Chapter 6: South Korea: the odyssey to corruption control
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Various indicators of corruption show that South Korea has been relatively successful in controlling corruption compared to other Asian countries. Since its independence, South Korea has been transitioning, if not completed a transition, from particularism of the limited access order to ethical universalism of the open access order. How did this happen? This chapter first compares the political, economic and social bases of contemporary control of corruption in South Korea with those in the early period post-independence, focusing on the norms of ethical universalism vs. particularism. Process-tracing analysis then finds four periods with different equilibria of norms of particularism and universalism. Each period is defined by major political events such as the establishment of two divided countries (1948); the Student Democratic Revolution (1960) followed by the military coup led by Park Chung-hee a year later; democratic transition (1987); and the financial crisis and the first peaceful change of government (1997). The chapter also identifies several critical reforms that have contributed to the change of governance norms. The dissolution of the landed aristocracy, relatively equal distribution of wealth and rapid expansion of education due to sweeping land reforms laid the structural foundations for the growth of ethical universalism. Gradual expansion of civil service examinations, democratization, good governance reforms and post-financial crisis economic reform promoted norms of ethical universalism. This chapter also explores how these reforms were carried out, who the main actors were, what factors enabled and constrained them, and what impact they made on governance norms.

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