[Letters] More focus on grants to poor countriesFor Laos, Korea is the fourth-largest foreign investor. Korea invested $600 million in the country, which is less than half of the $1.3 billion won that Samsung invested in Malaysia. But still, Korea is one of the largest investors. Laos’ gross domestic product per capita was barely over $1,000. It is a socialist country that has maintained friendship with North Korea.
During National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae’s visit to Laos in September, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong met with him and appreciated Korea’s investment and support, expressing hopes for further exchanges. At the time, President Choummaly Sayasone said he had visited the North just a few days before Park’s visit. A Laotian official who had accompanied the president’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said Laos supports the two Koreas’ unification. A Korean diplomat in Laos said it sees the North as a comrade, while the South as an economic partner.
About 300,000 South Korean tourists visit Cambodia every year, even though there is still some distance between South Korea and socialist countries in Southeast Asia.
Above all, South Korea is the first country that has successfully transformed itself from a receiver of international aid to a donor of international aid. However, critics point out that Korea’s aid is often provided in the form of loans. According to the National Assembly’s Budget Office, the loans comprise 39 percent of all overseas aid, two times the OECD average. While OECD members provide 84 percent of their aid in the form of grants with no strings attached, Korea’s grants take up only 48 percent of its aid. To be friendly with socialist countries in Southeast Asia, we should put more focus on providing grants to our underdeveloped neighbors.
Bae Joon-young, deputy spokesman of the National Assembly