Vietnamese study Korea’s lessons
What were some of its successful and not so successful large-scale social overhead capital projects?
And how can government officials develop scientific minds focused on the economy?
These were a few of the questions senior government officials from Vietnam had for their Korean hosts during a two-week strategic training program.
On Nov. 28, when the Korea JoongAng Daily visited the Central Officials Training Institute (COTI) in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, a group of 22 Vietnamese officials, including ministerial and vice-ministerial level officials, was engaged in a seminar led by a Seoul National University professor as part of the Capacity Enhancement Program for Vietnam’s Strategic Leaders workshop.
The workshop, organized by COTI and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica), ran between Nov. 25 to Dec. 6 and was a part of a larger three-year outreach program under Koica’s Development Experience Exchange Partnership Program, which is expected to train 480 Vietnamese government officials by 2015.
The first group came to Korea this August, and this marked the second training session of the program.
“Over the course of three years, high-level Vietnamese government officials will be invited to Korea twice a year for a training session here,” Yoo Young-je, president of COTI, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “And Korean experts also will be sent to Vietnam to give lectures and workshops.”
Yoo said there are some 5,000 overseas officials who come to Korea through Koica’s training programs each year. They are given the opportunity to meet Korean government officials and businessmen, which proves to be a valuable networking opportunity.
Koica, a non-profit group founded in 1991 under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offers hundreds of training programs each year in various sectors such as agriculture, medicine, aviation, governance and education to more than 100 countries.
Ko Kil-kon, a professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University, gave a lecture on Korean infrastructure and social overhead capital policy. The program is run in a participatory format, and this specific lecture had been requested by the Vietnamese officials.
“These officials are interested not only in the success story of Korea,” Ko said, “but also in our failures and struggles, and how we overcame them and changed.”
He added: “The officials are divided into those who want an answer and those who are seeking ideas. Officials realize that there often is no answer, but what is important is to foster ideas.”
While there are other successful developed nations, he said, “Vietnam, while it is not the same as Korea, can better draw ideas from the Korean experience because Korea is one of the rare cases of success both in democratization and in economic development.”
An example Ko shared with the Vietnamese officials was the Gyeongbu Expressway proposed in 1967 by the Park Chung Hee administration. Construction began the next year and was completed in 1970 in a record time of just over two years. Road construction usually took at least seven years at that time.
Ko said that there were only some 126,000 cars in all of Korea in 1970, so the nation used more than 8 percent of its annual budget for a project that could be used by a relatively small number of people. But after the highway was built, the number of automobiles increased rapidly. He spoke of how that case changed the face of Korean government investment and the handling of such large-scale projects.
He also described how investments by a developing nation can lead to new opportunities.
The head of the Vietnamese delegation, 42-year-old Tran Sy Thanh, alternate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and party secretary of the Bac Giang Provincial Party Committee, said this was his first time visiting Korea.
“We are very interested in the past, present and future of the policies behind Korea’s economic development and reforms,” said Thanh.
He pointed out that Vietnam became the World Trade Organization’s 150th member in 2007 after 11 years of preparation.
“I wanted to research Korea a little further, so I came here,” he said.
He was especially impressed with Korea’s emphasis on “how to develop a scientific mind,” a motto of COTI President Yoo. COTI was founded in 1949 as the National Officials Training Institute and trains 10,000 public officials a year and 100,000 more through its online education programs.
The workshop included networking opportunities with officials involved with foreign affairs, public administration and other government offices, lectures on economic policy, industrial complexes, infrastructure and agricultural and rural development.
“It is known that Korea is benchmarked because our country’s economic development happened rapidly in a short period of time, so many countries hold this aspect in envy,” Yoo said. “And other aspects are also important, such as how our provincial governments are run, how to prevent corruption and our future vision.
“In the past, we have introduced to foreign officials Korea’s history, but now, we now are also introducing Korea’s administration systems such as e-government, as well as an opportunity to talk with their counterparts here in a future-looking, win-win scenario that shows that Korea and Vietnam should develop together.”
Many of the participants of the program are ministerial and vice-ministerial level officials, Yoo said.
“For such high-ranking officials, taking two-week’s time to study about Korea is naturally leading to cooperation between the two countries and a follow-up to President Park Geun-hye’s Vietnam visit,” he said.
Park visited Vietnam in September and in a joint statement with President Truong Tan Sang agreed to boost the strategic cooperative partnership and extend the bilateral trade volume to $70 billion by 2020 from $20 billion in 2012.
Through the camaraderie built with this program, Yoo said, “I can’t help thinking these Vietnamese officials will confide in and ask for cooperation with Korean officials in the future when needed.”
Yoo, who was a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Seoul National University, emphasized, “I want officials and the people to have a scientific method.”
He said he hopes COTI can have interest in its trainees and produce good programs to help enable public officials to become more flexible, sensible, proactive and creative.
“All government officials need to have an economic mind,” he said. “Previously, only industry-related or science branches were thought to need economic minds, but now, whatever branch you are in, you need to have an economic mind in order to achieve a creative and global economy.”
Korea is one of the countries with the greatest passion for education, he added.
“The entire world is in competition, and at the root of this competition is who can procure and produce the best talents. Korea has invested highly in producing such talents so rapid development is possible, and training of government officials is a part of the process,” he said.
Since the number of Korean government officials is not very high, “To be globally competitive, each individual has to become the greatest talent. So we need to try to raise our level to match the greatest in the world.
“The best official has to have roots that are deep and branches that are strong to give bloom to good fruit,” he said, “producing good policies and delivering results to the people.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]