From ‘Korea discount’ to Korea premium
Chairman, Presidential Council on National Branding
South Korea has enjoyed greatly enhanced international status in recent years. The country's raised profile was perhaps epitomized when U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went out of his way to greet and shake hands with Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun during the meeting of G-20 finance leaders in Washington in April.
Obviously, South Korea has come a long way since Yi Jun, an emissary of Korean Emperor Gojong, was declined from observing the proceedings of the Second Peace Conference at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1907.
For most of the 20th century, South Korea had never been truly included in the core of global discussions. So the country being picked as the 2010 chair country of the G-20 certainly qualifies as a dramatic turn around.
Seoul was determined as the venue for the November G-20 leaders meeting during the third summit in Pittsburgh in September last year. It was also during the Pittsburg meeting when the world leaders declared that the G-20 will replace G-8 as the permanent council for international economic cooperation.
The G-20 was established as a response to the growing recognition that key emerging market countries were not adequately represented in global economic discussions and governance. And as the G-20 chair, South Korea has a crucial responsibility to bridge the discussions between developing and industrialized nations and achieve productive outcomes.
The meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers in Busan from June 3 to 5 will serve as a warm-up event for the Seoul summit. Also scheduled are a G-20 deputies' meeting in September and meetings between and also a key meeting between the top negotiators ― known as ``sherpas. '' However, the Busan meeting between finance leaders is likely to have a bigger role in shaping the discussions ahead of the Seoul summit.
The meeting between the finance ministers and central bank governors originated from a gathering of financial leaders in 1997, which was to discuss the ways to combat the Asian financial crisis. This led to the creation of the G-20 as an international body during the annual World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1999, with the first G-20 meeting held in Berlin in December that year. It wasn't until November of 2008 when the first summit between the G-20 leaders took place in Washington.
So although the summit in Seoul would obviously get more news exposure, the Busan round of the finance leaders meetings, which had served the backbone of the G-20 talks, would be just as essential in mapping the strategies to jolt the world economy and fix global finance.
The Busan meeting will provide a platform for detailed discussions between the G-20 countries, and the key agendas include improving the structure of international cooperation, reforming the global financial systems and producing plans to achieve sustainable development for the world economy.
Likely to be discussed in Busan is setting the deadline for achieving the main G-20 goals, including a framework to coordinate fiscal measures for countering the economic turmoil and reforming international financial institutions (IFIs).
As the G-20 chair, South Korea is expected to have a significant influence in any outcome to be achieved in Busan and Seoul, and officials here are particularly passionate about advancing the talks for a global financial safety net, dubbed by policymakers as the ``Korean Initiative.''
It would also be important for South Korea to exploit the G-20 meetings as a stepping stone to improve its international reputation and strengthen its ``national brand.''
South Korea is the world's 13th largest economy, but outside of the Asian region, the country's public presence remains somewhat underwhelming. In fact, many Westerners who take pride of being knowledgeable about Korea would often start their conversations with North Korea and Kim Jong-il.
To borrow a concept from Joseph Nye, ``hard power,'' which refers mostly to military capabilities, had defined the strengths of nations in the past. However, ``soft power,'' which values more of a country's culture, policies and institutions, has now gained stronger relevancy as an indicator of a country's influence.
This also shows that ``public diplomacy,'' referring to a broader form of international cooperation than country-to-country relations, has become crucial in strengthening a country's international position, and this is an area where South Korea had lagged behind. Apparently, the G-20 leaders meeting in Seoul may provide a turnaround point.
Needless to say, the outcome of the Busan finance leaders meeting could prove to be a decisive factor in determining the success level of the Seoul summit. As the hosts, the South Koreans will not only be responsible for managing a deft flow in the discussions, but also providing an open and effective debate procedure to balance the voices between developing and industrialized nations. Obviously, these efforts will hang on the ability to find and identify issues that are of common interest between the developing and industrialized nations.
South Korea's deep involvement in the setting of G-20 agendas in previous meetings, as well as its wealth of experience in hosting international events, inspires confidence that the country will meet its expectations as the G-20 chair. However, the support of the South Korean public would be just as important as the government efforts.
Major international events seem to have a way of improving the standards of citizens, as evidenced by China's experience in hosting the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and more recently, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, events that were distinguished by flawless execution and clean streets.
Although South Korea has hosted the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, I personally think the public has some room left for growth in terms of maturity.
And the maturity of citizens directly influences South Korea's value as a national brand. So while the hosting of the G-20 meetings in South Korean cities are important events themselves, how the citizens accept and react the meetings will go a long way in determining the international reputation of our country.
We don't have much time left until the November Seoul summit, and the G-20 finance leaders meeting in Busan will be crucial in the preparation. It would be great if the South Koreans greet the international leaders with warm smiles, which will go a long way in making our country more likable and respected.