중앙데일리

[VIEWPOINT]Learn the language of diplomacy

July 19,2003
The summit talks between South Korea and China have ended. In his report after his return from China, President Roh Moo-hyun assessed that he did his best to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, to expand economic and trade relations and to build trust between the two countries’ leaders, and that he achieved the expected results. But by the standards of modern diplomacy, our diplomatic skills truly need to move to a higher level.
More than 100 years have passed since Korea adopted the modern diplomatic system. Since then, despite many efforts, our diplomacy still has not overcome a beginner’s difficulty. First, an immaturity in diplomatic language exists. Modern diplomacy has unfolded under the influence of military power and financial might, but it nonetheless values the language of diplomacy. Espe-cially for a country that has comparatively weaker military power and smaller financial capability, the value of diplomatic language is much greater.
At this summit, Mr. Roh’s expression “talks among concerned parties” caused a significant controversy. He explained that “the parties meant all of the parties concerned, but maybe there was a misunderstanding in the process of delivery.” In the meaning of ordinary language, his explanation is right. But in diplomacy, diplomatic language, not ordinary language, should be used. In the context of diplomatic language in the discussion of the North Korean nuclear issue, “talks among concerned parties” and “multilateral talks” have diametrically opposite meanings.
A small mistake in diplomatic language can cause tremendous harm to national interests. Therefore, it is very dangerous to randomly use the language of ordinary life or domestic politics in international politics. For successful language diplomacy, one should know how to appropriately command high-level, refined diplomatic language.
The next important thing is knowledge diplomacy. It is the activity that chooses and utilizes diplomatic information to help in the pursuit of national interests. The information technology revolution heralds an advent of revolutionary change in the realm of diplomacy, as it does in war and economics.
Our diplomacy still does not fully grasp the reality that 100 experts in conventional information technology cannot match one expert in cyber-knowledge diplomacy.
In the summit talks, listening to Mr. Roh’s explanation about the necessity of multilateral talks, what was Chinese President Hu Jintao supposed to think? The background explanation by the White House right after the June 1 summit talks between the United States and China clearly shows how deeply the two leaders discussed the issue.
The United States’ position is especially interesting ― that even in multilateral talks, bilateral contact and dialogue are possible. Therefore, it can be said that while Mr. Hu knew the positions of the United States much better than we do, he listened courteously to Mr. Roh’s explanations. And he might have watched with interest the confusion of our government about “multilateral talks” and “talks among concerned parties.”
Finally, the diplomacy of imagination is important. The less-powerful nations, which do not have strong military, financial and knowledge power, can have much greater expectations about the diplomacy of imagination, which can leap over restrictions in reality. But the realization of these expectations is not easy.
On his visit to China, Mr. Roh emphasized his plan for promoting peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. But it should be kept in mind that the Chinese people had already devised the concept of a “universe” in the Warring States period and had compared Northeast Asia to one shoulder of the big body, China. That nation took charge of the design and construction of the concept of Asia much earlier than we did. It is not easy for us, as a new designer of Asia, to impress China and make it follow our design and participate in its construction.
Moreover, our diplomatic imagination in the 21st century has not overcome the post-Cold War and post-authoritarianism conceptions. These may have been viewed as fresh in the Korea of the 1980s, but they are not likely to make a particular impression in the 21st century.
If Korea wants to be a leading participant in the design and construction of East Asian space, a 21st-century type of president is required, who has the imagination to seek decisive reform in education that deprives students of imagination and an international mindset, the national examination system for the employment of Foreign Ministry officials and the operation of international affairs-related government agencies. We have still far to go.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Ha Young-sun


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