Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Translating Foreign Aid Policy Locally: South Korea's Modernization Process Revisited

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Translating Foreign Aid Policy Locally: South Korea's Modernization Process Revisited

Article excerpt

In this article I consider the links between foreign aid and policy transformations in aid-receiving countries, with a particular refer- ence to the South Korean modernization process. The main analytical points concern not only how to identify foreign aid policy affecting Korea's modernization projects in the period of state building but also how to interpret the role of local partners in dealing with international aid transfers. I assert that policy transfers in the aid industry cannot be successfully completed without the consideration of policy takers' reflective translation of foreign aid in the local contexts. The Korean experience presents a proactive pattern of policy translation (reflecting local autonomy in dealing with foreign aid), rather than policy transfer (reflecting the implantation of donor-driven aid projects), by situating international policies in the local context with strong ownership and commitment. Indeed, the substantive path of policy transfers is viewed as a social con- struct that reflects local partners' strategic interests and development planning. Keywords: foreign aid, local partner, ownership, policy transfer, policy translation, the Korean aid economy.

In the twenty-first century the international aid community has sought to tackle world poverty and disease eradication and develop the premise of aid effectiveness. The underlying rationale of such international moves was embedded not only in donors' self-reflection on the failed experiences of aid-giving projects but also its resulting paradigm shift from donor-driven aid transfu- sions to recipient-centered aid planning. This innovation culmi- nated in the creation of the ownership concept in the Paris Declaration of 2005, designed to enhance the capacity of the recipient partner institutions in setting the agenda of development policy and its implementation as well. The slogan "good gover- nance" is considered another expression of emphasizing the pres- ence of sound and workable institutions in recipient countries as a necessary condition to secure aid effectiveness. Effective aid transfer for development financing depends upon institutional capacities and the initial conditions of aid-receiving countries.

Policy transfers in the aid industry cannot be successfully completed without the consideration of policy takers' reflective translation of foreign aid or technical assistance in the local con- texts. Aid transfers are not a unilateral transfusion by aid givers, but are a mutual bargain between donors and recipients for the transformation of policy ideas, followed by institutional innova- tions for policy convergence. Indeed, the substantive path of pol- icy transfers is viewed as a social construct that reflects local partners' strategic interests and development planning. Such a policy translation highlights the function of local partners in deal- ing with foreign aid programs under their own policy frameworks.

In this regard, the South Korean experiences in the early period of state building demonstrate one successful and unique path of economic growth and social development with a positive nexus between foreign aid and Korea's internal capacity to assimilate the aid at its disposal. In the 1960s and 1970s the emergence of the developmental state spearheaded national economic development planning, thereby overcoming aid dependencies rooted in the pre- vious regimes. Furthermore, Korea's joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in January 2010 marks the first time that a former aid-receiving country entered the advanced nations' official development assistance (ODA) club, transforming its posi- tion from an aid recipient to a donor. It is, therefore, critical to observe where Korea's successful modernization originates in the sense that local partners in Korea had struggled to innovate foreign aid in accordance with local demands.

In this study I focus not only on how to identify international factors affecting Korea's modernization projects but also on how to interpret the role of local partners in dealing with international transfers. …

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