Lee shines at G20, but challenges lie ahead
By Na Jeong-ju
The G20 fervor and excitement has cooled down.
The wired fence that surrounded the Coex in southern Seoul to protect delegations from protesters will be removed and the nearby Samseong subway station, which was closed to the public during the gathering to prevent possible terrorist attacks, is back to normal now.
The event marked President Lee Myung-bak’s global debut as a leading voice for emerging and underdeveloped nations, but he had to face harsh reality as well.
During the two-day summit, the G20 leaders tried to find a solution to the most vexing problem, the currency dispute between the United States and China that has raised the specter of a global trade war.
As the host, President Lee made last-ditch efforts to help iron out differences over the currency issue, but his given role as a mediator was limited.
“The G20 is basically a forum of the world’s 20 leading economies, but, in a sense, it is heavily influenced by the countries that have bigger says,” said a South Korean official who helped organize the event, asking not to be named.
“As a leader of an emerging nation, Lee tried his best to mediate the elite group on their differing views on sensitive issues, but actually there was a limit that he couldn’t exceed.”
In short, China didn’t want to discuss its trade or currency conflicts with the U.S. in an international forum like the G20.
As Korea will remain a part of the G20 troika as the host of the previous summit, President Lee will continue to work hard with France, the next host, in the coming months to find workable solutions to the currency conflict, the official said.
Although the summit was overshadowed by the disputes between superpowers, it significantly raised Lee’s potential to become one of the more prominent global leaders.
Korea put reducing global imbalances by assisting underdeveloped countries high on the agenda and sought a common understanding among the leaders on the seriousness of the issue.
It also called for the need to set up a financial safety net to protect emerging and poor nations from volatile international money flows in the event of a currency crisis.
Noticeably, such efforts will help the corporate CEO-turned-President strengthen his global image as a leading voice for less-privileged nations.
Analysts say the G20’s focus on the development agenda and the financial integrity will help reinforce the status of the G20 as the premier global forum on economic cooperation and increase its legitimacy, effectiveness and credibility.
The Seoul summit was also a crucial opportunity for Lee to share his “green growth” vision with the rest of the world.
“The world leaders witnessed Korea’s diverse programs to nurture the green industry into one of the main drivers of economic growth and shared its efforts to create momentum in global discussions on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kim Sang-hyup, presidential secretary for future and vision.
“The forum provided an opportunity for Lee to demonstrate his global leadership on such issues.”
Gone are the days when some powerful and wealthy nations could dictate their plans on the global economy to the rest of the global community.
The rise of the G20 should not be seen as a magnanimous offer by the Western economic cabal and Japan to a group of formerly less-influential developing economies, which includes South Korea.
President Lee said the G20’s biggest mission is to create jobs in all countries around the world.
“We’ve tried to share policies on ensuring sustainable and balanced growth and introduce programs to reform the financial sector, including the IMF,” Lee said during a press conference at the end of the Seoul summit.
He cited an IMF analysis that the global output will increase $1 trillion by 2014 and 25 million jobs will be created worldwide if the G20 succeeds in narrowing differences on the ongoing disputes in trade and international finance.