[EDITORIALS]Diplomats as wrecking ball

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[EDITORIALS]Diplomats as wrecking ball

Korea has two outstanding diplomatic challenges - building the foundation for a unified country and embracing globalization. However, in the last several years, our foreign policy has not only lost its direction, but also failed to field a proper lineup of diplomats.

The main reason behind the failures is the Foreign Ministry's lack of strategies, which eventually caused the ministry to fail to accommodate the change in affairs inside and outside the country. In the early 1990s, Korea's foreign policy concentrated on systemic diplomacy to contain the North and preserve the authoritative administrations. Therefore, the basic duties of diplomatic relations - guarding national interests and its citizens - have often been distorted. Since the Kim Young-sam administration, and particularly during the Kim Dae-jung administration, the Foreign Ministry has escaped the vestiges of the Cold War era and authoritarianism. Despite such steps forward, the Foreign Ministry has failed to transform itself to meet the changes in the new environment, showing vulnerability in foreign relations.

The Foreign Ministry pursued a strategy to strengthen relations with the four biggest powers surrounding the peninsula - the United States, Japan, China and Russia. The government should have strengthened its relations with Washington and Tokyo, the traditional allies, and then shored up relations with Beijing and Moscow. However, Seoul carried out foreign policies that could be seen as putting more importance on relations with China and Russia. The greatest mistake of our diplomacy is putting our relations with our traditional allies at risk while failing to form new diplomatic ties. The most representative example was the diplomatic discord with Washington created by Seoul's move to support Russia regarding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

In addition to such strategic missteps in foreign relations, the Foreign Ministry is criticized for its personnel appointment and organizational changes. In this administration, the minister of foreign affairs and the Blue House chief secretary for foreign affairs and national security have been replaced every year. Under such circumstances, how can we possibly expect the nation's foreign policy to proceed with constancy? The current foreign minister is also serving as the president of the United Nations General Assembly, and he faces difficulty dealing with the mountain of pending diplomatic issues.

Significant numbers of the heads of the diplomatic and consular offices in foreign countries have been replaced after serving less than one year; an ambassador has been appointed to head two diplomatic missions and two important posts at the Foreign Ministry's headquarters for the past four years. The reshuffle at the Foreign Ministry at the end of last year has been criticized for appointing a politician with no experience on Japan to be ambassador to Japan, creating an ambassadorship that will last less than a year. Seoul appointed a former foreign minister to be an ambassador to China, and a former lawmaker who failed to gain his party's nomination as ambassador to the United States. Under these circumstances, expecting success in diplomacy is attempting the impossible.

The Asia-Pacific division of the Foreign Ministry, governing foreign policies toward China, Japan and other countries in Asia and the Pacific, should be separated and restructured. The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security should be downsized. To transform the Foreign Ministry into a competitive organization, manpower should be reorganized based on the workloads and operations.
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