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Korea lacks diplomacy at Sochi despite being next Winter Olympics host

Korea lacks diplomacy at Sochi despite being next Winter Olympics host

Posted February. 11, 2014 08:32,   


On President Park Geun-hye’s absence at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the presidential office made excuse, saying, “There is a flurry of domestic and foreign affairs, including policy briefings by ministries for this year. There is also a scheduled announcement of a three-year economic reform plan. Hence the president could not afford to attend.” The presidential office might have felt burden due to criticism that what Park has been doing while Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were engaged in summit diplomacy with President Vladimir Putin. However, as the next Winter Olympics will take place in Pyeongchang, Korea, if Park visited Sochi, it would provide Korea with an opportunity to seek support and cooperation to ensure success of the next event.

More than 60 head of state-level leaders from around the world attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics. As the heads of major powers, including the U.S., Britain, and France, did not attend, other participants received care-taken treatment and more attention. In his summit meeting with President Xi, Putin said, “Grave crimes committed by Japanese imperialists should be taught to future generations,” as he sided with China. To Abe of Japan, with which Russia is in territorial dispute over four Kuril Islands, Putin sent an overture, saying “Let’s resolve the issue as soon as possible and form a peace treaty.” Amid these situations, it is regrettable that some in the presidential office made criticism that “To argue that Korea is the only country missing there seems to be based on an obsequious idea,” saying that Korea held two summit talks with Russia last year.

Olympics are a stage where countries engage in a war of diplomacy, while athletes stage cut-throat competition to win medals. North Korea, which failed to win the right to participate in this year’s event, also sent Kim Yong Nam, its nominal head of state and executive chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, who met with Putin and Xi. Only Korea was missing at the event where countries involved in territorial and history dispute in Northeast Asia stepped up their diplomatic influence. Coincidently, Lee Kun-hee, member of the International Olympic Committee, was also absent, and only Moon Dae-sung, athletic member of the committee, was in attendance, displaying little presence in sports diplomacy.

When the opening ceremony for the Beijing Summer Olympics took place in August 2008, then President Lee Myung-bak attended. In late August that year, soon after the event, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Seoul, held Korea-China summit, and agreed to comprehensively push for bilateral ties of strategic cooperative partnership. If President Park could not afford to attend in person this time, former President Lee, who is close to Putin, or Prime Minister Chung Hong-won could have attended on her behalf. As president-elect, Lee once sent then Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye to China as his special envoy.