[Viewpoint] A chance to be a role model again

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[Viewpoint] A chance to be a role model again

The news of South Korea’s hosting of the G-20 Summit conference in Seoul - the first outside the traditionally rich and advanced nations - may not have wowed many South Koreans who are by now accustomed to the international spotlight after hosting two major international sports games - the Summer Olympics and World Cup games.

But when looking back at the suffering and pain this nation has gone through over the past century, we cannot help but add emotional meaning to the chairing of one of the world’s most important political and economic meetings.

Joseon Dynasty envoy Yi Jun travelled two months to attend the Hague Peace Conference in 1907 in hopes of drawing international attention to the unlawfulness of the Japanese invasion and attempted annexation.

But the uninvited envoy failed to get into the conference room and was found dead in a Hague hotel room. The nation had to swallow many more humiliations from behind-the-scene deals among powerful nations and on international platforms.

This year, on the centennial of Korea’s annexation by Japan and the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, South Korea is hosting a meeting of state leaders of 20 major economies to set the world’s economic agenda.

But the G-20 Summit is far from a ceremonial event. It is a fallout from transitional turmoil in world history and financial mishap that mired the world economy in a slowdown for the last three years. A catastrophic meltdown on Wall Street spilled over the Atlantic and Pacific and drew the curtain on the U.S. as the single superpower on the international stage.

The G-20 was born out of a broad consensus that the group of seven major economies cannot alone fight the battle and must engage emerging powers from other corners of the world, like China, India and Brazil, to create a new multilateral cooperative hegemony and restore order to the world economy.

South Korea was invited to join not just because of its economic and political accomplishments, but more in consideration of the country’s potential for future growth. The Seoul G-20 Summit would serve as a kind of test on the country’s true abilities.

We have to keep in mind two major roles for Korea while preparing for the G-20 meeting in November. First of all, we should finalize responses to the slowdown, recession and risks in the world economy discussed through the last four summit meetings, and determine a coordinated procedural action plan.

The G-20’s role and identity lies in how effective and quickly it addresses the risks in the economy, and the Seoul meeting must serve to live up to its name and function. To do so, the chair country must iron out differences between the old guard of G-7 countries and rising new members like China and India. It must display subtle leadership and coordination to break the old financial habits and reform the international bodies.

Second, the G-20 must, in the upcoming meeting, put an end to doubts over its viability and representativeness. The conference must somehow incorporate the diverse views of the other 172 nations outside of the G-20 platform as well as international organizations in order to present a broad and acceptable consensus.

The government appointed a G-20 special envoy to muster opinions from non-G-20 countries and international bodies, but it won’t be easy to appease the latter’s complaint over discrepancies and inequality.

The G-20 has also been under fire for lacking sincerity and for not helping to accelerate social and economic progress in underdeveloped economies. Therefore, Seoul should wisely handle high expectations from developing countries as it will host the conference for the first time among non-Western countries.

Up until now, South Korea has been so focused on catching up with advanced societies that it failed to look behind and tend to other lagging nations. Still, many regard South Korea as a role model of rags-to-riches economic progress and expect Korea to be a responsible part in coordinating balanced wealth in the world economy.

It is true that the country’s welfare efforts and other development aspects have been to some extent exaggerated because of its economic prosperity. As a result, underdeveloped and developed economies alike are looking to the Seoul meeting with expectations for results different from past G-20 meetings.

The event will pose both opportunities and challenges for our country. But we must make the most of this chance to prove to ourselves and others that we can live up to the expectations and become a role model again.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo
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