[VIEWPOINT]Come Back Home Where the Work Is

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[VIEWPOINT]Come Back Home Where the Work Is

During the time that the Korean government's blunder in the case of an executed Korean drug smuggler humiliated the nation, the minister of foreign affairs and trade was out of the country for an extended period. His absence would not be remarkable if he were abroad on business vital to our country's future. But Han Seung-soo, our foreign minister, is abroad because he is the chairman of the current UN General Assembly session. People are impressed with the title, as if he were the speaker of the National Assembly on a global scale.

But that is not the case. The chairmanship of the UN General Assembly is basically a protocol post. During the last 30 years, the chair has been filled on a rotating basis by the foreign ministers of Namibia, Uruguay, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Malta, Nigeria, and similar countries, almost all of which are countries at peace, without pressing diplomatic issues and who can spare their foreign minister for an extended period of time.

The foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China and Japan, the four powers that influence the Korean Peninsula, have never held the post. The ministers of only three developed countries - Canada, Belgium and Italy - have held the position, and that was in the early days of the United Nations. Foreign ministers of countries involved in international disputes or sensitive issues do not want the job; when their turn comes, the job is usually filled by that country's ambassador to the UN or, occasionally, by an out-of-work politician.

Foreign Minister Han returned a few days ago and attended the ASEAN+3 summit meeting in Brunei earlier this week with the president. Mr. Han also returned from New York in October to accompany President Kim to the APEC summit meeting in Shanghai. He will reportedly accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the UN at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10. His UN job and his travels with the president are both basically protocol jobs. What Mr. Han is doing now is all good for him personally, but why should our foreign minister be engaged in work which is basically all style and no substance?

Considering the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the tasks facing Korea's Foreign Ministry, our foreign minister should not have taken the UN post; sensitive and difficult jobs are waiting for him here. The peninsula was a major battleground during the Cold War; it was high on the post-Cold War international agenda because of potential nuclear and missile threats from North Korea; and, in the current war against terrorism, it is still a dangerous area.

As long as North Korea is still listed by the United States as a "rogue state" and is looked at suspiciously by the rest of the world because of suspected links to terrorism, relations between the North and the United States will be tense. That leads to discord between South Korea and the United States over Seoul's sunshine policy that Washington finds difficult to accommodate. To make matters worse, the recent uneasy visit of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan did not lessen the tension in Korea-Japan relations. Though there is little profit to be had from Seoul's coy glances toward Russia, Korea must keep an eye on Russia because of the Kuril Island situation. Amid all these problems, China rebuked us for groundless accusations about its execution of Korean drug traffickers, saying correctly that it notified the Korean government as it was obliged to.

Not only because of our disgrace in this incident with China, the Korean government should check thoroughly its organizational management for effective foreign relations. It should not just reprimand working-level bureaucrats who were responsible for the receipt of documents about the execution of a Korean citizen by China. The national disgrace resulted from a lack of leadership and management loopholes created by a lack of control over government organizations.

It is disingenuous for the foreign minister, sitting in a chair in New York, to say that he can deal successfully with the four strong powers through telegrams and telephone calls.

If he insists, "I am doing something to enhance our national prestige," I would ask him how often he has been mentioned in the New York Times. "Are you better than Pak Se-ri, the golfer who has often appeared in newspapers in the United States?"

The foreign minister should not be away for an extended period from the headquarters of Korean foreign affairs. He should be here, devising and implementing effective foreign strategies and preparing the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of problems like the one we now face with China.


The writer, a former Korean ambassador to Austria and the Philippines, is a visiting professor at Myongji University.

by Lee Chang-choon

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