Insights and Analysis

Giving Foreign Aid Helps Korea

November 30, 2011

By Lee Hong-koo

When times are tough, it’s difficult to settle into a charitable mood. At the mention of global aid, people grumble that we can’t even afford to care for our needy at home. But as with individual lives, a nation needs to look beyond immediate concerns in forging a path for the future. The tougher times are, the bolder and more resolute we must be in upholding our responsibilities. Having ascended to donor country status, we cannot sidestep or neglect our role of offering aid to countries that lag behind in economic progress.

We live in a borderless global community interlinked by networks created by globalization, not to mention our connectivity in terms of computers and communication. No countries can survive cut off from these global fetters. A country’s problems and challenges are no longer restricted to its own borders. They become global problems and concerns that require regional or international solutions.

War and peace, struggles for democratization, sustainable economic development, and environmental challenges are common endeavors members of the entire world community in the 21st century must address together for the viability of the planet, regardless of where they live. We learned from our own experience a century ago that self-exile and estrangement from the global mainstream can cost a country its very sovereignty. This is why we have endeavored over the years so desperately to get into the front-runners’ group in global society.

Wealth inequalities can trigger social unrest and conflict in wealthy as well as poor countries when economies around the globe are in synchronized trouble. Advanced and developing economies alike are battling the risks that undermine stability and growth. Inequalities not only within individual countries but among different countries and continents threaten global peace and prosperity.

The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, under the auspices of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, will be held in late November in Busan. It aims to bring together donors and developing countries to consider ways of improving and reaffirming commitment to effective aid.

Over 2,000 people, including top government officials from 170 countries, will be attending the conference. Nearly 200 signatory countries to the United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification met in Changwon, South Gyeongsang last month to address desertification, land degradation, and drought problems that affect lives of two billion people.

Our economic size and social maturity demand that we show more interest and make greater efforts in the areas of global aid and the fight against land degradation. We have already reached a social consensus to set an example by sharing growth at home with less fortunate countries abroad. Our choices and actions in this regard will give a boost to our national prestige and dignity – as well as benefit our national interests and welfare.

Since liberalization from Japanese rule a half-century ago, Korea has received colossal amounts of aid – $12.78 billion – from the international community. In 1995, the country changed its status from World Bank aid recipient to donor, and in 2009, Korea became the first major recipient of official development assistance from the OECD to turn into a major donor. The country’s first ODA of $5.7 million in 1991 has expanded to exceed $1 billion in less than two decades.

But the country’s overseas donations are still below the UN recommended target and the OECD average. Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and well-known philanthropist, singled out Korea as exemplary because of our global commitment to providing international aid.

We must be more sincere and active in overseas assistance and aid, but according to our means. Our society has the extraordinary and unfinished mission of unification. Instead of trying to match other advanced economies in the scale of aid we give, we must try and concentrate on providing substantial aid in the areas where we can help the most.

We must enhance the effectiveness of aid by providing skills and technology for reforestation, ecology protection, education and medical care for children in impoverished societies. The world is becoming a tougher place in which to live. We have seen how the sincere devotion of a single man – Father John Lee Tae-seok – can bring about change not only in a small community but in an entire country from the late Korean priest’s honorable work in Sudan. Inspired by the selfless work of Father Lee and others like him, let us be wise and generous in supporting the development efforts of other societies in our global community.

Lee Hong-Koo is former prime minister of Korea and a member of The Asia Foundation’s board of trustees. This article first appeared in Korea Joongang Daily, and is republished here with the author’s permission.


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