Reading recent news reports about Korea you could be forgiven for thinking that the country was about to implode. Politically and financially. Failed attempts to get major positions filled due to allegations of corruption. Resignations of cabinet ministers due to allegations of nepotism. Not the sort of things that fill foreign investors with confidence. And if that is the case, just imagine what ANZ is currently thinking, as it moves towards a hoped-for acquisition in Korea, when the media seems to be of the opinion that they don't want KEB to fall into foreign hands again - even if common sense suggests that at least this time they would get a proper bank involved for the long term, rather than someone who just wanted to run once they had made a profit.
And it's not as if Korea doesn't want foreign direct investment - it does. Neither do various entities of Government nor various cities give up in their ambitions for growth and the establishment of areas for education and financial centres. Indeed in the case of the former ambition, Jeju Island has already secured signatures at least from a couple of high class foreign schools - one Canadian and one British.
But look, the economy is doing okay. They have certainly recovered well from the financial crisis and would seem to be on track for some decent growth. So what is it about Korea that is such a conundrum? That keeps investors on the back foot, scratching their heads.
I make no apology for the fact that I have been a long-term supporter of the potential that is Korea. A frustrated supporter, admittedly, but I still believe in Korea's ability - if it wishes to do so - to take its place properly amongst the major nations of the world. The hosting of the G20 summit this year is no mean feat for the smallest economy in the "20" - but when all the razzmatazz has died down - what then for Korea?
Actually, perhaps perversely, I don't necessarily see the political events I outlined above as being all bad. Neither do I view as entirely shocking, the news that a whole bunch of convicted business heads are about to be released from jail and pardoned. Perhaps the surprising thing is the manner in which it is being done, which once again suggests that the Korean PR machinery - such as it is - needs an overhaul.
But think about this:
South Korea became a Democracy in 1950, after its liberation from Japan by the USA and Russia - and then plunged into war with the North. It had a number of Governments - most of them military - but it has only really enjoyed a stable(?) civilian democratic government since 1992. As a young democracy, with a very rapidly growing economy, and an electoral system that only allows each President one five year term, Korea has had much to absorb in a short space of time. It is still officially at war with the North, and under threat of a rogue nuclear attack from that quarter. Even if you believe, as I do, that such an event is unlikely to happen there is no accounting for the actions of madmen.
It is also smarting from 40 years of Japanese occupation, and the Koreans are a proud and nationalistic race. Not a criticism - a fact.
In many countries in the world, those which are now described as civilised and developed, there existed at some stage of that development blatant nepotism. (And dare I say it remains - better hidden perhaps). In addition, accusations of corrupt practice was often laid at the door of people already in power - or of those aspiring to it - otherwise, they said, how would they have got there in the first place. It was all seen as "normal".
Thus I see events in Korea today as representative of a country in transition. Reaching the same conclusions those other countries discovered a while ago. Realising that certain behaviours are not acceptable in the global village but, as so often, finding out the hard way - for themselves.
And the wholesale release of "big business" leaders? Well, I am sure they should probably not ALL go free, but look at the Korean penal code. It has been under review certainly since the time I became a member of the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness, because many penalties in Korean legislation for economic offences - for example - are currently criminal offences, rather than civil as they would be elsewhere. In this regard I suspect - although I admit I have not looked at every case - that many of the releases would reflect the new codes of de-criminalising events. It is just the way it is announced that makes it look so bad.
So don't give up on Korea. They have not lost the plot - they are just taking time to understand it.