Kang   Man-soo
South Korea

Kang Man-soo

Strategy and Finance Minister, South Korea

South Korea has been hit hard by the financial crisis and Finance Minister Kang Man-soo has organised a US$11 billion stimulus package. He is maintaining the commitments he made at the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference on 27-30 October 2008 in Seoul. Korea pledged some $760 mn. in new finance for infrastructure and mining projects, with Angola as a favoured client.

Kang spoke for developing nations alongside South Africa’s Trevor Manuel at September’s International Monetary Fund Board of Governors meeting and the emergency G-20 meeting in Washington in November. Seoul has a national interest in this: apart from Africa, Kang wants to see aid flowing to North Korea, his impoverished and unpredictable neighbor. Kang’s concern for development issues contrasts sharply with his tough image at home: he is in President Lee Myung-bak’s coterie and an ardent tax-cutter.

Kang studied law at Seoul National University and economics at New York University. He joined the Finance Ministry in 1970, becoming Vice-Minister in 1997. When the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis revealed South Korea’s banking system to be opaque and inefficient, Kang lost his post. He then became a discreet advisor to President Lee, first when Lee was Seoul Mayor, and later on during Lee’s presidential campaign. That victory returned Kang to the Finance Ministry early this year.

President Lee assesses Korea’s current financial situation to be as bad as it was during the 1997-98 crisis. Kang argues otherwise, pointing to increased foreign exchange reserves. Opposition politicians still scuttled Kang’s trip to the G-20 finance ministers’ meeting 8-9 November in Brazil, demanding he stay to face questions over his handling of the economy. Deputy Minister Shin Je-yoon took his place.