Dignitaries head to Seoul even ahead of G-20

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Dignitaries head to Seoul even ahead of G-20

Next week, thousands of dignitaries will visit Korea to attend the G-20 Summit, but Korea has been busy hosting an increasing number of foreign guests for quite some time.

Last week alone, the leaders of Bhutan and Gabon flew in to meet President Lee Myung-bak.

Experts say that recent trips by foreign dignitaries are evidence of Korea’s increasing status on the international stage, and that the Seoul G-20 summit will only bolster it’s growing influence.

Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley met Lee last week, during his first visit to Korea as prime minister of that country. According to the Blue House, the South Asian country’s leader discussed bilateral economic cooperation, including investment in infrastructure and tourism.

Two days earlier, Gabon’s President Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, met with Lee to talk about cooperating on energy and resource development. The two also discussed infrastructure construction, cultural exchanges and Korea’s experience going through economic development.

A week earlier saw a visit by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who promised Korea’s access to the country’s raw materials, such as gold, silver and nonferrous metals, according to the Blue House. Martinelli and Lee also shared ideas about stepping up bilateral cooperation in resource development and infrastructure construction projects in the Central American country.

South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe also visited Lee in October to discuss cooperation in energy.

Other recent bilateral summits in Seoul included Ecuador in September, Bolivia and Equatorial Guinea in August and New Zealand in July.

During the first half of his term, which ended on Aug. 24, Lee received world leaders on 91 occasions, while his predecessors Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung received leaders on 46 and 21 occasions, respectively.

Lee’s ability to increase the number of visits by foreign dignitaries is partly thanks to his active engagement in diplomatic policies with other countries, government officials said.

Presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said many of the recent visits by foreign leaders are different from ones before.

“In the past, many foreign leaders came at the invitation of us, but now, an increasing number of leaders would like to come here on their own initiative to look around major industrial sites in Korea or bolster resource diplomacy with Korea,” said Kim.

On the flip side, Lee flew 521 kilometers (323.7 miles) a day on average during the first half of his presidency. That’s the equivalent of flying around the globe 12 times.

Lee visited 37 countries during that time, whereas Roh and Kim visited 13 countries and 16 countries, respectively, at the same point in their terms.

Kim said world leaders in the past added Korea to their itineraries when they were visiting China and Japan, but now, many leaders are coming only to Korea.

“They want to learn about Korea’s fast economic development,” she said.

Some experts, like Choo Jae-woo, an international relations professor at Kyung Hee University, said the increasing number of international guests hope to befriend Korea and take advantage of the increasing international clout of the country.

Choo said the G-20 Summit will provide Korea with opportunities to further its momentum in bilateral diplomacy as well as multilateral diplomacy. Korea plans to position itself as a bridge between developed countries and emerging countries during the G-20 Summit.

“The fact that active diplomacy advances national interests needs to be kept in mind, and politicians need to keep supporting it with bipartisan cooperation,” Choo said.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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