"I am confident that this crisis can advance our dream of becoming an advanced first-class nation," President Lee Myung-bak told a group of business leaders in 2009. To accomplish his goal, South Korea boosted government research and development spending from 3.4 percent -- already among the world's highest -- to 5 percent. The emphasis on innovation, combined with generous subsidies, not to mention a policy of keeping the won low to boost exports, has helped South Korean industrial giants like Samsung, Kia, and Hyundai rack up global market share. South Korea was the first wealthy country to emerge from recession in 2009, and household income has grown for the last 11 quarters. The country's credit rating was upgraded by Fitch in September, cementing its status as a haven for investors. South Korea still faces economic challenges -- domestic consumption has been low, and Korean households are among the world's most debt-laden -- but once global trade picks up, expect the Korean wave to crash on a shore near you.
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