If you want to talk East Asia, talk to Kerry Kaltenbach. Over the years Kaltenbach’s work has afforded him a front row seat to one of the most dynamic and rapidly transformed regions on the planet.
As a partner in the New York City office of Dacheng Law Offices, the Beijing-based firm that ranks as the largest in Asia (and soon to be largest in the world), Kaltenbach focuses primarily on the business and legal needs of Chinese and Korean companies in areas such as dispute resolution, intellectual property, product liability, mergers and acquisition, immigration, foreign direct investment and a wide range of other areas.
Outside of work, his ties to both Asia and the Asian-American community run deep –he is an active member of the New York City-based Korea Society, he serves on the Committee on Asian Affairs of the New York City Bar Association’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Subcommittee, and Kaltenbach also serves as president of the Manhattan Korean School Parents’ Association, helping to raise funds and organize cultural events.
He recently spoke with Branding in Asia on a range of East Asian topics from his office on Wall Street and Broadway.
Let’s start with Korea. The country’s rapid economic rise has been referred to as the “Miracle on the Han River.” You take issue with the use of the word ‘miracle’, right?
The way I view it, the Korean people really are a tiger, but for centuries they were dominated by much larger neighbors which stifled their success. In the post-Korean War period, the tiger was finally unleashed in South Korea and, in my opinion, it’s really not a ‘miracle’ or even the least bit surprising that a tiger, finally freed, would be nimble, fast and strong. I have no doubt that the South Korean economy will continue to grow.
What about in China? Do you see them following a similar path to that of the Koreans?
Obviously a similar phenomenon is happening right now in China, but on an even larger scale. Chinese economic development was also stifled for many years, but that’s been changed by reformers like Deng Xiaoping. I’m sure there will be ups and downs in the Chinese economy in the coming years, but undoubtedly it will continue to expand.
Of course, pandas are a lot tougher than they look. (laughs)
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and in East Asia often dominate the headlines. Are these issues of concern for foreign business and investors in Asia?
In my view, the deep economic interdependence that has developed between countries like China, South Korea, Japan and others in the region, as well as the United States and Europe, helps ensure political stability and peaceful co-existence.
While there might be disputes regarding issues such as island territories, or even the narrative of events from seventy-five years ago, the fact that significant military conflict would be disastrous to their economies means that cooler heads will almost always prevail.
Unlike many decades ago, when the conquest of neighbors could be profitable, there is now a compelling economic incentive for nations with modern economies to promote stability and avoid conflict.
What do you see in terms of a more standardized legal system between nations doing business in the Asia Pacific region?
As the world shrinks, and as national economies become more interconnected, I think we will see nations continue to move toward greater harmonization of their legal systems. Obviously, for Korea and the U.S., the KORUS FTA plays a role in this. Law firms merging, opening up offices abroad and becoming more international in their scope also plays a part, including in the case of China.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership will almost certainly contain legal system standards provisions, particularly on the protection of intellectual property, and it is not out of the question that eventually the U.S., Korea and China will all sign onto it.
You, as well as I, have spent a fair amount of time in Korea. While the country has some great brands, Choco Pie is one with an interesting story.
I think perhaps the Asian brand with the most interesting success story is Choco Pie from South Korea, and in a way, Choco Pie is a victim of its own success. When the original maker of Choco Pie, now Orion Confectionery, attempted to register the Choco Pie trademark in Korea in late 1990s, the Korean court ruled that the mark was so popular that it had become a common noun and was no longer capable of being registered.
When North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex were given Choco Pies as bonuses, North Koreans loved them so much that a North Korean Choco Pie black market developed, and Choco Pies were being sold for as much as $10 each. North Korea reportedly has now started producing its own version of the Choco Pie to compete with those made in the South.
Girls’ Generation and K-dramas have nothing on the Choco Pie. They are that delicious.