The Foundation’s most recent session of the Global Speaker’s Forum was held on June 5, at Lincoln College, Oxford University, of the U.K. Foundation President Yim Sung-joon made a presentation entitled “Korea’s Transformation 1975-2008 and Challenges for the Future.” Since 2007, the Korea Foundation has hosted the Global Speaker’s Forum at major countries around the world and invited Korean specialists from the diplomatic, economic, social, and cultural fields to appear as guest speakers in an effort to promote a better understanding of Korea around the globe.Remarkable Transformation of Korea
I am delighted to be back at Oxford University, 33 years after I was trained here as a young diplomat, and to have this opportunity to address you. Today, I would like to talk about some transformations that Korea went through during 1975-2008, in various aspects of the country, and mention some issues and challenges that the country faces. In 1975, Korea was a small, developing country with a struggling economy. By contrast, last year, Korea was the 12th largest economy in the world, with per capita GDP of $24,600. This transformation of Korea is truly remarkable, and indeed extraordinary in history, being one of the very few examples to have made such a leap in its living standards, and in such a short time.
In the political arena, Korea also went through revolutionary changes. The country began its economic transition under the regime of President Park Chung-hee in the 1960s. Through the military regimes of several presidents, Korea withstood challenges, and finally the people of Korea achieved democracy in the 1980s. Now, the current and new administration of President Lee Myung-bak has a firm commitment to the revitalization of the Korean economy.
Then, how did Korea achieve this? Every year, Korea spends about three percent of its GDP on research and development of many kinds. This percentage is higher than that of the U.K., France, and Germany. The number of high school graduates going on to receive higher education is among the highest in the world. The economic strategy of export-based industrial growth, democratization, and the emphasis on education helped Koreans to look beyond their current status of the day and to expand their goals. However, Korea needs to work very hard if it is to fulfill its potential to join the ranks of the advanced leading countries in the world.Strengthening international Cooperation
One of the foremost challenges that Korea faces is the issue of North Korea. The North Korean nuclear program remains an important issue to be resolved. The two Koreas signed the 1991 Basis Agreement between South and North Korea, which specified the principles of cooperation, non-aggression, mutual recognition of each other, and reconciliation toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. However, the two North Korean nuclear crises, in 1994 and 2002, increased tension on the Peninsula. Today, the Six-Party Talks, led by the United States, are in the process of denuclearization. Meanwhile, inter- Korean trade and cooperation continue to increase. And South Korea is willing to support North Korea to become a responsible state to its people and an active participant in the international community. President Lee Myung-bak’s “Denuclearization, Openness, 3000” initiative aims for that objective. The geo-political situation in Northeast Asia is growing more intense. Korea must work with all of its neighboring Four Big Powers and position itself in harmony with them. The U.S. has been the traditional ally of Korea from the very beginning of the Republic. The two countries agree that the Korea-U.S. alliance needs refurbishing toward building a “21st century strategic alliance” that would encompass closer cooperation in all aspects of the bilateral relations.
With China, Korea is planning to upgrade the bilateral relationship, and reiterate the importance of Korea in the regional politics of China. With Russia, Korea is opening new areas for bilateral cooperation. Along with business cooperation and energy cooperation, Korea is seeking opportunities for development projects in the Siberian regions and the Russian Far East, and we expect Russia to work with us more closely concerning the North Korean issues. Korea has much to offer to other countries with its developmental experiences. And the country is striving to raise its role and profile in the international community. Some of the activities Korea is looking to strengthen are in the areas of ODA, PKO, and climate change control.
As a middle-sized power, Korea can understand both the developed and developing countries’ perspectives and contribute to the resolution of international problems.Soft Power and Korea’s Future
The globalized world of the 21st century has brought on many changes, including the way countries exert their influence in the international community. Countries today must mix the traditional manifestation of power with “soft power,” or the ability to influence the thoughts and values of other countries and peoples, without using coercive means. Now, Korea is starting to focus more in this area. And the Korea Foundation is proud to be part of Korea’s efforts to increase the country’s soft power and cultural influences. The main focus of the Korea Foundation’s programs is the promotion of a better understanding between Korea and other countries by promoting various activities in the field of arts, culture, and education. The Korea Foundation works actively in many leading countries, including the U.K., with such prominent educational institutions as the universities of Oxford, London SOAS, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs and International Institute for Strategic Studies, and also with cultural institutions such as London’s Asia House, the Barbican Center, and the British Museum.
Korea is now at an important crossroads, in this 60th year of the Republic of Korea. Korea will continue to make efforts to make another leap toward becoming a “Global Korea,” a leading elite country, and a responsible, reliable contributor to the peace and prosperity of the international community.