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Dubai skyscraper symbol of S. Korea's global heights

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Dubai aims for tallest building
  • South Korea companies such as Samsung have become global brands
  • The world's largest private real estate development is in South Korea
  • The government's new development plans focus on environmental technology

(CNN) -- Standing in the shadow of the Burj Dubai Kye Ho Kim of Samsung Construction rattles off the list of records the building will break.

Standing about a half mile high, it will be the world's tallest building, with the most floors (164) and the world's highest and fastest building. "This building is going to break so many records," said Kim, whose company is building the $4 billion tower, scheduled to open later this year. "This is kind of a project like the first exploration of the moon. Nobody can challenge it."

It may not rank with manned missions to the moon, but right now there is nothing else like the Burj Dubai on Earth. As the project is metaphoric for the strength of Samsung Construction, the company itself symbolizes the growth of South Korea onto the world stage. A country once devastated by war and still divided by north and south has rebuilt itself into a modern capitalist democracy with companies with a global reach such as Samsung

Samsung has cornered the market in giant building construction, building the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101 in Taiwan -- both previous world-record holders.

"Think about the Americans when they constructed the Empire State Building in 1931," Kim said. "So have we ... in a very short period of time we are now the leading company in the world."

Some of Korea's more impressive building projects are happening at home. In the midst of the recession, construction of Songdo -- a 1,500-acre new free trade zone built on reclaimed land two hours out of Seoul -- continues apace, with a projected cost of $35 billion. Developers hope it will be the eventual home of 75,000 people.

It's considered one of the world's largest private real estate development ventures in history, a joint project with South Korea's Posco and Gale International, a U.S. real estate developer. "Under construction today is about $10 billion" of the project, said Chris Sausser, executive vice president of Gale International. "The project we're building has been able to attract multinational companies, investors as well as residents."

Postwar South Korea was based on a "growth at any cost" model, but the South Korean government has pledged 2 percent of its GDP for the next five years dedicated to green development. The country, already the world's most wired, plans to develop next-generation Internet connections that use less computing power. Indoor lighting initiatives are replacing traditional bulbs with lower energy LED lights.

"Green growth is not a plan B, it is plan A," said Kim Sang Hyup, executive director of the Green Growth Committee. "We are going to contribute to the global community by action, not talk."

CNN's Stan Grant, Kristie LuStout and Kyung Lah contributed to this report