Improving Korea's Status Takes More Than Cosmetic Measures

      March 19, 2010 13:23

      The Korean government on Wednesday said it plans to carry out 80 tasks that will boost the country's status ahead of the G20 Summit in Seoul in November. The tasks include stamping out public-sector corruption, keeping protests orderly and prohibiting the broadcast of sexually explicit programs. Increased protection of the rights of foreign laborers, the creation of environmentally-friendly cities and increased participation in global peacekeeping missions are also on the agenda.

      A country’s national status is not automatically determined by its economic or military power. Korea emerged from being one of the world's poorest countries to a member of the G20 by achieving rapid economic growth and democratization. But the country's national status has not risen at the same rate. In a survey on Korea's image conducted in November of last year among 2,500 foreigners, only 46.9 percent said they have a positive image of this country.

      The 80 tasks the government has selected cannot be seen as standards that determine whether the status has improved or deteriorated. They are cosmetic rather than fundamental. The answer cannot be getting people to donate a little more money, protest in a more orderly fashion and plant some shrubs in the eight months until the G20 Summit.

      Of course all these are good ideas, but a more fundamental approach is needed to nurture genuine improvements. The first step is to create a corruption-free government. Last year, Korea ranked 39th along with Brunei in a corruption index of countries by an international agency that monitors transparency. Even Botswana ranked higher than Korea. New Zealand came first, Denmark second and Sweden and Singapore third. The Korean public also needs to improve itself. Koreans have grown accustomed to abuses of power by the government, and this has led to a lack of faith in the rule of law.

      Looking abroad, Korea must stop considering just its own national interests but abide by international regulations. The Netherlands, whose economy is smaller than Korea's, gets more diplomatic respect on the international stage, because it has displayed a tremendous respect for international law by opening its borders to dissidents and giving active support to poor countries. In 2008, the Netherlands donated US$7 billion in international aid, while Korea donated only $800 million. Between 1993 and September 2009, Korea accepted only 145 or 6 percent out of 2,413 asylum seekers.

      A nation's status cannot be improved by applying make up. It is done by improving the ethics of the people who inhabit it.

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