From Korea to Vietnam: Hanjin, US Military Logistics, and the Containerization of Global Trade

Friday, January 4, 2019: 9:30 AM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Patrick Chung, University of North Florida
The US military played a crucial role in the development of transpacific networks of trade, migration, and violence during the Cold War. Critically, it facilitated the construction of the transportation infrastructure necessary for the accelerated flow of goods and people across the Pacific. This paper demonstrates how the Vietnam War sparked the “containerization” of Pacific ports. The scale US military logistical operations in Southeast Asia created a huge demand for transportation services. In the hopes of capitalizing on this opportunity, governments invested in port modernization projects while private companies retrofitted their fleets. This paper focuses the response of the South Korea government and the Hanjin Corporation. It builds on the growing body of literature (including work by geographers, historians, and sociologists) that examines the relationship between US military logistics and the rise of intermodal container shipping. It first documents how the South Korean government leveraged its deployment of troops to Vietnam to ensure the awarding of contracts to Korean firms. Then, it shows how Korean companies gained access to the latest American equipment and technological advances while participating in the US military's efforts to expand Vietnam's transportation system. Finally, it examines how the South Korean government and Hanjin worked in tandem to containerize Korean ports following the war. The success of these efforts highlights how Vietnam acted as a key site for the diffusion of technologies and management techniques critical to the modernization and integration transportation infrastructure throughout the Pacific. In tracing this history, this paper demonstrates how the US military and the Vietnam War facilitated the creation of both the physical structures and transnational corporate partnerships that fueled the rapid growth of transpacific trade during the subsequent decades.
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