[FOUNTAIN]State, working: Who cares?When a national leader visits another country for a summit meeting, the visit can have different levels of protocol. It could be a state visit, an official visit or a working visit, among others.
President Roh Moo-hyun’s trip to the United States this week is a working visit, but officials here have been quick to explain that his reception would be equivalent to that of a state visit. In the past, the format of a meeting was of the utmost importance. The leaders of countries that lack legitimacy stress the meeting’s protocol when they visit important countries, to counter domestic opponents with the message, “Look at the treatment I’m getting.”
A state visit entails a first-rate reception for the visiting head of state as a guest, both in form and substance. The summit meeting is just part of the itinerary that also includes entertainment and cultural events, and most expenses are borne by the host country.
Many European countries do not extend that honor to heads of state with questionable integrity or morality. It used to be the job of our ambassadors and diplomats who worked for authoritarian administrations to press for state visits when the generals-turned-president wanted to go abroad. Korea’s diplomacy was bound to suffer.
But now it is the substance rather than the form that counts. It would be difficult to find world leaders who insist only on state visits. European leaders often meet five times or more in a year, and it would not be unusual for them to spend a vacation together. Whether it is a state, working or official visit does not count. What will be discussed matters. The focus is on how much time leaders have together to talk about substantive issues and narrow their differences. There is no use for formal attire when the leaders can sit down casually to produce substantive results.
South Korea and the United States, as strong allies, have friendly ties in which it does not matter whether a visit is a state visit or not when a leader visits the other country. But there is clearly a new current between the two nations over how to handle the North Korean nuclear issue, the future of the military alliance and economic issues.
If Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush try to force new ideas on the other stemming from unhappiness about the other, things will be rough. But if they remind themselves that they need to affirm confidence and trust in each other, the meeting will help future cooperation.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.