[NOTEBOOK]Korean diplomats fail in jobWhy does a country exist? It exists to protect its citizens’ lives and property. This is the immutable truth and it is the same at all times and places. A true country, whether it is one in a dynasty, the 21st century, run by a socialist or capitalist system, does its best to protect its people.
Among others, Israel is a country thorough in protecting its nationals. Its Entebbe special operation in 1976 is famous. After secretly flying 4,000 kilometers to Uganda, Africa, Israeli special forces rescued its people who were being held hostage.
Also, Israel freed 100 prisoners of war to save one of its own. In January this year, the Israeli government released more than 450 Palestinian prisoners to have an Israeli citizen and the remains of three soldiers returned.
Because the country treats a national as if he were 100 non-Israelis, its people are devoted to their country with the same spirit. It’s said that whenever war breaks out in the Middle East, Israeli youths from around the world rush home to fight for their country.
The American willingness to save one of its own is well known too. When an American is held hostage, U.S. forces go to the ends of the earth to save him. In 1995, when a U.S. pilot was attacked and fell into enemy territory in the Bosnian civil war, the U.S. forces sent a special squad and dramatically rescued him after six days. “Behind Enemy Lines,” which was released in Korea a few years ago, is a movie based on this story.
Such acts are not limited to the living. The United States still searches and repatriates the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War 50 years ago.
Korea used to be like this. In 1604, the great Buddhist priest Samyeong went to Japan to restore relations between the two countries, which had become estranged from each other due to the Japanese invasions over seven years. But Samyeong’s ulterior motive was to save Koreans who were forcibly taken to Japan. Samyeong, who finally succeeded in his negotiations, brought back 3,000 abducted Koreans the next year.
Seeing how our government treats its people today, I feel it is worse than it was in the Joseon Dynasty.
Beyond hopelessness, rage surges in me. It is not only because of Kim Sun-il. The incompetence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not a problem that began only yesterday. Our diplomats ignore their nationals who are sent to prison or executed in other countries. They dismissed Korean prisoners of war who had escaped from North Korea by telling them, “You take care of your own matters.”
Ask a Korean Embassy or consulate for help when you have your pocket picked during an overseas trip. Ten to one, you will hear an answer, “It is not our job.” Aren’t they ashamed of receiving salaries off the people’s taxes?
Of course, diplomats have something to say in their defense. They have mountains of work but also have severe staff shortages, so looking after each citizen is difficult in reality. Also, working as a correspondent for several years, I saw many diplomats who work hard behind the scenes.
But in the case of Kim Sun-il, the Foreign Ministry has nothing to say. Aside from other problems, does it make any sense to have only one person who is an expert in the local language where our military has been already dispatched and an additional 3,000 soldiers are to be deployed? This is not a simple personnel mistake but close to a dereliction of duty.
The Foreign Ministry should take this opportunity to be born again. Simply changing ministers or deputy ministers will not solve problems. However many years it might take, no solutions are possible with a rigid organization in which diplomats retire by a certain age after working as an envoy or ambassador.
By recruiting experts from outside, the organization should be radically reformed. If not, the same tragedy will happen again, and we will never be treated as a first-class country, even if our per capita national income exceeds $30,000.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of culture news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik