Selling South Korea
Lee, B. J., Newsweek
Byline: B. J. Lee
For years now, south Korea has been known internationally for its blazing economy--but not much else. President Lee Myung-bak plans to use the economic crisis to change that. As China rises and the U.S. stagnates, Lee aims to exploit the gap between them, in the process transforming South Korea from a self-involved Asian tiger into a respected global power that can mediate between rich and poor nations. It's a bold vision, and one that, if successful, will move his country "away from the -periphery of Asia," as Lee put it recently, "and into the center of the world."
None of this would be possible if not for Lee's shrewd handling of the economic downturn. Early on, his country was battered like everyone else, but many of South Korea's current leaders are veterans of the 1998 Asian crisis, and knew how to manage a free fall. Lee's team immediately guaranteed bank debt and secured foreign reserves, among other steps; as a result, South -Korea will grow 4.4 percent this year, faster than any other wealthy country.
Lee is now leveraging that success on the diplomatic front. While many other leaders have succumbed to protectionist pressures, he wants to revive a slew of global free-trade deals. At the same time, he's establishing South Korea as a leader in the fight against climate change, agreeing to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2020--one of the most aggressive targets in the world. …