At G20 Summit, South Korea to Champion Global Aid Approach Shift

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shakes hand with South Korea President Lee Myung-bak as they meet during the opening reception of the G-20 summit Toronto, Canada, on June 26, 2010. Lee will push for a new development aid policy during the G-20 summit, which his country will host next week. Photo by:Mark Garten / United Nations

South Korea is drumming up support for what it hopes would be its crowning achievement as host of the G-20 summit next week: a pronouncement by leaders of the world’s top economies that they are changing the focus of their international development programs from financial support to investment, trade and infrastructure.

>> Korea Puts Development on the Agenda for Seoul G-20 Summit

“In the past we had advanced economies just giving developing countries financial assistance and that was about it,” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told the Financial Times. “But we know from experience this is not enough. We have to have something more along with financial assistance; we need to teach them how to be self-sustaining.”

The initiative has won the support of some countries, according to the Financial Times. Among those countries are emerging economies, such as China, which, in the past, have criticized the G-20 for its excessive focus on trade imbalances and inadequate attention to “development imbalances” between poor and rich nations.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd also backs Korea’s plan.

“Official development assistance can only go so far,” Rudd said. “But unless it is dovetailed with turbocharging the private economy, then we have a problem.”

The Australian official, however, stressed that ending official development assistance is not an option, calling such a scenario “crazy and unproductive.” He said Western aid ministries and the World Bank hold the same view.

South Korea’s initiative is not without critics. Chang Ha-joon, an expert in development economics and a professor at the University of Cambridge, said the plan “is not enough, but openly rejecting the one-size-fits-all model of the Washington consensus is an advance.”

Anna Thomas of ActionAid, meanwhile, asserted that moving away from numerical aid targets would amount to a “retrograde step,” allowing “rich countries to get out of their long-standing commitments to the poorest far too easily.”

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.