Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto said that Korea's decisiveness and enthusiam will ensure that the Nov.11-12 G20 Seoul Summit will be a success. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Lee Tae-hoon
Japan's top envoy here has expressed his confidence that Korea will breathe new vitality into the upcoming G20 Seoul Summit this month by sharing its exemplary experiences of overcoming financial crises and emerging as an "advanced country."
Korea, which rose from the ashes of the Korean War in the early 1950s, is known as one of the first countries to recover from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, and the global financial crisis that began two years ago.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently classified Korea as an advanced, current-account surplus economy, forecasting that its gross domestic product (GDP) will surpass $1 trillion next year to place the once-war-torn country as the 13th largest economy in the world.
In an interview with The Korea Times, Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto said Korea's decisiveness and enthusiasm, which resonates from its vitality, will help the country successfully host the world forum slated for Nov. 11 and 12.
"As the host and chair of the G20 summit, Korea's valor and vigor in taking the initiative will play a crucial role in promptly addressing and finding solutions for global economic and financial issues" Muto said.
Experts say Korea has played an important role in providing solutions to some of the most controversial issues and averting a trade war among major economies ahead of the G20 meeting.
Korea successfully mediated the group of 20 major economies to adopt a communique pledging to stop competitive currency devaluations and curb excessive trade imbalances at the meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and central bank chiefs in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province on Oct. 22 and 23.
During the meeting, Korea helped G20 members reach the surprise agreement for the IMF to shift over-6 percent of voting rights to developing countries to reflect their growing economic clout and improve its governance and credibility.
Dynamism in Korea
"What distinguishes Korea from Japan is its speedy preparation," Muto said.
"The Japanese tend to start preparations very early, but I've noticed that Koreans are capable of completing tasks fast, no matter how limited the time may be."
The ambassador highly praised the firm determination and culture of swift decision making among Korean people.
"I have no doubt that Korea's can-do spirit and prompt response will serve as a great asset to resolving impending issues," Muto said.
He noted that Japan, the host and chair of the upcoming Economic Leaders' Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), should emulate Korea's vitality.
Following the G20 summit in Seoul, Japan will host the APEC meeting, which brings together heads of state and representatives to set the strategic policy direction in the region, in Yokohama on Nov. 13 and 14.
Japan will shoulder the responsibility of arbitrating a range of strategic, economic and trade-related issues, such as regional economic integration, the Doha Round of trade talks, climate change, and terrorism.
Muto said he expects Korea play a bridging role between developed and developing countries and show strong leadership as the host and chair of the summit.
"Having joined the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) last year, Korea is in an ideal position to help bridge the gap between the emerging and advanced economies and share its experiences in successfully overcoming the Asian financial crisis in 1998," the ambassador said.
Noting that Korea is the first non-G8 country to host a G20 summit, he expressed hope that Korea will give a greater voice to poorer countries in order to help boost their economy and play an important role in the rebalancing of the global economy.
Muto said Koreans should feel proud of being the citizens of the first aid recipient-turned-donor country in the history of the DAC.
Korea is also the first OECD country to recover from the global financial meltdown which began with the fall of Lehman Brothers, a leading investment bank headquartered in New York, in September 2008.
"Korea, which has such an outstanding track record of success, will greatly contribute to the summit and its outcome," the envoy said.
He underlined that, now is time for Korea, which once drew lessons from the successes and failures of Japan's development model, to serve as a role model for emerging economies, including non-G20 countries, and be in the vanguard of efforts to raise their concerns.
The ambassador witnessed and experienced Korea's Saemaeul (New Village) Movement firsthand, when he first came to Korea to serve as a commercial secretary at the Japanese Embassy in 1975.
The Saemaeul Movement was a nationwide development campaign which changed the face of rural Korea and helped rebuild the country's economic infrastructure in the 1970s.
"I'm certain that Korea's Saemaeul Movement is an ideal model for other emerging economies," Muto said, adding that it has already been benchmarked by many African countries.
He attributed the success of the government-initiated project to outstanding nurturing and management of young talent in the provinces.
"The success of the movement relied on the emergence of young leaders with a new vision and vitality in rural areas, who were picked based on merit through competition rather than seniority," the ambassador recalled.
"It ensured that people felt rewarded for their work."
Muto said he has been impressed by Korea's sincere efforts to tackle development issues, not only on behalf of G20 member nations, but also some 170 non-members, within the framework of the G20.
Development issues, known as one of the "Korea Initiatives" along with the establishment of a global financial safety net, will appear for the first time as a main agenda item for the forum for international economic cooperation.
"Korea will not limit its consultations to G20 members, but will reach out to partners outside," President Lee Myung-bak said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland early this year.
Lee pledged that Korea would conduct extensive outreach efforts through consultations with the United Nations and other regional bodies.
"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that the fruits of strong and sustainable growth are shared evenly among all countries, including the poorest," he said.
The ambassador underlined that, Korea and Japan, the chairs of the G20 summit and APEC forum in 2010, should work closely to promote the Korea Initiatives and create a synergy effect in achieving common goals.
Korea is advanced nation
The majority of Koreans believe their country is on the threshold of becoming a developed nation, but people in other countries think otherwise, Muto said.
"Korea is no longer a developing country. It is a developed country," he said.
The ambassador stressed that Korea is a far more advanced country than many Koreans perceive and that Japanese conglomerates are feeling increasing pressure to catch up with Korean companies, such as Samsung and Hyundai.
"Its joining of the DAC has proven that Korea more than deserves to be called an advanced nation," he said.
All of the 24 members of the OECD donor's club are advanced nations, except for the European Commission, which is not a member state, but acts as a full member of the committee.
The list of DAC members includes the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Moreover, the IMF recently decided to categorize Korea as one of the advanced, current account surplus economies of the G20, according to officials at the Finance Ministry and the G20 Summit Preparation Committee.
The official said the IMF divided G20 nations into five groups based on their current account balance and economic prowess. Canada and Japan were also put into the same category as Korea.
The IMF named the United States and Britain as advanced current account deficit nations, while labeling Brazil and India as emerging deficit countries.
"I believe the only people who deny that Korea is not a developed country are Koreans," the ambassador said.
"I hope Koreans will realize that they have built an advanced nation (from the ashes) and, based on the confidence of being the citizens of a developed country, they should provide strong leadership at the upcoming G20 summit."