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Gov’t Criticized for Diplomatic Mistake at ARF

Posted July. 28, 2008 03:31,   


The government’s attempt to resolve the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the North’s Mount Geumgang resort at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) with the help of the international community has failed only to show its poor diplomatic tactics.

It failed to achieve its initial goal and, worse, the exceptional correction of the chairman’s statement made Seoul even more disgraceful. As internal problems concerning related ministries including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appeared in the process, there is an urge for Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan to step down.

▽ Seoul, unprepared for Pyongyang’s moves

International cooperation has been regarded as a wild card that can soothe the angry South Korean people and put pressure on North Korea as Yoon Man-jun, president of Hyundai Asan, which organizes trips to the North, returned empty-handed after his four-day visit to Pyongyang to address the shooting death case on July 15.

The idea, however, was shaky from the start. When an official from the Ministry of Unification said in a briefing on July 15, “We may consider something... like international cooperation,” an official from the Foreign Ministry said, “Why does the Unification Ministry talk about international cooperation?”

On July 16, the official made a public remark that the ministry might discuss the shooting death at the regional forum. The government, however, did not seem to intend to take an aggressive attitude that the term “international cooperation” indicates.

A high-ranking official said on Thursday when the chairman’s statement was drafted, "That does not mean that Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan goes to Singapore to ask for international cooperation. If there is a lot of conversation going on, then the issue will come up naturally.”

As the wild card of “international cooperation” is publicly known in advance, the government failed to consider North Korea’s thorough preparation with the Oct. 4 declaration.

▽ Seoul failed to see ASEAN as an important factor

The fact that the South Korean government failed to recognize the possibility that Singapore, one of the ASEAN countries, did not understand the complicated issues on the Korean Peninsula correctly while leading multilateral diplomacy.

The Singaporean government did not seem to have known the principles of the South Korean government that comprehensively balances the achievements of the previous progressive (Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun) administrations –- the June 15 Declaration and the Oct. 4 Summit Declaration -- as well as the works of the former conservative (Roh Tae-woo) administration -- the South-North Basic Agreement.

The Foreign Ministry official said Sunday, “If Singapore had considered the change of the administrations, it would not have called for the South-North conversation by citing only the Oct. 4 Declaration." However, it will be difficult for the Korean delegate to avoid criticism on the lack of effort made to help Singapore understand the situation better.

Some say that the issue became controversial after the meeting was led by the Foreign Ministry`s North America division that deals with North Korea and the United States rather than by South Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau that deals with the ASEAN countries or the Office of Multilateral Global and Legal Affairs that handles multilateral diplomacy.

“It was Thursday night when North Korea signed a friendly cooperation treaty with ASEAN under the leadership of Singapore,” said a Korea University professor, who requested anonymity. “The Foreign Ministry did not predict the aftermath of North Korea’s participation in the ASEAN meeting with significance.”

▽ The government’s diplomacy under criticism

Even the government and the ruling Grand National Party criticized that the government’s diplomacy "showed its limitation again.” Opposition parties called for Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan’s resignation in unison, criticizing the government’s diplomacy as humiliation.

A source close to the ruling camp said Sunday “(The government) made a mistake in international diplomacy by correcting the chairman’s statement belatedly, from which we gained nothing. It shouldn’t have done it in the first place. The government needs to check its diplomatic staff in the mid- to long-term perspective.”

Democratic Party spokeswoman Kim Yoo-jeong said, “Minister Yu must clearly explain what happened before the public and resign.” Liberty Forward Party spokeswoman Park Sun-young said, “We cannot overlook that the government allowed the shooting death case, the top priority of the government, to be deleted (in the end).”