By Ahn Ho-young – Opinion
President Moon Jae-in attended the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Cornwall, United Kingdom from June 11 to 13. The event reminds me of the two previous times Korea has participated in a G7 summit, the momentous changes that have taken place in the world since then, and the meaning of Korea’s participation at the Cornwall meeting more than a decade later.
Korea’s first participation in the G7 goes back to 2008, when Japan hosted the meeting in Toyako. At that time, the so-called Heiligendamm Process had been established, which enabled the G5 countries of Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico to participate as a group at the G7 summits in what used to be called the “G8 (as Russia was also attending the G7 meetings at the time)+G5” format. Then, it was also customary for the G7 country hosting that particular summit to invite special guest countries. Japan accordingly invited Australia, Indonesia and Korea to attend the Toyako G7 Summit as guests.
Cheong Wa Dae, in preparation for then President Lee Myung-bak’s participation at the summit, appointed me as a “sherpa” to the President, or his personal representative. (I used to work at the time as the deputy foreign minister for trade) I jumped at the opportunity because I believed in the importance of Korea making a bigger contribution to global affairs and in being further involved in important institutions for global leadership. Korea’s participation at Toyako was followed by many other important moves made in that direction.
In the same year, the G20 was started in the wake of the Great Recession. In the following year, at the London sherpas’ meeting held in February, Korea was already cited as a perfect candidate to hold a G20 summit, and it was subsequently held in Seoul in November 2010. In 2011, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) was established in Seoul, which started, among other things, the climate partnership between Korea and Denmark, as we recently observed in the Seoul Summit of the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G). In the following year, Korea hosted the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit and succeeded in bringing the Global Climate Fund headquarters, the financing arm of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to Korea.
Now, almost 10 years later, Korea has again attended a G7 summit. My hope is that it will prove to be more than a one-time event and serve as another opportunity for Korea to enhance its stature on global issues.
There are several points we have to reflect on for that to happen. First of all, we must understand the changes the G7 went through over the years. The intervening years saw many important changes in the strategic, economic, technological, environmental and even health conditions around the world, such that we often talk about today being a time of global uncertainty.
This has resulted in important changes in the structure, and substance, of G7 meetings as well. As for the structure, as an example, G5 countries are no longer collectively represented at the G7. The issues dealt with by the G7 have also undergone important changes, part of the reason being that the G20 has been declared “the premier institution for international economic issues.”
Second, we must understand the motivation behind the invitation extended to Korea this time. A clue can be found on the U.K. government’s official G7 website: “The prime minister’s ambition is to use the G7 to intensify cooperation between the world’s democratic and technologically advanced nations. To that end, he has invited leaders from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa (…).”
U.S. President Joe Biden, in his pre-G7 summit contribution to The Washington Post, echoed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and raised what he called, “a defining question of our time”: “Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world?”
If Korea was invited to the G7 summits in 2008 and 2009 for its enhanced capability to contribute to G7 cooperation on climate change and official development assistance (ODA), this time it was invited as a model democracy to join other democracies at this time of global uncertainty.
Third, we must ask ourselves if we wish to take this opportunity of joining other leading democracies and, if so, how we can make the best of this situation. On this choice, the fact that President Moon attended the G7 Cornwall Summit is in itself a clear indication that it has already been made.
As for how to make the best of this opportunity, Korea must not be timid in declaring its intention to join other democracies, to play a role commensurate with its capabilities, and to shed itself of the perception that Korea is becoming increasingly backward and inward-looking. In the wake of the May 14 Korea-U.S. Summit and its joint statement, I wrote in this column of my pleasant surprise, and the importance of implementing it. Let us hope that Korea’s participation at the Cornwall Summit will serve as another timely juncture for Korea to move in that direction.
G7 leaders pose for a group photo at the June 2021 summit in Cornwall, England. Patrick Semansky/Pool via Reuters
Ahn Ho-young (email@example.com) is president of the University of North Korean Studies. He served as the Korean ambassador to the United States and first vice foreign minister.
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