|Statement by H. E. Choi Sung-hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea
Round Table I : Consolidating Democratic Institutions
Honorable Minister Cimoszewicz, Honorable Under Secretary Dobriansky,
It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to share with you some thoughts on the experiences Korea has gained and lessons we have learned in our own process of democratization.
The practices and institutions of modern democracy were introduced into Korea only half a century ago after it gained independence from colonial occupation. For the past five decades, Korea has had to achieve democratization and industrialization in a compressed time frame - a task that took the Western world hundreds of years to accomplish. In this uphill struggle, Korea has found that the path to democracy is not smooth and we have encountered many bumps on the way. Though it is still faced with a number of compelling tasks, Korea has now moved beyond the stage of transition and irreversibly entered the stage of consolidation.
Today, a large number of emerging democracies face, as Korea once did, the challenge of having to achieve democracy and economic development at the same time. Before it embarked on the march towards democratization, Korea was often cited as an example to support the notion that political authoritarianism may be necessary for modernization and industrialization. Yet the fact is that economic development is even harder to achieve in the absence of the rule of law with the lack of transparency in the decision-making process.
Unconstitutional authoritarian regimes attempt to achieve economic development to secure their legitimacy, and this might be effective to some extent in achieving economic growth in the short run. However, from experience we now know that long-term economic development cannot be sustained without the voluntary participation from the people which is too often neglected under the so-called \"development dictatorship\". During the financial crisis of 1997, Korea felt the severe side effects of chronic authoritarian management of the economy. Through robust reforms in the financial, corporate, and public sectors as well as the labor market, we have made fervent efforts to enhance transparency and put an end to the collusive relationship between the government and big business.
In retrospect, the unyielding desire for democracy of the people has served as the critical factor in making democratization possible in Korea. Democratization in Korea was repressed by the authoritarian government in the name of national security and industrialization. However, even under authoritarian rule, the Korean people\"s irrepressible yearnings for democracy was sustained and magnified by the rise of the middle-class and the advance of civil society. The heightened awareness of democratic values among citizens and a burgeoning of civil society played a crucial role in the process of democratization in our country. It is rather ironic that the authoritarian pursuit of economic development eventually fueled the call for democracy and provided the politico-cultural foundation on which the desire for democracy could be built. In a word, socioeconomic development and political democratization are closely interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
Democratic institutions such as elections, the separation of powers, the rule of law and the free media, when merely imported or imposed, do not in themselves offer any guarantee of a thriving democracy. For a true democracy to be fostered, those institutions have to take firm root in the actual practice of politics. The establishment of good governance, eradication of poverty, promotion of civil education and nurturing of civil society are key factors for the realization of these conditions. It is my strong conviction that the fostering cooperation in such processes is a key task to be tackled by the Community of Democracies.
The Korean government has been consistent in its commitment to the promotion of human rights and democracy within our nation and beyond. In particular, we have made the eradication of corruption a top priority as evidenced by the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. On a global level, we will be hosting the Third Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity in May next year, here in Seoul, at which Ministers of Justice from all around the world will come together for discussions on fostering international cooperation for the eradication of corruption.
The Korean government has attempted to share the lessons we have learned and experiences gained in the process of democratization. We have dispatched election monitoring teams to various parts of the world as part of UN activities and actively promoted voluntary activities by our citizens abroad. We have also contributed to the international endeavors to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the independence of East Timor and the democratization of Myanmar. We will continue to work with the countries of the Community of Democracies with a view to achieving the most noble aim of our Community, the promotion of democracy worldwide, an aim very close to the hearts of the Korean people.