Digital Diplomacy in the Era of $100-a-Barrel Oil
Digital Diplomacy in the Era of $100-a-Barrel Oil
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  • 승인 2006.08.01 12:01
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The writer of this article is Sohn Yeon-ki, President & CEO, Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity & Promotion (KADO)... Ed. The grim prospect of oil hitting 100 dollars a barrel, something that we had never imagined, is now right before us. The melancholy sound of sirens warning us of the oil price breaking 100 dollars a barrel by year's end keeps ringing. Whether there is a Middle East crisis or not, the price of oil hitting 100 dollars is something waiting to happen. The oil resources in the United States have already reached the limit, while Russia, too, which is enjoying a brisk market these days, is forecasted to see its fortunes turn by 2015. The member nations of OPEC, too, are highly likely to be on a downhill track starting from 2025. For this reason, Africa has emerged into the limelight. When I see leaders of great powers rushing in to take great care of Africa, it makes me cast doubt as to when Africa had been a continent of crisis. In the diplomacy with oil rich nations of Africa, great powers are not picky to save their faces. When Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos paid a visit to Washington, D.C. in 2004, U.S. President George Bush accorded the Angolan President, who had been in power for 25 years at the time, with a present of publicly announcing that the United States is supporting the incumbent government of Angola. Soon after the announcement, the U.S. oil company Chevron Texaco succeeded in signing a contract prolonging its oil production in Angola for 20 more years. In the case of China and Japan, too, the story is no different. For this year alone, key leaders of the Chinese government, such as Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, President Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have all made visits to Africa's oilrich nations one after another. The stakes were huge. China succeeded in clinching strategic relations with most of the major oil producing countries, such as Nigeria and Angola, and won a large-scale oil development project. Even though China had to pour in 4 billion dollars of investment, China National Petroleum Corp. was awarded with a priority to bid for the development of four oil wells in Nigeria. Japan's investment in Africa, too, is colossal. During the 13-year period from 1993 to 2005, Japan has provided a total of 10 billion dollars to Africa as gratuitous grants. Under the belief that this is still inadequate, the country plans to increase the grant to 1.4 billion dollars a year starting next year. Our report card, on the other hand, is unutterably miserable. In 2005, the nation's financial aid to Africa was less than 30 million dollars. With such background, the government has recently posted a legislative notice of its plan to revise a law so that airline tickets on international routes will be levied with one thousand won each to procure an assistance fund for developing countries including African nations. Even if the law is enforced, however, the fund will amount to only about 13 million dollars, approximately onehundredth of Japan's annual grants to Korea, since there are about 13 million travelers leaving Korea every year. Under such circumstances, it will be quite difficult for us to get a red carpet welcome in Africa. Moreover, we are situated in very unfavorable circumstances to contend with such powers as China and Japan in the diplomacy for energy. At any rate, however, there seems to be no other choice. We cannot just sit idly by and only watch the strong powers stroll ahead. If we fail to find an alternative, it will be most evident what outcome this would bring to our future generations. Then, where can we find an alternative An incident that happened in Mexico last June gives us a hint. A Korean delegation of energy committee members who had wished to meet with the leaders of Mexican ministries concerned wasn't able to talk with them despite our showing of hospitalities. In contrast to this, however, dozens of government officials from Mexico have gathered at an event hall where Korea was introducing "e-government" at about the same period. They listened attentively, and with astonishment, to what Korea can offer through IT technologies. Likewise, the IT industry is the field of our operations that we are best at and that we have gained recognitions from countries around the world. As a case backing this point, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced on July 5 that Korea has once again topped the list of 180 countries included in its study of Digital Opportunity Index in succession to last year, thus reconfirming Korea's stature as an information society leading the IT industry of the world. Under such background, we have to utilize "Digital Diplomacy." This may attract less interest than China's overwhelming strength to provide 10 billion-dollar credits to Africa for the next three years. Moreover, it may also require more restraint and perseverance. But, what other alternatives can there be What's fortunate, however, is that African leaders, too, are well aware of IT's importance and the seriousness of problems that may arise from the unequal access to information. At the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunisia last November, African leaders strongly asked for assistance from advanced countries to resolve the information gap existing in their respective countries. The assistance in the form of handing over dollars to Africa is like directly giving fish to its peoples. However, the technological assistance in laying down a digital infrastructure and the successive resolving of the information gap is like teaching fishing techniques. At this right moment, it may be true that people's eyes may rest on the dollars first. Still, there will come a day soon when people will be awakened to the fact that the resolving of information gap through digital service takes a precedent. For our part, we have to prepare for this very task. It is time to devise a digital assistance project for nations in Africa and other energy-rich countries around the world. This is the very way we can secure our survival because the days of spending spree and high economic growth due to cheap oil prices have come to a close.

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