The only thing I can really come up with is the Japanese Occupation. Horrible as it was, it helped the Korean economy and growth greatly. But I cannot find anything else to attribute to its modernization, any help would be greatly appreciated.
A few days ago I read a very long article about modernization of Korea, but it is in Portuguese. A summary:
- The Japanese occupation not played a significant role. Most of Japanese industries was in the north and Korea was always a annex, supping goods for Japan, so not have complete productive chains.
- Korea received a lot of free money from USA because of it's strategic position and the Korea War. Not low interest loans, but donations.
- The government (a military dictatorship baked by USA most of the time) made a radical land redistribution to break the power of old oligarchies, and made the new small farmers pay heavy taxes to fund large infrastructure investments.
- The government brutally repressed the workers, super exploring the proletariat and making the price of Korean's exportation very competitive.
- The government selected some industries to receive lots of money (some of it free) for agreeing with a very ambitious project of industry modernization. They names are well know today, LG, Samsung, Hyundai, etc.
By mid of eighties the Cold War ended and US reduced the support dictatorships to "fight communism", so the free money for Korea dropped a lot and the regime is more democratic today, the workers have even the right to unionize, but Korea still some sort of occupied state, as have thousands of American Soldiers and the national forces cant do large operations without the consent of the American commander.
Thanks to Park Chung-hee. He really kick-started the modernisation of the Korean Economy.
Japanese Occupation didn't help modernisation. Although, the occupation gave Park Chung-hee an opportunity to show his talent. He was even called Takagi Masao and was a top-ranking officer.
He then transferred to the Korean military academy and made a name for himself. He imparted his sense of discipline to the Korean economy. He took large amounts of aid from the Americans in return for military support in Vietnam and thus infused new life into the economy.
The Americans, on the other hand, wanted to establish their businesses in Korea. However, Park Chung-hee refused and instead gave incentives to local businesses. The modern-day LG, Samsung, Hyundai, etc. are called Chaebol. They had humble origins, some even had a history of gangbanging or gambling. But park Chung-hee tamed them and encouraged them to become big players. This way he made Korea an export-oriented economy rather than a garbage bin of American goods. This not only put Korea on the path of modernisation, it did so rapidly and firmly.
He was a man of contradictions. He was an admirer of Japanese culture. After the war, he was accused of communism. After the coup, he never toed the American line despite being their greatest ally in the region.