G20 Summit to test Seoul's diplomatic mettle (Feature)
By Dirk Godder Nov 9, 2010, 3:02 GMT
Seoul - South Korea's role in global politics has so far been limited mostly to the often prickly dealings with its isolated Stalinist neighbour, North Korea.
But hosting a successful summit of the Group of 20 (G20) economies, whose presidency South Korea holds this year, will help to make its voice better heard, and not just push Asia's fourth-largest economy into the limelight for a little while, Seoul hopes.
Being a medium-sized power, South Korea can fulfil the important function of mediator in important issues such as creating a new financial order, climate change or development policies, both the hosts and the other participants in the November 11-12 summit believe.
President Lee Myung Bak has raised expectations for the meeting of the leaders of the world's leading industrial and developing nations and his government does not tire of stressing the summit's historic and symbolic importance.
South Korea had to convert this 'historic occasion into a valuable asset' that will last for generations, Lee said in a radio address a week before the summit.
The meeting is the biggest diplomatic event in South Korea's history and marks the first time a G20 summit is to take place in a country that is not among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
As with the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 2002 Football World Cup, which South Korea co-hosted with Japan, the country mainly hopes to boost its international image to attract tourists and investors.
'The G20 Seoul summit in November will be a meaningful event for developing a stronger nation brand of (South) Korea, as true images of Korea will be promoted both intensively and extensively through the event,' said Lee Bae Yong, chairman of the president's council for nation branding.
That image is, however, still dominated by the tensions with Pyongyang. The two Koreas technically remain at war since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, never having signed a peace treaty.
Pyongyang's nuclear sabre-rattling has focused international attention on the North.
More often than not, South Korea feels neglected in comparison with the neighbouring economic powers of China and Japan.
On November 11 and 12, Seoul wants to prove that it has leadership qualities as a responsible member of the international community.
But those high expectations increase pressure to produce results. Seoul prides itself on having added two topics to the G20's agenda - reforming the global financial system and the development of poorer nations, for which it plans to present an action plan at the summit.
Seoul has stressed that it wants to serve as an important link, having developed itself from an agrarian society within a few decades into a high-tech nation.
South Korea is under pressure to pull off a smooth summit for the expected 10,000 participants, presenting the biggest security challenge for the country's police force in its history.
Police erected a 2-kilometre security zone around the summit venue at the Convention and Exhibition Center south-east of the capital and special legislation, in force for the duration of the meeting, limits protests inside that zone. According to the country's police chief, South Korea is preparing for violent protests.
Police are also wary of potential threats by terrorists or North Korea, whose state-run media recently accused Seoul of creating an 'atmosphere of confrontation,' by ramping up security for the G20.
The summit takes place at at time of strong tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the sinking of a South Korean navy corvette in March. Seoul blamed Pyongyang for the deaths of 46 sailors, saying the Cheonan was sunk by a Northern torpedo. North Korea denied any involvement.
Southern officials, wary from past experience at large-scale events, fear the North may plan to cause mischief during the summit, spoiling its neighbour's chance to shine.
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