SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea should seize its chance to become a leader in the diplomatic arena by capitalizing on its successful staging of the G20 summit, President Lee Myung-bak said on Monday.
South Korea became the first Asian and non-G8 host of the summit of the world's 20 largest industrialized and emerged economies, winning praise for hosting a trouble-free event.
While last week's summit failed to produce very much in the way of concrete targets to address ongoing disputes over global exchange rates, it did herald a shift from the old order to the new -- whose camp South Korea belongs.
"We need to seize the chance," Lee said in his biweekly radio address, which was recorded on Sunday during his flight back to Seoul after attending an Asia-Pacific Economic Forum meeting in Japan and aired on Monday morning.
"I hope that South Korea will be reborn as a country that is upgraded by one notch in every field," he said. "If we unite power and move forward amid the rise of national fortunes like now, we will become literally a leading and top-notch country."
As a middle power with economic clout, South Korea is positioning itself as a mediator on two fronts: between China and the United States, and as bridge between the developed and developing world.
Only a few decades ago the country was poorer than North Korea, but now it is Asia's fourth largest economy and is held up as role model for economic growth for developing nations.
South Korea's economy is seen growing by some 6 percent this year, its fastest clip in nearly a decade and much quicker than most of the developed economies.
"It was an historic event for a country that rose from the ashes of war and colonial occupation to be able to provide the setting for the discussion of global economic policies," trumpeted the Chosun Ilbo daily.
"Korea also demonstrated leadership by mediating and fine-tuning conflicting issues between major countries. It showed the world that it can play a central role in global diplomacy and was a huge confidence builder."
South Korea is strategically well positioned in an export-driven region responsible for about one-sixth of the global economy, and can count itself among China and Japan's leading trading partners.
South Korea is being "forced to walk a tightrope with the U.S., with its diminishing global influence, and China, with its rapid rise to power," the JoongAng Daily wrote in an editorial.
"If we tilt too much to one side, we may lose balance and fall over. A widening distance between the U.S. and China can make our dance on the tightrope tricky.
"Korea must use the momentum to dramatically broaden our nation's diplomatic reach," it added.
Tong Kim, with the Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University, the summit "heralded a symbolic rise in South Korea's global leadership."
"South Korea takes pride in its contributions to the G20, as it adopted Seoul's initiatives, supported by the United States and Canada, on the ideas of 'global financial safety nets' and development program for underdeveloped countries," he wrote in the Korea Times.
Earlier this month, Lee put the monetary value of hosting the summit at about 30 trillion won. "But what is more important than the monetary benefit is the heightened self-esteem of the Korean people and the prestige of the republic," the president said.
"The G20 Seoul summit symbolizes the republic's elevation to a leadership position in the new international order ... Our responsibility has increased that much."
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)