Extending a hand to Africa

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Extending a hand to Africa

To Korea, Africa is still a distant, unknown land. Trade and human resources exchange between the two are limited. But Africa is also a land of opportunity, a place with tremendous growth potential thanks to its reservoir of natural resources.

Any country with an eye on the future should look toward Africa. To this end, China and Japan are in a race to win hearts on the continent.

So far, however, Africa has been on the back burner of Korean diplomacy.

The government has finally begun working on strengthening ties with Africa, and it’s better late than never.

The first ministerial meeting between Korea and the African Union was held Tuesday. Ministers from 15 nations, representing the 53-nation AU by region, were in attendance.

At the second Korea-Africa Forum, which followed the gathering, the Seoul Declaration was adopted in an effort to boost Korea’s aid to Africa.

The country’s official development aid to Africa was $108 million last year, and the plan is to double that amount by 2012. Also, Korea pledged to invite 5,000 African trainees to Korea in coming years and to dispatch about 1,000 volunteers to the continent.

China, which built ties with Africa through non-alignment diplomacy in the 1960s, is now providing massive aid all over Africa. It supplies billions of dollars in grants and loans while trying to access natural resources in Africa.

The first China-Africa summit, held in Beijing in October 2006, hosted 48 heads of state. Japan is also pouring in overseas development assistance, seeking economic and diplomatic gains.

Korea can never match China or Japan in financial support. As is the case with its new Asia diplomacy, the focus should instead be on trying to win over the hearts of Africans by using our inherent advantages to the fullest.

Korea in the early 1960s was similar to Ghana, economically and socially. But whereas Korea overcame hardships, Ghana remains an underdeveloped nation.

What Africans need is Korea’s development experience and know-how. We need to bring the Korean style of diplomacy to Africa, as it can actually contribute to the continent’s development and growth.
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