Why South Korea is growing wary of China

Feb 01, 2018

TO UNDERSTAND South Korea’s transformation into an export powerhouse, climb up to the observatory on Yeompo mountain overlooking the city of Ulsan. To the north, on the left bank of the Tae-Hwa river, stands Hyundai’s vast carworks and a shimmering shoal of new vehicles. To the west, across the river, chemical works lazily puff out white plumes. To the south and east, around the estuary, half-built metal hulls litter Hyundai’s shipyards.

A giant red gantry crane stands out. Bought for $1 in 2002 from the fading Kockums shipyard in Sweden, it is known as the “Tears of Malmö”. These days, the people of Ulsan wonder whether they, too, will soon be crying. Just as South Korean competition sent much of European shipbuilding into bankruptcy, China is now threatening to do much the same to South Korea’s industry.

A decade ago South Korea had been the biggest of the “big three” shipbuilding powers, along with China and Japan, that together account for about 90% of global ship...

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