Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference declaration

October 19, 2012

The fourth meeting of the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation(KOAFEC) Ministerial Conference  finished yesterday in Seoul, but its final declaration was circulated two days earlier — in a fashion reminiscent of Chinese conferences.

I don’t recall coming across news about the first, second and third KOAFEC conferences, which goes to show how little international interest there is in South Korea’s activities in Africa — or for that matter in Southeast Asia, despite the fact that in Cambodia, South Korea is a close rival of China in terms of investment volume. The visibility of Korean projects (mostly real estate) and restaurants, karaoke and massage parlours catering to Koreans in Phnom Penh probably surpasses that of their equivalents related to investment from China. The complaints about poor treatment of workers that one hears about Korean employers are close to that of Chinese, and sometimes worse.

The 4th KOAFEC declaration, in terms of its idea, structure, and contents, seems to copy FOCAC, but rather unimpressively and without the rhetoric of mutuality and equal partnership. Infrastructure development, ICT, human resource development, agriculture development, “green growth,” and knowledge sharing are identified as areas of cooperation, but without any specific targets. A short section entitled “The Way Forward” starts with the declaration that the “representatives from African countries expressed gratitute to the people and Government of Korea.”

The one seemingly specific commitment is that

Korea will contribute to the development of African countries by tailoring the Saemaul Movement, a rural development model of Korea, to suit country-specific circumstances and sharing the virtues of diligence, self-help and cooperation (point 25).

Just how this tailoring will happen is unclear, but “sharing the virtues of diligence” is certainly something that no Chinese government programme openly presumes to do (though, of course, many Chinese managers do). The New Community, or Saemaul, campaign (undong) for rural development, was a product of the Park Chung Hee dictatorship in the 1970s and seems like a highly problematic choice for international emulation — despite the Park renaissance taking place in South Korea at the moment.