In South Korea, both the country’s most important business leader and its previous president are behind bars, the former convicted of corruption, the other on trial for it.
The situation may not be unprecedented in states experiencing coups or collapses. But South Korea is a democracy, standing squarely on its own feet. The trials have been conducted by an independent judiciary. The arrest of former president Park Geun-hye followed citizens’ peaceful demonstrations against bribery and cronyism. Last week’s conviction of Lee Jae-yong, the vice-chairman and de facto leader of the Samsung chaebol, has not — so far — been derailed by that group’s immense influence. South Korea, a country long characterised by too-close relationships between corporations and government, could be in the opening stages of a bloodless and lawful revolution.
在经历了政变或崩溃的国家，这种局面可能并不是前所未有的。但韩国是一个完全独立自主的民主国家。两起案件都由独立的司法部门审理。在韩国民众举行和平示威、抗议腐败和裙带政治的背景下，前总统朴槿惠(Park Geun-hye)被捕。上周，三星(Samsung)财阀事实上的领导人、该集团副会长李在镕(Lee Jae-yong)被定罪，到目前为止，本案尚未被该集团巨大的影响力所左右。企业和政府之间关系过密是韩国长久以来的一个特征，如今这个国家可能正处于一场非暴力、合法的革命的起始阶段。
Much remains to be done to invigorate both democracy and business in South Korea, and ensure the proper distance between the two.
The recent events form a coda to a half century of astonishing change. In 1970 less than half of South Koreans went to secondary school. Now they are more likely to graduate from university than people in any other country. In five decades, gross domestic product per person has risen 20-fold to nearly $40,000 (adjusted for the local cost of living). This demonstrated that rapid growth and democracy can go hand in hand.
As in other developing countries, family-run conglomerates — with their stable leadership, internal sources of financing and shared management resources — proved an effective corporate structure for a fast-growing, export-oriented economy. The government was determined to see these growth engines succeed. The result was a group of companies, with Samsung at the fore, that were equal — or even superior — in civic importance to the government itself.
Deep links between the state and the chaebol served the country in one stage of its history. But institutions that once nurtured nascent industries can also shelter entrenched interests. Ms Park is on trial, in part, for colluding in extorting funds from companies. The case against Mr Lee turned on a merger among Samsung subsidiaries which would have consolidated family control at the expense of minority shareholders. Prosecutors argued that he paid bribes to one of Ms Parks’ associates to ensure the deal would go through.
The chaebol have not, however, protected the country’s younger generation from high unemployment. They know that the old economic and civic order requires fundamental change.
The next step is ensuring that the justice system continues to operate unimpeded. If Mr Lee’s conviction is upheld on appeal, he should not be pardoned — as his father was, twice, for financial wrongdoing. The current president, Moon Jae-in, has vowed not to extend a pardon, but he will be under terrific pressure. Similarly, the treatment of Ms Park must demonstrate that all are equal before the law.
Next, chaebol reform must continue apace. The first target is the cross-shareholdings that help maintain insider control in the absence of majority economic ownership. Samsung, under pressure from international investors and regulators, has already begun to untangle its group structure. The push should be redoubled. Mr Moon and his “chaebol sniper” Kim Sang-jo, head of the country’s Fair Trade Commission, must also follow through on their commitment to vigorous antitrust reform. If these and other promises are broken, South Korea’s 50-year success story will be at risk.
接下来，财阀改革必须继续快速推进。第一个目标是交叉持股——在财阀并未持有企业多数经济所有权的情况下，交叉持股帮助他们维持了内部控制。在国际投资者和监管部门的压力下，三星已经开始着手整顿其集团架构。此番改革应该加倍努力。文在寅和他的“财阀狙击手”——韩国公平贸易委员会(Fair Trade Commission)主席金相九(Kim Sang-jo)也必须遵守他们的承诺，大力推动反垄断改革。如果这些以及其他承诺未被履行，韩国半个世纪以来书写的成功故事就不妙了。