[Outlook]Goodbye ‘sandwich Korea’‘Sandwich Korea’ is a buzzword, that reflects the daunting challenges the Korean economy now faces, caught between an economic powerhouse and a rapidly developing country.
It vividly captures the stress and anxiety that Korea experiences from lying between Japan, the world’s second-largest economic power and its top-notch technological capabilities, and China, which has maintained a double-digit annual growth rate.
In his inaugural speech, President Lee Myung-bak proclaimed 2008 as the first year of our efforts to make Korea an advanced country.
Lee made clear his determination to escape from the ‘Sandwich Korea,’ position.
It is appropriate to adopt a strategy that focuses on invigorating the national economy in order to overcome the national crisis Korea now faces.
His strategy is that we should be firmly committed to quickly developing our national economy, with an eye on both speed and quality, to realize our one and only goal of entering the group of advanced countries.
However, today’s world emphasizes that the criteria for becoming an advanced country is not simply being focused on economic growth and competition, but also taking into consideration how to deal with global threats that all of mankind is confronted with.
Among them, we need to take a closer look at the fact that the global community is conducting in-depth discussions on issues such as global warming, which is caused by a swift increase in CO2 emissions.
The threats that we face due to climate change are essentially the results of reckless economic development.
Who will be responsible for warming’s consequences and how we can share the burden in coping with this global crisis will be questions that must be answered in the course of discussing what role advanced countries should play. In this regard, it is inevitable that the meaning and criteria of “advanced country” changes as well.
At the G-20 meeting held last week in Japan, as soon as nations started discussions on how to implement an agreement made at the Bali Climate Change Conference last December, tensions between developed and developing countries over finding out who is responsible for what and how costs would be shared erupted immediately.
Developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico argued that developed countries, which got a head start in the race of industrialization after the Industrial Revolution, are major culprits to the current air pollution and global warming.
Thus, they should stand at the forefront of reducing CO2 emissions while bearing the brunt of the costs involved in the development of environmentally friendly technology and supporting developing countries. Meanwhile, they also argued that in order to reduce poverty, there was a constant need to push for economic growth.
However, developed countries warned that without the participation of emerging countries in concerted regulations and endeavors, these nations would become warming’s first victims.
Both developed and developing nations acknowledge the global threats posed by climate change. Nevertheless, they are at odds over how to resolve the crisis.
So where does Korea stand? Korea is one of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states. It has the world’s 13th-largest economy, but it ranks 10th in terms of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
When the Kyoto Protocol took effect in 1997 dictating that certain countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Korea was luckily exempted from the regulations.
It was this very exemption that made Korea complacent in devising national measures to combat global warming, even though a number of warnings against global warming have occurred and the country is directly damaged by air pollution.
However, as negotiations to establish “Post 2012,” which aims to establish a new international system to combat climate change after the Kyoto Protocol, are expected to end by 2009, we should be ready to accept our appropriate responsibilities and duties, as we are now in the group of advanced countries.
This is in line with the present situation and the position we now hold. Because we are dealing with global threats posed by climate change, we are no longer “sandwich Korea.”
Breaking free from that label demonstrates our will to make Korea an advanced country both in terms of regulations and pragmatism. It is the manifestation of the Korean people’s confidence among our neighbors and the global community.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo