possible for a democratic country to effectively fight the spread of the virus.
Korea has also proven itself to be a model global citizen by implementing a unique system of three-point temperature checks of outgoing travelers at airports, so that no major outbreaks outside of Korea to date have been linked to the country.
Other impacted countries including the US are taking note of this and benchmarking Korea’s tactful solutions.
As a result, a challenge that could have been one of Korea’s darkest moments is instead turning out to be the nation’s finest hour. As Chairman & CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, I can attest that for American businesses operating in Korea, this outcome is welcome but not unexpected.
American businesses know more than anyone that Koreans are second to none when it comes to tenacity, intelligence and innovation. The national character revealed in the COVID-19 emergency is the same that enabled Korea to rise from the ashes of war and to emerge as a high-tech economic powerhouse. It is the reason so many American companies have chosen to do business in Korea. AMCHAM’s member companies and affiliates employed 460,000 workers in Korea and US companies invested $6.8 billion in Korea in 2019.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, American companies have been grateful for the opportunity to play a role in helping Korea overcome this challenge. Measures to contain the virus are unavoidably causing major disruptions in travel and economic activity. The Korean economy has been able to weather the COVID-19 crisis thanks to innovative technologies that would not exist without collaboration between Korean and global companies.
Students continue their education in virtual classrooms of international schools, employees continue to collaborate through cloud computing platforms provided by America’s IT giants, and health care professionals continue to provide vital treatments using pharmaceuticals and medical devices developed and manufactured by American firms. Throughout the crisis, AMCHAM has been in close communication with our member companies to ensure that information is shared between the global business community and the Korean and US governments, while keeping companies informed so that they can fully comply with government guidelines.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Korean government and people, a light at the end of the tunnel is approaching closer. As we move forward to a post-COVID-19 world, the same solutions that helped us overcome the crisis are will continue to be relevant to the way we live and do business. In preparing for this new economy, the Korean government should be just as proactive as it was in responding to COVID-19. This means creating a forward-looking business environment that supports continued innovation and collaboration between Korean companies and their global counterparts.
Businesses should be encouraged and supported in adopting new technologies that not only contribute to public health but also economic efficiency. This includes sectors ranging from health care to cloud computing.
Above all, it is important to recognize that the continuing strength of the US-Korea commercial economic partnerships will be vital for both countries’ economic recoveries. The Korea-US bilateral trade volume in goods reached $134 billion last year, with services trade including travel and tourism adding another $36 billion. As both countries recover from the economic damage wrought by COVID-19, it will be critical to keep trade and travel ties open between the two countries. While prudent action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is essential, the objective should be to return to normalcy as quickly as feasible.
If the crisis is a test of Korea’s character, it can also be a pivotal moment to prove the resilience of the Korea-US partnership. For more than seven decades, our two countries have been vital partners to each other in good times and bad through the three key pillars of the US-Korea alliance: security, people-to-people and economic.
The current situation is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are always stronger together. American companies, who feel so much gratitude toward the Korean government and people, are able and willing to play our part. Just as Korea is showing the world that it is possible to overcome COVID-19, we are eager to work more rigorously with Korea to show the world that it is possible to make a strong and rapid economic recovery.
By James Kim
Chairman and CEO, AMCHAM Korea