[Viewpoint]A place at the table

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[Viewpoint]A place at the table

We say opportunity can be found in a crisis, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to believe that this is his chance. He is busy trying to shore up the international financial market and stave off the global economic crisis. Is he a boatswain sailing a wrecked ship without a captain or a fox in the henhouse?

With the G-20 summit scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. tomorrow, President Sarkozy is posing as a problem solver. He is eager to use the opportunity to restructure the Bretton Woods system, the foundation of the international financial system led by the United States since the end of World War II. He said if he does not accomplish this specific outcome at the meeting, he would leave and go right back to France.

It was Sarkozy who encouraged President George W. Bush to host the G-20 summit. He is even changing the meeting attendees at his discretion. Spain was not invited to the meeting because it is neither a member of G-7 or an emerging economy. But Sarkozy offered one of its two seats to Spain. France had two because it is both a member of the G-7 and Sarkozy is the current European Union president. Spain had been desperate to be included in the global summit and is greatly pleased. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero expressed sincere gratitude to Sarkozy and Bush.

It seems that President Sarkozy is determined to use the financial crisis as an opportunity to raise Europe’s profile, especially France’s. Surely, he also hopes to boost his popularity in France. His approval rating is already rising. He is displaying amazing leadership, turning the crisis into an opportunity using his position as EU president.

Leaders dream of being remembered for turning a crisis into an opportunity for their countries to improve themselves.

President Lee Myung-bak is no exception. At the end of last month, he said at the first National Economic Advisory Council meeting that the country’s global ranking can change depending on how it reacts to the current crisis. “Ordinarily, it might be difficult to catch up with developed nations, but now can be our chance.”

Drawing from Korea’s experience in overcoming the 1997 financial crisis, Lee will take an active role in restructuring the global financial order at the G-20 summit. He hopes to use the financial crisis to raise Korea’s status in the international community.

The international financial market is a wrecked ship with a broken engine in stormy weather. The master of the ship is feeble, and the successor is not on board yet. The elderly and the children have been evacuated, and energetic youth and experienced adults have been chosen for the rescue mission. The G-20 summit has been called in to save the economy. However, too many cooks spoil the broth, and there are complaints that 20 members are simply too many.

While the Blue House appreciates the G-20 summit invitation from President Bush in his last days in the Oval Office, Korea should not become complacent about being included.

President Sarkozy wants to turn the G-20 into the G-13, the Group of Seven member states plus the six emerging economies of Russia, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in agreement with Sarkozy’s idea. World Bank President Robert Zoellick insists on creating a G-14 by adding Saudi Arabia to facilitate a more efficient discussion.

With the addition of Spain, the countries that attended the G-20 meeting in Berlin in 1999 to discuss the Asian financial crisis will again be seated at this summit. However, there is no guarantee that the membership will stay the same.

No one knows the position Barack Obama will take when he assumes the captain’s position. Preparing a replacement for Bretton Woods will not be accomplished overnight. It could take up to several years. For Korea, it is urgent to maintain the framework of the G-20 and remain in the group. While turning a crisis into an opportunity is a great idea, the government needs to concentrate its diplomacy on helping to settle the structure of the G-20.


The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok

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