The busy capital of Tokyo, Japan, is an eye-popping mix of the ultramodern and the traditional. Image Credit: Unsplash/Jezael Melgoza

For those of us who grew up in the last century, our general knowledge and pulse on day-to-day affairs was not gleaned over a hand-held device such as the mobile phone. Instead, it was the library, it was the daily newspapers and it was books that shaped our ideas and opinions.

As we read on, we came to know of things and events beyond our borders. I remember being particularly impressed with the magnificence of some countries that stood out over others, with that status being achieved by their accomplishments.

In my early youth, it was the United States and Great Britain that were countries one looked up to for their innovations and ascension into modern times. Such courses that led countries to be among the world’s leaders naturally did not happen just by chance but through a course of calculated and wise leadership along with the cooperation of the nation’s people.

In later years I was particularly impressed with Germany and Japan, two countries devasted by the last World War that ended in 1945, but did not simply wither into oblivion. In less than three decades, German innovation in engineering and technology began making inroads into consumer homes.

German cars began gaining praise for their exceptional engineering and road worthiness. Mercedes, BMW, and Porche became the standards of excellence. Then came Adidas and a host of other leisure-related industries that were soon marketed globally.

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Rising economic dominance

The Germans were also exporting heavy industries. Siemens, a company that had started a century earlier resurged following the war by turning great inventions into innovative technologies and rose to the challenges of the time by transforming everyday life for people all around the world.

Another German brand, Bayer which was also started a century earlier began providing the rest of the world with its pharmaceutical products. Almost every medicine cabinet anywhere had a little box of Bayer aspirin tucked within it.

The Japanese, who were obliterated by two atom bombs that were released on their cities took a little longer but within four decades, Japan became the leading auto manufacturer on the entire planet! The Japanese did not just stop there.

They continued in other areas of consumer interest and soon dominated the audiovisual industry with names like Sony, Panasonic, Betamax and VHS players, and the Walkman that soon became a global phenomenon. They then followed it with the advent of video games and just about every household on the planet had to have a Nintendo console or a Super Mario or Donkey Kong game.

Other Asian countries began noticing the rising economic dominance of Japan and started earnestly to push themselves forward. I remember the accolades being festooned on a country that many people in the rest of the world had not heard much of, Singapore. Singapore is an island and city-state and the smallest country by surface area in Southeast Asia.

Global financial hub

In 1967, Singapore, alongside Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, formed ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

That same year Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew unveiled his vision to transform Singapore into a ‘garden city’, introducing several green initiatives, such as the development of parks and a tree-planting programme. He also established the Economic Development Board which helped Singapore become a global financial hub and a world leader in shipping and transport.

Taiwan took notice of these economic developments around them and was soon becoming known for their proficiency in computer products that were beginning to make inroads in consumer homes towards the end of the last century. Motherboards and processors that ran personal computers were eagerly sought for if they originated in Taiwan. ASUS, Acer and Transcend were soon becoming household names in places across the world from that island.

South Korea did not stay idle. They began slow but soon became a dominant force with brand names like Hyundai and Samsung among others.

With each passing year, their automotive products improved and they offered a serious challenge to the American and Japanese automakers. Their heavy machinery was also sought for in countries beginning to transform their infrastructure and their consumer goods managed to secure a dominant position in most households.

The common factor that helped propel nations out of ruins into global leaders has been a combination of good and fair leadership and hard-working people who stood to benefit from the country’s progress.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator.