South Korea outlines hopeful 'creative economy' plan for 2016

​South Korea will increase government support to businesses this year, with an eye on innovative startups in a slew of high-tech fields including 5G telecommunications, IoT, cloud computing, and biotechnology.

South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning last Wednesday laid out a vision for this year dubbed "Future Wealth Business Plan 2016", which includes setting up an employment zone at every one of the 17 innovation centres set up around the country and increasing its budget for high technology.

Each centre partners with a conglomerate and offers workspace, selects promising startups and budding entrepreneurs for special funding, and dispenses legal and business advice. (Pohang's centre, located in South Korea's industrial belt, is run by steel giant POSCO and does not have the involvement of local or national governments.)

The science ministry also said last week that by March each centre will be outfitted with an employment zone to spur job creation, and singled out six fields for South Korea as particularly strategic: IoT, biotech, 5G, cloud, big data, and artificial intelligence.

This year, IoT will get 6.2 trillion won ($5.1 billion), up 29 percent from the 4.8 trillion won ($4 billion) budgeted in 2015; big data will get 340 billion won ($283 million), up 29 percent over the 262 billion won ($218.3 million) spent in 2015; and cloud computing will get 1.1 trillion won ($916 million), a 57.1 percent increase on the 700 billion won ($583.3 million) the government spent last year.

The science ministry is also keen to support cultural content technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) for games, and screen X, which projects footage on an immersive 270-degree movie screen, as well as narrowing the digital divide in one of the most IT-savvy countries in the world.

The science ministry's attention to the role of startups in commercialising trendy high tech and the innovation centres set up to nurture them is the most visible example of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's so-called "creative economy" initiative, the signature program of her administration.

South Korea wants to transform the country into Asia Pacific's hub of innovative startups and creativity, and lift it to one of the eight wealthiest nations in the world.

President Park has already called out the Bankyo and Sagam districts in Seoul as where the government hopes to nurture "Asia's Silicon Valley", promising $66 billion to build it.

However, Park has less than two years left in her term in office and the economy slipped to below 3 percent growth in 2015, a year hamstrung by weak exports. South Korea also faces an unprecedented youth employment problem.