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[Opinion] Much Ado About ARF

Posted July. 28, 2008 03:31,   


Following objections from both Koreas, the chairman’s statement for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum last week underwent revision. South Korea protested a phrase urging Seoul to engage in inter-Korean dialogue based on the 2007 inter-Korean summit declaration signed by then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang. North Korea requested the removal of mention of the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at a North Korean resort. Singapore, which chaired the annual meeting of the 27-country forum, deleted both phrases and re-announced the chairman’s statement the day after the closing ceremony. It is rare for a diplomatic statement to be modified after being officially released.

The forum deals with security for the Asian Pacific region and aims to enhance regional peace and security. South Korea was a founding member in 1994, and North Korea joined as the 23rd member in 2000. The chairman’s statement is delivered to the 27 foreign ministers attending the forum. If comments are made about the Korean Peninsula, it is of great interest to both Koreas. Singapore has diplomatic relations with both Koreas. It is unreasonable to criticize Singapore for bias, but its handling of the sensitive diplomatic issue was clumsy this time and undoubtedly left a scar on the forum.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry is also not immune from responsibility. It seriously blundered by failing to catch North Korea’s diplomatic maneuver to put “the 2007 inter-Korean summit declaration” into the statement. Had Singapore not revised the chairman’s statement, Pyongyang would have constantly pressured Seoul to implement the declaration. Even more perplexing is that this happened under the leadership of South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan. Opposition parties in South Korea are demanding his dismissal, something not unreasonable.

What is more worrying is the impact this incident will have on inter-Korean relations. It has certainly raised the wall between both sides. Unfortunately, finding a breakthrough in the tourist killing just got harder, not to mention resumption of inter-Korean talks. Both sides will get hurt if either tries to stand against the other on the international stage. Both Koreas learned this the hard way when competing for United Nations membership before 1991, when both Koreas joined the world body simultaneously. They wasted a lot of resources to get more votes than the other side. We should prevent such a wasteful diplomatic war from recurring.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)