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[World News] Korean Candidate in Hunt for OECD Top Spot

Posted October. 14, 2005 07:36,   


District 16 is known as the richest of Paris’ 20 districts. It is a very peaceful neighborhood filled with antique apartment buildings. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) headquarters is located in District 16, which is also known as “the rich man’s community.”

The OECD building, which has always been as quiet as the neighborhood around it, is bustling as the elections for the organization’s next secretary-general near. The Korean mission to the OECD, located near the OECD headquarters, has also become busy. Former vice prime minister (PM) Han Seung-soo (69) has entered the race.

Korea became a member of the OECD in 1996. The year after, Korea suffered through a financial crisis, which causing much criticism from many countries that Korea “started celebrating too soon.” Will a Korean be able to become a secretary-general in just 10 years? Japan has been a member for over 30 years, yet no Japanese has become a secretary-general. There is much interest in the first round of votes to be held on October 17.

The Candidates -

There are six candidates for the top spot, from four different continents. In Asia, Korea’s former vice PM Han and Japan’s Sawako Takeuchi (53), former economic advisor to the prime minister, are candidates. Sawako Takeuchi is also an associate professor at the college of engineering at Tokyo University and a businesswoman. From Europe, the two candidates are from France and Poland. France’s Alain Madelin (59) is a lawyer, who has served as finance minister. The candidate from Poland is Marek Belka (53), the current prime minister. Belka is a doctor of economics, and has held various important economic posts. Former Mexican Angel Gurria (55) and Australia’s Allan Fels (63), former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, are also in the race. Gurria is an economic specialist of the public sector, and works as an advisor to various public institutions and companies all over the world. Fels is the dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government.

Heightened Competition to Win Votes-

After formally registering to run for the job in July, the candidates have been busy trying to earn votes. Former vice minister Han visited Paris in July and September and contacted ambassadors to the OECD from various countries. Han is very busy as the head of the committee to bring the Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, so his campaign is focused on the members of OECD. The candidates from Japan and Australia personally visited member countries.

An official from the Korean mission to the OECD stated, “The reports from ambassadors in Paris to the member countries will be the deciding factor, so campaigning in Paris is more effective.” Ambassador Kwon O-kyu and other members of the Korean mission also met one-on-one with ambassadors and members from different countries to ask for their support. They judge that one-on-one time is more effective, even if it is time consuming.

Three Strong, Three Weak-

Many in and outside the OECD judge the candidates as being “three strong, three weak.” The “three strong” candidates are from Korea, Poland, and Mexico, and the rest are in the “three weak” category. Considering the fact that when former PM Han first announced his candidacy, the Financial Times (FT) said, “The candidate is admirable, but his home country is not,” this is a very encouraging turn of events.

It is also favorable for Han that the member nations seem to lean toward to deciding according to the candidate, rather than the area they are from. Gurria is highly regarded for his significant contribution in leading Mexico’s economic reforms. Belka is an influential expert of economics. These two candidates will both be formidable competitors for Han.

A campaign meeting was held on October 3, in front of representatives from 30 member nations. Han received favorable responses when stated his reform plans that involved electing a separate chairman of the board of directors, which the secretary-general has been in charge of, and drawing up a blueprint for the future of OECD activities.

Secretary-General Treated as Head of State-

The secretary-general of the OECD receives head of state treatment in any country. Internally, the secretary-general has the authority over 2,000 employees and annual budget of 400 million euros (500 billion won). The secretary-general also is responsible for coordinating an international think tank composed of over 700 economists, legal scholars, and scientists.

Dong-Keun Keum gold@donga.com