[Viewpoint]Don’t leave Korea outThe 2008 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland last week set the stage for President-elect Lee Myung-bak to again announce his “747” pledge. Sakong Il, the head of the presidential transition team’s special committee for national competitiveness, presented the vision on Lee’s behalf. His address to the political and economic leaders of the world can be summarized as follows.
“Korea has had a lost decade due to the failure of its leaders. However, the citizens of the Republic of Korea chose new leaders in the presidential election. Because the new administration will make businesses more competitive by relaxing regulations and creating a corporate-friendly economic environment, the president-elect’s vision of achieving a 7 percent annual growth, increasing the per capital national income to $40,000 and making Korea the seventh-largest economy in the world in 10 years is not an unattainable dream.”
It goes without saying that Lee has the G7 in mind with his goal to become the seventh-largest economy in the world. Based on his pragmatic leadership, he hopes to accomplish the second “Miracle on the Han River.”
Among the 193 independent sovereign bodies in the world, Korea is 12th or 13th in terms of the size of its economy. The International Monetary Fund listed the country 12th based on its 2006 GDP, and the World Bank ranked it 13th. Four countries from seventh to 10th place ― Italy, Canada, Spain and Brazil ― have a GDP of more than $1 trillion. Russia, in 11th place, Korea and India are chasing closely behind.
To have the seventh-largest GDP in a decade, Korea needs to pass at least five countries, from Italy to Russia, and possibly six, if we include India. We also need to beat off Mexico’s challenge. Then, in terms of the size of its economy, Korea would be outdone only by six countries in the world: the United States, Japan, Germany, China, the United Kingdom and France. The country will approach the status of the G7, the most prestigious club of developed countries in the world.
A vision, by nature, is supposed to be far-reaching, so it means nothing to ask how realistic the possibility is. The point here is whether the international community will treat Korea as a member of the G7, even if Korea becomes the seventh-largest economy in the world. Economic growth alone cannot make Korea a member of the G7. The exclusive nature of the G7 and G8 cannot be overcome just with economic power.
In terms of economic size, China was the fourth-largest country in the world in 2006, and it should have been a member of the G7. How can we explain that Russia, which is behind Spain and Brazil in GDP, is a member of the G8?
In a New Year’s press conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed expanding the G8 to the G13, because the G8 does not properly reflect the changed circumstances of the international economy.
He suggested adding China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Mexico. The G13 would not include Korea, either.
Those five countries were invited to a G8 summit meeting last year, in the format of a G8 plus 5. President Sarkozy is also scheduled to attend the G8 summit meeting in Hokkaido, Japan in July, as rotational president of the European Union.
The United Kingdom also supports the expansion of the G8. We cannot afford to take Sarkozy’s proposal for granted.
The G8 is the most elite gathering of the international community. Just being a member of that group elevates a country’s reputation.
If the G8 expands to the G13 and Korea fails to join the new society, Korea’s status is bound to fall in terms of the others.
We should not be made complacent by the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, this year’s G8 president, is planning to invite President-elect Lee Myung-bak. We should prepare for the possibility that the G8 will be expanded.
A realistic alternative for Korea is for the G8 to expand into the G15, not the G13, and add both Korea and Australia, whose GDP is the 15th largest in the world. U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda should be on our side. Lee should persuade President Sarkozy to facilitate cooperation with Australia.
The grand vision of the “747” pledge is important, but he should not take his hands off the issue of G8 expansion, which will determine the status of our nation. The realistic goal we should be aiming for is not the G7, but the G15.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok