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Dual Ambassadors

Posted June. 23, 2006 04:06,   


Jane Coombs (43, female), ambassador of New Zealand to South Korea, has been on a visit to Pyongyang via Beijing to present her credentials since June 17, accompanied with her husband, an American jazz musician. It is very unusual to hold plural offices both in Seoul and Pyongyang.

Credentials are letters of identification that the head of the sending state guarantees. Official diplomatic position is contingent on presentation of credentials.

An ambassador presiding over more than one state is common in diplomatic courtesy. Since December 2000, Holland has introduced a policy of a dual ambassador system covering the two Koreas together when it was negotiating with North Korea about establishing ties. Diplomats view that because détente between Seoul and Pyongyang outdid tensions at that time, the communist regime fully accepted the suggestion by the Netherlands.

Starting with the Netherlands, 10 countries, including New Zealand, Belgium and Mexico and the European Union have joined, branding the two- Korean ambassador system as an attempt to rally support for the two Koreas’ reunification. Unfortunately, Dorian Prince, ambassador of the EU to Pyongyang, has not yet presented credentials to North Korea. It was France who exercised the veto over the visit of Mr. Prince to Pyongyang although Paris agreed in 2003 to building normal diplomatic ties with Kim’s regime and accrediting the dual ambassador. France insists that the nuclear weapons problem should be cleared first.

Dual ambassadors are usually more limited in their activities than others. Although they requested last year to make a visit by overland route to Pyongyang, Kim’s regime is still bluntly against that. Seventy-six diplomatic envoys to Seoul used vehicles in order to visit the Gaesong Industrial Complex on June 12, which was unprecedented. Most of the time, they travel via Beijing to Pyongyang. To their inconvenience, they have to stay at hotels since there are none of their embassies in North Korea.

An observer said, “I would like to make a visit to Pyongyang at least once a year. But that wish is hardly realized due to a variety of difficulties. Moreover, official activities are limited because of the surveillance of North Korea’s detective staffs.”

An observer requiring anonymity said, “The interpreter of the North omitted on purpose some of our words at a bull-session in Pyongyang with high-ranking officials of the communist regime. We had to explain again by ourselves about what we intended to say.” It is a clear cut of how the North deals with dual ambassadors.

It is Kim Yong Nam, standing representative of North Korea’s parliament, who receives a credential from foreign diplomatic officials as a head of a state in diplomatic terms. Occasionally, they meet with Bak Nam Soon, head of foreign affairs’ ministry, after Kim Yong Nam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il hardly ever appears, however.

Jung-Ahn Kim Yi-Young Cho credo@donga.com lycho@donga.com