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Korea in the world in 2011

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2011 saw Korea at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the existing framework of international cooperation for the provision of development assistance, disaster relief, and NGO-headed aid programs. From leadership at high-level international conferences to a series of historic summit meetings that saw President Lee Myung-bak become the first Korean head of state to visit Africa, the events of the past year pointed to significant contributions by Korea as a key player in the international community.

Korea’s acceptance into the Development Aid Committee (DAC) of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 2009 marked the first time in OECD history that a recipient country had become a donor country, this coming only 13 years after Korea had joined the organization. In the years following, Korea has continued to make concrete contributions to promoting sustainable development worldwide.

For one, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its founding with a six-day medical aid drive in Peru that provided treatment for over 3,000 locals and delivered medical supplies to 80 villages. Established in 1991 as an affiliate organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, KOICA has for the past 20 years acted as the official government channel for aid delivery and the promotion of public-private cooperation for development assistance. And according to Statistics Korea, 1,000 Koreans were active as full-time volunteers overseas in 2009, ten times the number found ten years earlier.

NPO Korea released a report on December 19 that looked at the activities and budgets of 220 non-profit organizations active in providing social welfare assistance and humanitarian aid, at home and abroad. The report found that the total funds received from private donors and government sponsorship in the last year amounted to 1.4 billion won.

The non-profits in the assessment included well-known names such as Good Neighbors, Good People, the Korean Red Cross, Save the Children, World Vision, and UNICEF Korea. The report found that the amount of aid given by these organizations to regions abroad, including North Korea, surpassed 3.75 billion won. This sum, at 71% of KOICA’s annual ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) budget, attests to the high level of participation of Korea’s civil sector in the international development arena.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, called Korea’s activity as a donor country “quite extraordinary” in an interview with JoongAng Ilbo on December 24. Lake commended the strides that Korea has made in supporting UNICEF, from donating 3.6 million dollars in 1994 to 46 million dollars in 2010, and encouraged other countries to take inspiration from this example.

2011 was also a significant year for the Korean government on the diplomatic front. In early November, President Lee addressed member states at the G20 conference in Cannes, France, expressing the importance of Korea’s role as a bridge country that will represent and communicate the needs of developing countries and help the international community to engage with them more effectively. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who had been in attendance to give a presentation on development finance, identified Korea as an exemplary model for countries transitioning from receiving aid to giving aid.

Following the successful adoption of the Seoul Development Consensus at last year’s G20, Korea played host once more to representatives from 160 countries, 70 international organizations, and the academic and civil sectors for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The largest and highest-level international conference on development assistance, the HLF-4 opened in Busan from November 29 to December 1, with due attention given to the significance of the event’s taking place in a city that had gone from a landing dock for aid shipments post-World War II to one of the world’s five largest trading ports.

During his welcoming speech, President Lee called attention to the fact that only four years remain until the deadline set for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), and expressed his resolve to partner with developing countries by sharing the lessons and know-how gained over the course of Korea’s own development. At the forum’s end, the representatives in attendance adopted the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which shifted the focus of the developmental aid paradigm from the principle of aid effectiveness to that of development effectiveness.

Similar themes played out in Korea’s dialogues with Rwanda, Ethiopia, the DPR Congo, and the Philippines. During a state visit to Africa in July, the first in Korea’s history, President Lee had successive summit meetings with DPR Congo President Joseph Kabila and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss bilateral initiatives for the development of economic infrastructure.

During a state visit to the Philippines, President Lee also met with President Benigno Aquino in November. The two leaders signed a MOU for the joint formation of an agricultural industrial zone and arranged for Korea to provide assistance for the national development of the Philippines.

On November 30, President Lee met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was in attendance at the HLF-4 forum in Busan, to discuss Rwanda’s strategy of human resource development through education and mutual efforts to strengthen Rwanda’s energy industry.

In 2012, the Korean government plans to give approximately 1.9 trillion won in ODA, a 12% increase from 2011 that brings the sum to 0.15% of the gross national income (GNI). The ODA initiatives will include grants for the education, agriculture, and public administration sectors, in addition to loans for programs in the transportation, energy, and governance sectors.

By Kwon Jungyun Staff Writer