[Commendation Award] Why and how South Korea should include the non-G20 countries
Fifty years ago South Korea was busy recovering from a terribly devastative war. When the armistice was signed in 1953, the Korean peninsula was in ruins. South Korea was worth less than a penny. Without the presence of any natural resources, and a total lack of educated people, the prospects were very negative.
Nowadays South Korea is part of the G20, a gathering that “brings together major advanced and emerging economies to stabilize the global financial market.” The country has worked its way up from zero and reached a high economic level less than 60 years time. Democracy in South Korea is even younger. That the country is a latecomer in these two respects, should make the country extra aware of their preciousness, and more critical towards the G20.
Predominantly due to American investments, combined with a tough dictatorial regime, South Korea was able to bring its economy to a higher level. While the authoritarian state under Park Chung-Hee clearly suppressed the constitutional order, the legislature and any democratic movement, it is often praised for having enabled the Korean economic miracle.
Based on five-year plans and an export-led growth strategy, the South Korean economy expanded incredibly until the 1980s, controlled and steered by the reorganized and bureaucratic state. Additionally, labor control policy artificially repressed wages, thereby increasing international competitiveness.
The literature stemming from this period is rather depressing. The rapid changing environments, harsh working conditions and political oppression, left people with a feeling of alienation of their traditional way of life. Nevertheless, without this dictatorial regime, the “economic miracle” would never have been possible.
A formal, institutional democracy only emerged relatively late, after large demonstrations against the suppressive military rule, at the end of the 1980s. One could argue that Korea still lacks a full-fledged democracy, mainly due to the enormous power that conglomerates possess, whereas the power of the employees is only limited. Furthermore, civil society involvement is small, which prevents the formal democracy from growing into an associative democracy. Still, a formal democracy is present.
These late developments, give Korea a special position within the G20. As it only joined the major economies relatively recently, and the benefits of democracy even more recent, it has a totally different perspective on the world order. With poverty as well as a complete undemocratic regime fresh in its memory, Korea carries the knowledge and awareness that should be used to transform the G20 in order to increase its legitimacy and democracy.
First of all, the rapid economic growth that South Korea experienced, should remind the country that it has a task beyond representing its own interests, namely representing the less gifted countries. The G20 makes decisions, which affect world trade and thus, the non-G20 countries are also confronted with its consequences, although they do not take part in the decision making process.
Virtually the whole African continent is absent, except for South Africa. This, one could argue, makes the whole composition of the G20 illegitimate. The non-invited countries also have huge interests when it comes to international cooperation, international financial institutions and international development. South Korea has the duty to represent their interests, as it has relatively recently been in a very unfavourable economic position as well.
However, this problem is also a problem of lack of democracy. Supporting democracy in the G20 is where Korea’s task lays when it wants to leave its traces. The plain fact mentioned above, that decisions are made which affect the whole world, without the whole world being able to have power over this decision, is undemocratic. Secondly, there is a lack of procedural democracy. Up to now, debates are not made public, and the whole G20 lacks any transparency. Consequently, it is unclear how decision come about, let alone that we can exercise control over it. Yet, at these gatherings, important issues are decided upon, which are intended to affect the whole world, including us.
As host country, this is the moment for Korea to make a statement towards the world. As it knows what poverty and dictatorship means, it is the perfect country to represent the non-G20 countries. South Korea would render them an enormous service, when it would have the courage to discuss the very nature of the G20. The danger exists that otherwise only partial interests, and not the interests of the whole globe, are fulfilled. The task for Korea now is to talk to the non-G20 countries, define their interests, and take them into account during the G20 summit this November in Seoul. In this way the objective of strengthening of international cooperation is no longer a hollow phrase, but will be truly fulfilled.