[NOTEBOOK]The $10 billion man comes home

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[NOTEBOOK]The $10 billion man comes home

Imagine attracting $10 billion in a diplomatic mission that lasted only 11 days? If that's true, then it must be some sort of record. President Kim Dae-jung and his aides who promised that kind of monetary success before leaving Korea returned home Wednesday after a whirlwind round of visits in Europe.

I wanted to ask Mr. Kim and his aides whether they had actually achieved what reports said they would. On Monday, an answer to my question came from Europe. Mr. Kim, the answer said, achieved greater results than expected before the group left. The answer, far from satisfying my curiosity, only brought more questions.

First, let's study some of those reports from Europe. Lee Ki-ho, Mr. Kim's senior secretary for economic affairs, reportedly said that due to "sales diplomacy" in Britain, Norway and Hungary, the trip accomplished orders worth $10.41 billion. The breakdown from respective sectors was: commitment from foreign investors, $4.18 billion; construction and plant exports, $5.26 billion; and information technology exports, $970 million. Britain topped the list with $9.05 billion, accounting for about 90 percent of the total; Norway pledged $960 million and Hungary $400 million. When I added things up, the sum came to exactly $10.41 billion.

Before leaving this country, Mr. Lee had mentioned aiming for a similar figure. He stated then that when he estimated the expected amount that the presidential trip might make, the projection was more than $10 billion. Added to that would be figures expected from various sectors. I'm left wondering how that figure was reached even before Mr. Kim began his sales diplomacy.

This recent trip started with Mr. Kim's participation in a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. Because Mr. Kim gets criticized for leaving this country so often, his aides focused on the so-called sales diplomacy of this trip. That was a smart decision. It is highly desirable for a nation's president to serve as a CEO to attract foreign companies and investments, and to explore new export routes for domestic firms. Those kinds of tasks can lead to economic recovery and a better employment picture.

About a month ago, Samsung Corp. announced that it would hire 15 people in its international division. For those 15 positions, some 10,000 applications were received. By studying various indicators such as university performances and foreign language test scores, Samsung reduced the number to 1,000. For the final interview, Samsung had a much more difficult time reducing those 1,000 to 40 applicants.

The Samsung case showed clearly the seriousness of the unemployment situation for educated young Koreans.

Amid this revelation, the announcement came that President Kim would visit European countries for $10 billion worth of diplomacy. The announcement was enough to attract people's attention, though few gave much notice to it for it seemed a routine news item. Nobody really gave much thought to the promise that President Kim would gain $10 billion in results - even before it happened.

In the same manner, the $10.41 billion figure, which came at the end of the visits, did not draw any special attention either. The president's staff, obviously disappointed at that lack of reaction, likely felt that the domestic media didn't value highly what a president in his late 70s had achieved.

But the president's staff should consider why that large sum of money failed to attract people's attention. I think that's because the figure is the sum of everything that could possibly be gained in business with the countries he visited. Specifics mentioned between Korean firms and European companies before the visit, and export negotiations, which are in their infancy, are included in the $10.41 billion.

So it's not an accurate figure. For example, if you calculate sales results for a month, you should calculate what you sold in that month. You should not include what you talked about selling.

That kind of overstatement showed, in past administrations, a staff's excessive loyalty toward a president. I don't know why hyperbole like that, without any substance behind it, continues to happen. It should be stopped.


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The writer is the international economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shim Shang-bok

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