South Korea will mark this week the 20th anniversary of its admission to the United Nations at a time when the country is revving up its efforts to emerge as a global donor state from a recipient, officials said Thursday.
The U.N. General Assembly approved the separate memberships of both South and North Korea on Sept. 17, 1991. Before then, the two Koreas had held non-voting observer status in the global organization.
The admission of South Korea into the U.N. marked another milestone in its relations as the U.N. has always loomed large in South Korean history.
South Korea's first general election was supervised by a U.N. commission in 1948. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the U.N. swiftly assembled an international force to defend South Korea from the invasion by the communist North and succeeded in protecting the South's freedom and independence.
"The freedom, independence, economic development, democracy, political liberties and human rights which we Koreans enjoy today all owe a great deal to the United Nations," former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told a recent forum marking the 20th anniversary of South Korea's membership in the U.N.
"I would not be exaggerating too much if I were to state that had there not been the United Nations, there would not have been the free and prosperous Korea today," Han said.
Over the past two decades, South Korea's diplomacy in the U.N. bloomed. Seoul was elected a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council during 1997-99, and assumed the Presidency of the 56th Session of the General Assembly in 2001.
During the period, South Korea also achieved an economic miracle, rising from the rubble of the Korean War to the ranks of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and built a vibrant democracy.
In 2007, South Korea's former foreign minister Ban Ki-moon became the eighth secretary-general of the U.N. The endorsement of Ban for the second five-year term as the U.N. chief this year further highlighted the special bond of cooperation between South Korea and the U.N., officials said.
With the aim of playing a more active role in promoting world peace and dealing with threats posed by North Korea, South Korea is seeking international support for its bid to become a non-permanent member of the 15-country Security Council in 2013-2014.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high following North Korea's two deadly military attacks on South Korea last year -- the sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of an island -- that killed a total of 50 South Koreans.
As South Korea's diplomacy in the U.N. is coming of age, the nation is accelerating its efforts to increase its aid for international development and help the U.N. tackle challenges such as climate change and world poverty.
When the U.N. chief visited South Korea last month, Ban also called for his home country to pay more attention and play a greater role in global affairs.
"The international community is increasingly expecting the Republic of Korea to share its experience for success," Ban said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
By 2015, South Korea will nearly triple its official development aid (ODA) to about $3 billion. The ODA is designed to help Asian, African and Latin American countries establish economic and industrial infrastructure.
The sharp increase in international development aid is part of South Korea's efforts to give back for the help it received from the international community in rebuilding its economy following the Korean War.
Once a recipient of U.N. handouts, South Korea is annually contributing $53 million to the U.N. regular budget, the 11th largest contributor among U.N. member states.
In line with growing financial contributions, Korea is encouraging its junior diplomats to seek jobs at the U.N.
The number of South Koreans working at the U.N. and its affiliated organizations rose to some 400 people this year, compared with 247 in 2007, according to data released by Seoul's foreign ministry. (Yonhap)