Korea: Why she must play the mediator’s role at G 20

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Edited version published in the Korea Times

Muhammad Yunus’ statement that “One day our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like” may be how the Bangladeshi economist would depict to the modern-day South Korea. Dr. Yunus was the deserving recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, for his effort to create economic and social development from below. Similarly, Korea’s legitimacy to represent the non-G-20 members, majority of whom are developing nations, is justified in its speedy rise from poverty to plethora of world’s economic envy.

Edited version published in the Korea Times

Muhammad Yunus’ statement that “One day our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like” may be how the Bangladeshi economist would depict to the modern-day South Korea. Dr. Yunus was the deserving recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, for his effort to create economic and social development from below. Similarly, Korea’s legitimacy to represent the non-G-20 members, majority of whom are developing nations, is justified in its speedy rise from poverty to plethora of world’s economic envy.

Korea has distinguished itself as a model for economic development through diligence, effective leadership and a culture of resilient creativity worth emulating by most non G-20 members. A few decades ago Korea was a “begging bowl,” war stricken nation and Koreans were a people with more appetite than food – a typical characteristic in the least developed countries (LCDs). Today non G-20 nations hope that Korea, with such a proximate history, fully comprehends the realities of the poor nations with their limited voice at the global podium.

Transformation from agrarian based to industrially advanced economy within a short span of time has proven Korea as a leader able to create its own historical inscriptions. Korea becomes the first country outside of the G-7 to chair the G-20 summit and its speedy recovery from the recent global economic crisis is intriguing. The country’s integration of economic and environmental conservation policies has also been noted with esteem.

At the G-20 Summit in Seoul, Korea becomes the grand mediator. In fact, its arbitration job is already cut out. With an economic size standing between advanced and developing, Korea is projected to mediate the processes of bridging the gaps between the developed nations, emerging economies and the LCDs. The function of influencing discussions on the widening socioeconomic gap between the rich and the poor around the globe lies on its shoulder. And as an experienced, modernized economic leader through its own course of economic transformation, Korea candidly earns the trust of developing countries particularly on the agenda of framework for strong sustainable and balanced growth, development, food security, environmental issues and energy. These agenda happen to be at the very nucleus of the many nations at the G-20 periphery.

Furthermore, Korea takes lead in addressing reformation of International Financial Institutions or IFIs with the voice of the poor nations in mind. For decades, developing nations have been gravely under-represented in the IFIs governance and policy making with devastating impact particularly on the world’s poor. Korea’s role in creating a comprehensive agreement on global warming alongside crafting implementable agenda on development, trade, energy and security is central as a grand mediator for non G-20 members. Accordingly, with robust courage, Korea’s mediation is pertinent to the accomplishment of the Doha Developmental Agenda to a satisfactory level principally on issues of GATT, agriculture, sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

When Korea took the mantle of hosting the G-20 Summit, it must be appreciated that it also carried the G-20 mandate as the premier forum for international economic development and stability. This time though, Korea will not only referee the views of twenty nations that control about 90 per cent of global GNP and 80 per cent of world trade, it will also take care of the weight of the other 237 non G-20 countries. These nations expect Korea to provide avenues for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation, and international financial institutions to support growth and development across their contexts. Will the Seoul Summit provide, at least, some side meetings for non –G-20 regional representatives? An affirmative response will be encouraging.

So far, Korea has ostensibly laid down unique approaches toward the G-20 summit including hosting business leaders or “B-20” from the world’s advanced and emerging economies on the sidelines of the G-20 summit thus giving the private sector opportunities to collaborate on the global economic system. While this initiative is lauded as noble, participation as opposed to mere attendance of selected non G-20 members is nobler.

Perhaps more important to the non G-20 nations is the Korea’s desire for an outreach program. As a proven leader in technology, education and infrastructure development, Korea advocacy for poverty reduction, eradication of malaria and curbing HIV Aids prevalence through modalities of MDGs is much acceptable. Pressing for more technological assistance and development-related aid, food security, sustainable energy and limiting the consequences of climate change add to Korea’s responsibility as the intermediary.

But a mediator can only do so much. Though expectations are immense, Korea cannot afford to chew more than it can swallow – it must balance the interests from both sides, and aiming at what Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, termed as pursuing “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs.”

By Kwemoi Kamary




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