Posted : 2008-02-18 16:49
Updated : 2008-02-18 16:49

Resources Diplomacy

Prudent, Precise Approach Brings Substantive Benefits

A war without gunfire is going on among major powers over dwindling energy and other natural resources in the world. If Noam Chomsky and Alan Greenspan are right, it could easily escalate into a war with gunfire ― a horrible one at that ― as seen by the U.S. war in Iraq. So the next government's vow to focus on resources diplomacy is more than welcome, if a little belated.

What's left is how to put it into action in the most effective and substantive ways, but what President-elect Lee Myung-bak and his aides did recently fell somewhat short of expectations in this regard. Lee Thursday met Nechirvan Barzani, the visiting head of Iraq's Kurdistan regional government, to ask for cooperation in oil development by Korean firms in the Kurdish region. Lee's transition team said the memorandum of understanding to explore the reserve of up to 2 billion barrels is the ``first fruit'' of its resources diplomacy.

It's questionable whether Lee should have met the Kurdistan leader, considering the Iraqi central government lately took issue with a similar previous MOU as infringing on its authority. Equally uncertain is how the meeting will affect negotiations between SK Corp. and Baghdad to resume Iraq's crude exports to the nation's largest refinery that have since been suspended. The transition team's media play of the contract is self-serving, too, as it owes much to the presence of the Zaytun troops there, which President Roh Moo-hyun pushed through despite fierce opposition even from his own party. It's time for political bragging to give way to cold-headed economic calculation based on a long-term strategy.

The need to make all-out efforts to secure natural resources, particularly oil, can hardly be overemphasized. Korea, the world's 10th largest energy consumer, relies on foreign suppliers for 97 percent of its demand with slightly more than 4 percent coming from its own oil fields abroad. Japan, which meets 16 percent of demand from self-developed offshore fields, plans to raise the ratio to 40 percent.

Securing sufficient fossil fuel, however, should not be all, but a part of a comprehensive energy strategy. The best way for Korea to turn the energy crisis and global warming into another industrial opportunity is to be armed with state-of-the-art energy and an environmental technology. The nation must expand its world-class technology in building and operating nuclear power plants to designing and engineering know-how. Similar efforts should be made for developing new and renewable energy resources as well as energy-conservation technology.

All this should lead to a cautious and elaborate strategy rather than hasty and exaggerated PR activities, which could backfire. President-elect Lee once said the Korean soldiers should stay in Kurdistan longer, as it ``sits on an oil field.'' The post of the presidency will require a little more refined and adroit diplomatic expressions.
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