By Park Hae-yun
Are there any defining traits of Korean diplomacy? In late 1980s, there was a “Northern Policy” of opening relations with Russia and East European countries. The “UN diplomacy” surged in 1991 when the Republic of Korea joined the United Nations, leading to a Security Council seat from 1996-97, General Assembly Presidency in 2001 and the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
To an attentive eye this year, there are events in Seoul that tell of a new trait in Korean diplomacy. Five foreign ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam will be here to attend the first Korea-Mekong Foreign Ministers’ Meeting from Oct. 27-28. Fourteen Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands gathered in Seoul last May to attend the first Korea-Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
These two inaugural meetings the Korean government has initiated focus on development cooperation: to increase Korea’s development assistance in the region as well as to channel resources effectively while utilizing Korea’s development experience.
The figures in aid increase, though substantial, are less important than what these two meetings imply for Korean diplomacy. Overcoming the pain of war and poverty in the 1950s, Korea, the former recipient of international aid, has now become a member of the prestigious donor group, joining the 23-member OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2010.
Korea increased its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to $1.2 billion in 2010, an increase of 25.7 percent compared to 2009. This year, its ODA will amount to $1.4 billion. More important, Korea intends to continue to expand its share substantially, targeting 0.25 percent for its ODA/ Gross National Income (GNI) ratio by 2015 from the current 0.14 percent.
Korea has yet to match the ODA standards of those countries which spend more than $11 billion a year ― the U.S., UK, France, Germany and Japan, and those which fulfill the UN’s international aid target of ODA/GNI ratio of 0.7 percent ― Denmark, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
However, as a latecomer to the donor club, Korea is seeking the “quality” of aid, while trying to catch up with the other donors in quantity. Korea’s rapid rise from one of the poorest nations to the 13th largest economy in the world is a coveted role model for developing countries. On the strength of its development experience, Korea aims to devise the best strategy for developing countries. Seoul is willing to work closely with them as a partner for advancement.
Learning from its past, Korea continues to stress capacity-building and developing human resources. Korea’s strengths in IT and green growth are other salient features in strengthening development partnerships while such cross-cutting issues as the environment, gender equality, human rights and good governance are increasingly emphasized for development strategy.
The hosting of the two First Foreign Ministers’ Meetings this year attests to Korea’s growing confidence in managing development cooperation, a relatively new frontier in its diplomacy. It also reflects Korea’s better understanding of regional cooperation mechanism. It enhances the effectiveness of aid to devise a common strategy for all the countries in the region when they share common features of the environment and economic conditions. In addition, it can help avoid overlapping and unnecessary competition with other donors who work in the region.
In this vein, Korea will also host this year the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in Busan from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. Attending the world’s premier forum on development cooperation will be over 2,500 participants from 160 governments, international organizations and civic groups. Korea’s strenuous efforts to find its proper role for development cooperation will not be in vain. “Korea can play a unique role,” says J. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee who will come to attend the HLF-4, “in building a bridge to emerging nations and their stronger engagement in the development partnership.”
Park Hae-yun is the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.