While the Foreign Affairs Ministry got embarrassed for placing a wrinkled Korean national flag Taegeukgi at an official diplomatic event with Spain on Thursday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was holding an informal meeting with its employees. While she was saying “Even a tiny mistake should not be allowed in light of the special nature of diplomatic affairs, and I urge you to carry out your tasks thoroughly and immaculately,” two of her staffers were unsuccessfully struggling to flatten wrinkles on the national flag at the strategic dialogue meeting between South Korea and Spain. These images vividly reveal the reality of South Korea’s foreign ministry.
Absurd mistakes committed by the Foreign Ministry are nothing new. Ahead of President Moon Jae-in’s overseas tours last year, the ministry wrote “Czechoslovakia,” a country that had disappeared many years ago, to suggest the Czech Republic on its official English Twitter account. Recently, the ministry erroneously wrote “3 Balkan countries” to suggest “3 Baltic countries” on its official website. The ministry placed Panama’s national flag upside down on the table at a South Korea-Panama foreign ministerial meeting in 2017, before correcting the flag after the Panama side discovered the error.
Such amateurish mistakes have repeatedly been committed, but no news has suggested that the ministry disciplined any officials held responsible for those gaffes. It remains to be seen what course of action the ministry will take after saying “We feel grave responsibility. We will take related measures” this time. Despite making mistakes successively, the ministry has even failed to admit to committing the mistakes, which is pitiful at best. Who on earth will feel a sense of tension, as the ministry only said “The counterpart country has not raised any issue” even after President Moon Jae-in greeted his counterpart in the Indonesian language while visiting Malaysia in a grave diplomatic gaffe?
Mistakes and gaffes in diplomatic protocol, which represents a nation’s dignity, demonstrate that the very fundamentals of South Korea’s diplomacy are collapsing, going beyond revelation of its compromised organizational discipline. Repeated mistakes more than once or twice constitute a problem in its organization per se. The ministry under Minster Kang has revealed incompetence and hopelessness as evidenced by having been accused of “The (South Korean) foreign ministry passing (being excluded)” in U.S.-North Korea diplomacy for Pyongyang’s denuclearization, while its concentration on basic diplomatic affairs and the sense of commitment also slumped amid a sloppy mood. If the ministry continuously fails to correct errors and improve, it is inevitably doomed to encounter a massive “diplomatic disaster” sooner rather than later.