From a mammoth shipyard on the southern coast of South Korea, new tankers and cargo ships are built for customers in Greece, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada and the Middle East.

Down the road a few miles, an automobile plant turns out cars that are exported to 27 countries in Africa, the Middle East and South America.

At other factories around the country, workers, are producing plywood and machinery for Japan, television sets for Great Britain, steel wire for the United States, and textiles sold around the world.

These are the visible signs of what economists now routinely speak of as the new economic miracle of Asia.

In 15 years, South Korea has gone from an impoverished agricultural nation to a semi-industrial country that is becoming one of Asia's trading powers.

Experts described Korea as a shining example of how poor countries can climb to self-sufficiency, and compare the 10 per cent annual growth of its economy to Japan's spectacular development in the 1960s.

"One of the outstanding economic success stories of recent decades," says a recent report by Citibank. A World Bank mission analyzed every aspect of the South Korean economy last year, and came to the same conclusion.

The boom, moveover, shows few signs of levelling off. South Korea bucked the world-wide recession to double its overseas trade between 1973 and 1976, and this year's target of $10 billion in exports will be easily topped. Korea's trading deficit has been all but wiped out.

The surge even concerns such trading giants as Japan, which is beginning to find Korea a formidable rival in exports ranging from ships to industrial machinery.

A recent study by the Mitsubishi Economic Research Center of Tokyo observed that Japan's share of Asian markets has dropped slightly since 1970 while those of other semi-industrialized nations, led by Korea, have increased.

Economists cite a number of factors in explaining Korea's rapid industrialization. With a complusive drive for education that matches Japan's, the country has a well-educated, easily trained work force and an abundance of university-educated technocrats to do the planning.

Credit is also given to President Park Chung Hee, whose 16-year-old regime has presence over the nation's economic rise. Despite large doses of U.S. aid in the 1950s, South Koreas was going nowhere economically until the military coup in 1961.

"Park and his friends turned it around," says one Western economist. "He runs the mechanics of all this. He sets and goals and insists they be met. His secret is that he insist on having thing done in a verifiable way by a certain date."

But the most important fact of life was the early decision by Park, planners and businessmen that South Korea would rise or fall as an exporter of manufactured goods.

Unlike other poor Asian countries, it had no basic minerals to export and not enough land to become an agricultural exporter. A basic plan was adopted in the early 1960s: Import raw materials, build plants that use lots of cheap labor, and export ifercely.

It paid off. The first success was in textiles, clothing, wigs and watches. Gradually, the markets broadened. Lumber is brought into South Korea from Indonesia and the Philippines and is sent back out as plywood. Leather is imported and turned into shoes that are exported to the United States and Canada. Small parts come in from Japan and the United States and go out as electronic equipment.

Park's government lends help in the form of tax breaks and special financing arrangements for the exporting companies, much of Japan's government helped steel and trading companies in the 1950s.

The South Korean economy's big engines are about 20 conglomerates that each control several corporations, usually through family holding companies. Called "jaibuls," they have grown since the 1950s war with considerable government assistance.

The biggest and richest, Samsung, is composed of 18 corporations that mainly provide light machinery. Kim Mahn Je, president of the government's Korean Development Institute, explained how the system works.

"If the government wants to promote a new kind of machinery," says Kim, "It calls in Samsung or Daewoo and asks 'Can you do this?' "Then the company tells us whathelp they will need, what incentives they want, and we give it to them," Kim says. When the government wanted to create a shipbuilding industry, it picked the Hyundai Group and gave them free water, electricity, loans to build dry-docks, and a huge site at Ulsan.

There is a list of about 20 successful entrepeneurs that benefit most from this government aid. "When Korea wants to promote hotels, it will call up one on the list," explains Kim. "Of course, if you are not on the list, you are in bad shape. But the criticism of that system is unfair, because we have so few entrepeneurs in Korea who are modern and international-minded."

The Park regime is occasionally critized for this cozy relationship with big business. Actually, corporate concentration here is less than in many other countries. The 41 biggest jaibuls account for only 10 per cent of South Korea's gross national product.

It is true that many basic Korean industries, like textiles and shoes, were built on cheap labor. How else could a country import leather from the United States, and ship it back profitably in the firm of shoes?

But many other Asian countries have cheap labor in abundance and have not prospered like South Korea, says Kim. The entrepeneurial genius is what makes the difference, he insists. "Why isn't it the Philippines that has the plywood mills, since it has the lumber?" he asks. A Western economist agrees. "India is still India," he observes, " and Korea isn't."

The jaibuls have demonstrated a go-for-broke competitiveness and ability to recoup from disaster that any American corporation would envy.

One of the boldest is the Hyundai Group, a conglomerate of 17 companies put together by Chung Ju Yung, who got his start 40 years ago with an auto repair company.

A few years ago, Hyundai's construction company was foundering after it ran out of Vietnam war contracts. It got by for a while with small projects in Guam and Australia.Then it discovered the Middle East. Now Hundai Construction builds dry docks in Bahrain, Navy facilities in Saudi Arabia, a horbor in Jubail.

The secret, explains Hyundai Construction's managing director, D. S. Choi, is reliable labor. That was hard to come by in the Middle East, he says, so Hyundai began flying workers in by the planeload. An estimated 30,000 South Koreans are now working on Middle East projects for Korean companies.

Another Hyundai company builds ships, and had the misfortune to be heavily committed to construction of supertankers just as the oil shock struck in 1973.Suddenly, supertankers were a glut on the market. But Hyundai, through shrewed bidding, put together so many orders for small cargo ships, barges and container carriers that it has maintained full production.

Hyundai also manufacturers the Pony, a small sturdy car built especially for rough Korean roads. Production limped along for several years, limited by a small domestic market, until a buyer from Ecuador decided the car was just right for his country's bad roads.

Now, Hyundai sells the Pony in 27 underdeveloped countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East. Next year a more comfortable, Italian-styled model will try to crack the European market. The ultimate target, says Hyundai Motor Co. executive H.K Paik, is the United States. A "Pony Coupe" is on the drawing boards for U.S. buyers.

While economists find few dark clouds on the Korean horizon, they wonder what will happen if the global trend toward increased trade restrictions continues. Wholly dependent on exports, South Korea could be hurt badly.

Already it is beginning to feel the pinch in some areas. Great Britain has imposed a quota on Korean television sets. The U.S. is limiting imports of non-rubber shoes and textiles. The U.S. Treasury is investigating complaints that South Korean firms are dumping steel wire on the American market. Japan is raising barriers against South Korean textiles, silk goods, and fish products.

In response, South Korean planners are shifting away from the old reliable exports that brought the country so far in a decade.

"Our days are numbered with textiles, shoes and some electronic products," says Kim Mahn Je of the Korean Development Institute. "Our future is in machinery and heavy industry. And we will explore new markets. We are too dependent on Japan and the United States. Next it must be the [Southeast Asian] countries and South America."