Banish old relics to the past
President-elect Park Geun-hye is reportedly mulling whether to send special envoys to four major countries - the United States, China, Russia, and Japan - as her predecessors have done. However, this hardly seems prudent as Korea is no longer restricted in its foreign affairs to the four major powers. Moreover, it would be diplomatically inappropriate for a president-elect to dispatch special envoys to a particular group of countries before officially having taken office to replace the incumbent leader.
This was a mistake that both former President Roh Moo-hyun and current President Lee Myung-bak made. Roh said he needed to define his view of South Korea’s role as a “balancing power in Northeast Asia” and his plans to reorganize diplomatic relations with the four world powers. Lee came up with a similar explanation. He argued that it was necessary to expound on the direction and changes in foreign policy following the transition of power from Roh’s liberal government to his more conservative administration.
Both dispatched senior figures from the ruling party or from among their close aides, but views differ as to whether these dispatches had any useful impact. Certainly they sparked controversy, especially regarding their credentials and specific roles.
Given the roles the four major countries play in respect to Korean diplomacy, the country cannot help but focus on them. But we are long past needing to kowtow or rely primarily on the four nations to promote our national interests.
In terms of political and economical weight, the European Union, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America have all become much more important to Korea than in former days.
To establish itself as a so-called “middle power,” Korea needs to maintain cooperative and solid relations with countries of a similar scale and status. It would bode badly for the country’s image to send envoys to the four countries alone.
There are many other ways for the president-elect to explain her diplomatic direction and platform without sending such envoys, and it is unnecessary and outmoded to go beyond diplomatic customs and dispatch them. She could send her representatives to those countries that ask for them or invite other nations’ envoys to visit her instead. But making such an overture in favor of the four powers could do more harm than good, especially in lieu of any substantial benefits.
It is time for president-elects to reconsider the tradition of sending envoys to the four nations.