Politics dealt Seoul a tough hand. The metropolitan area, the capital city of one of Asia's largest economies, and the economy fastest to hit the regional road to recovery, is wedged between imposing powers. To the west lurks China, an economic and political giant. To the east lies the financial (and former military) might of Japan. Pyongyang -- and the threat posed by an isolated nuclear power --looms to the north. So anyone seeking lessons on converting problems into opportunities should look to Seoul. Businesses in greater Seoul have helped to turn China into a major trading partner. The capital city and its environs draw impressive foreign investment from Japan. Managing Pyongyang may take a little more time, but Seoul-based companies have made advances. Cruise ships now offer South Korean tourists a chance to see the North for the first time since the Korean War. Greater Seoul, the home of 10 million people and some of Asia's wealthiest, is Korea's political, cultural, educational, and business hub. The country's largest corporations put their headquarters in Seoul, and many foreign investors have followed. Major Korean advertising agencies and other business service firms set up shop in Seoul. The city also is home to major research and development laboratories. Manufacturing complexes surround the city. Seoul and its suburbs boast 9,000 factories, employing more than 360,000 workers. They've suffered in the last two years, but most Seoul businesses have recovered from the late-'90s Asian flu. When it swept through the country, the economic crisis halted production lines of the largest corporations, their suppliers, and other entrepreneurs. "It feels like a bad dream. Our line was virtually idle in 1998," remembers Won Je-Don, who runs a vinyl packaging factory in Inchon, a heavy manufacturing suburb 25 miles from downtown Seoul. "Now our line is roaring." Not only is Inchon home to small manufacturers such as Won's, it also hosts complexes run by large corporations. They are drawn by the suburb's proximity to Qingdao, Dalian, and other major cities in China, which vies with the U.S. as Korea's top market for exports. South of Inchon lies the suburb of Chun-An, some 40 miles from downtown Seoul. Chun-An has lured financing and facilities from Korea's financial giant to the East. Japanese manufacturers, especially electronics producers, have settled in the Chun-An Industrial Estate. Korea Industrial Complex Corp. (Kicox), which runs the 25 largest industrial parks across the nation, requires manufacturers who want space in that Industrial Estate to maintain at least a 30% foreign stake. This increases Seoul's access to capital - and to foreign management expertise, a key national priority. The country gains access to global high-tech knowledge in Suwon, just 20 miles south of Seoul, which has attracted foreign technology manufacturers such as Pacific Controls Ltd. Known as a center of consumer electronics, Suwon promises to emerge as the nation's hub of digital multimedia when Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. opens its 25-story digital R&D center in Suwon in the summer of 2001.