By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- Few would probably deny that South Korea has taken one more step forward, whether big or small, towards its ambitious goal of becoming a "top-notch, advanced" nation through the historic hosting of the G-20 summit, the nascent steering committee of the global economy.
It is understandable that the evaluation of the outcome of the two-day Seoul summit that ended Friday is varied depending on nations and individuals, officials say.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said "The assessment (of the results) is up to the international community," even though he expressed satisfaction himself in a televised news conference.
Lee's aides said one thing clear is that the scene of a South Korean leader hosting such influential global leaders, including those from the U.S., China and Russia, was unthinkable in the past.
It represents a clear shift in South Korea's international status and shows its potential to play a bigger role on the global stage, they said.
"The hosting of the G-20 summit is arguably a milestone event in South Korean history," said Cho Hyun-jin, an official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae who is in charge of foreign media relations.
If the hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games and the 2002 World Cup was a test of South Korea "hardware" such as infrastructure and economic development, Seoul showed its "software" and "soft power" by taking the initiative in setting the agenda and coordinating the interests of more powerful nations, he stressed.
South Korea added the issue of a global financial safety net and development of poor nations to the list of agenda items in the G-20, a club of the world's most industrialized and emerging nations.
"This time, in particular, there were a lot of issues to be coordinated," said Kim Yoon-kyung, a finance ministry official who served as a spokesman at the Presidential Committee for the G-20 summit.
The U.S. and China clashed head-on over currency policies seen as a main cause for global trade imbalances. The row was feared to become a possible deal-breaker in the Seoul summit loaded with pending issues such as mapping out action plans for sustainable growth of the world economy and the reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In last month's talks of the G-20 finance chiefs in Gyeongju, South Korea proposed a compromise deal to move debate from the surface issue of a nominal exchange rate to the fundamental problem of rebalancing current accounts. It paved the way for an unexpected accord on avoiding "competitive" currency devaluations aimed at boosting exports through early-warning indicators.
The G-20 leaders, in the Seoul session, moved forward to agree on a timetable for formulating the so-called indicative guidelines to assess trade imbalances for preventive and corrective actions.
Although the U.S. and some Western media played down the agreement without numerical targets, the South Korean president called it "remarkable progress," given sharp differences among member states over the sensitive issue to heavily affect their own economies.
"Such an agreement, albeit limited, on the thorny matter would have not been possible without South Korea's active coordination," Kim said. "It would help maintain momentum on international efforts to put an end to the currency disputes."
South Korea also led the drive for overhauling the IMF's lending practices, playing a bridge between advanced and developing countries, he added.
When South Korea reeled from an Asia-wide financial crisis in the late 1990s, ironically, the IMF unilaterally instructed the country to overhaul its financial system in return for bailout funds. South Korea had no other choice but to follow its instructions.
The officials said South Korea will continue to play a key role in the G-20 and dealing with broader global issues even after it gives the baton of G-20 chair country to France for the 2011 summit.
"In a sense, the end of the Seoul G-20 summit is the starting point of South Korea's full-scale global role," said Cho, the Cheong Wa Dae official.
For Seoul, the G-20 meeting served as a chance for a crucial round of bilateral summit diplomacy as well.
The South Korean president held a series of bilateral talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders.
Lee and Obama failed to produce a much-anticipated deal on finalizing the Seoul-Washington free trade agreement but they reaffirmed the commitment to an unswerving alliance and common approach toward North Korea.
In their talks earlier Friday, Lee and French President Nicholas Sarkozy struck a deal on the long-delayed return of centuries-old Korean royal texts looted during an 1866 French invasion.
Massive street protests against the G-20 held in downtown Seoul were largely peaceful and North Korea did not attempt to use the G-20 summit to draw international attention with provocative actions.
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