South Korea: Transformative Challenges to the Economic and Political “Miracle on the Han River”

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From a developmental perspective, South Korea would seem to have long ago put the challenges of the Middle Income Trap behind it. This supposed economic Miracle on the Han River has been matched by a similar political miracle with democratic transition followed by consolidation. Yet middle income economic conceptualization is too narrow, with contemporary observers taking into account the political economy of change as well, emphasizing how development paths are often the outcome of a struggle between those who benefit from the status quo and those who seek change “ a broader Transformation Trap. Likewise, even after transition and consolidation, the quality of democratic governance can remain poor, or thin. In South Korea, as with many Asian societies, the balance of power is tilted in favor of forces preserving the status quo. This article examines South Korea's escape from the developmental Transformation Trap through the interplay of state and the economy. It considers state-society achievements as well as ongoing challenges of the political Transformation Trap. It concludes with ongoing and future challenges along the economy-society nexus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-40
Number of pages25
JournalAsian Affairs(UK)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2020

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© 2019, Copyright © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • South Korea
  • democratization
  • miracle on the Han River
  • transformation trap


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