The art, skill of diplomacy on viewAs weapons stockpiles grow in North Korea and Iraq, good diplomatic relationships are at a premium to keep the peace in a world on the brink of war.
The Diplomatic History Museum is housed in a room tucked away on the second floor of the cavernous Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade complex in southern Seoul.
When you walk into the museum, at first you're underwhelmed by the size of the place. It is just a single room, display cases lining every spot of wall space available.
“Because of the tight quarters, only about a third of our artifacts are currently on display,” says Hwang Sun-ok, the director of the museum. “There are plans for a new building to be built behind the parking lot by 2005 which will house a new museum about six times the size of this museum.”
While Korea has existed for thousands of years, its diplomatic history begins quite recently in the late 19th century. Pictures, personal letters and documents are packed ino display cases, tracing the history of diplomacy in Korea as the country progressed from a bit player in international politics to a major force on the world stage. Early Korean treaties with France, Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom dating back to the 1880’s are among the documents on display.
There are even documents dating to the Japanese occupation. Among them is a letter from Hyun Soon, a representative of the provisional government of Korea in the United States, addressed to the secretary of state, requesting that the United States government recognize the independence and sovereignty of Korea.
As the artifacts become more recent, it is apparent that while at first Korea would attempt to become friendly with European powers to gain legitimacy, now Korea itself has become the target of such diplomatic overtures. Filling a display case are gifts presented to the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea from countries such as Thailand, Finland and Yemen.
Among other displays are the medals of the diplomatic decoration system adopted in 1961. The six levels of distinction salute achievements of career employees in the diplomatic service.
To get to the museum, take subway line No. 3 to Yangjae Station and take exit 8. The museum is about a three-minute walk.
Admission to the museum is free, although you will have to leave a form of identification at the entrance to the complex to obtain a visitor’s pass. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on weekends and all national and public holidays.
by Steven Lee
For more information, call (02) 571-1097.