[GLOBAL EYE]Zen and the Foreign Ministry

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[GLOBAL EYE]Zen and the Foreign Ministry

I do not like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The ministry cannot be trusted at all. It is hard to like the ministry when it does not appear to be concentrating on the grand task of planning a diplomatic strategy, and yet it doesn’t bother to deal with services for the people.
I also do not have any intention of protecting cheeky diplomats who think they are the elite and are used to turning over their responsibility to others.
But it is time to stop attacking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Taking the dumpling issue as an example, many small companies went bankrupt as a result of the hysterical reaction of our society as a whole over the matter. It was not an exorcism meant to kill everyone who makes a living out of making dumplings, but our aimless attacks resulted in several corpses shot by stray bullets.
The same goes for the Foreign Ministry. The morale of the diplomats and energy of the ministry have gone down to a level that is impossible to restore, making its situation very difficult.
The status of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is bound to change through competition and conflicts between government ministries. In particular, the dynamics of the delicate power balance between the ministry and the National Security Council of the Blue House is a situation that can be seen not only in Korean society.
However, it is not appropriate either to make cynical remarks against the Blue House like, “The president is the one who messed up the Korea-U.S. alliance,” or driving the ministry into a corner by saying, “It is the organization that applauded the president’s impeachment,” and “They are a bunch of officials who lack in professional expertise and patriotism.” Such stories are spreading because our society is in chaos. There is no way to stop such self-tormenting complaints like these.
We have become as big as we are through our connections and relations with the outside world.
The reality is that it is hard to think of a survival policy for a country without strategic considerations of a foreign policy. Of course the time when specially trained experts such as diplomats were the only ones who were in charge of diplomacy has passed. There is more of a need now for diplomatic workers who are specialists in various fields and are more open in their view of the world.
Therefore, the civilian consulting firm’s advice to the ministry that it should first try to gain the people’s confidence through publicity about its work sounds obsolete to me. Needless to say, the ministry is to blame on many points, but since when have our people been interested in diplomatic issues?
As politicians indulge in domestic political strife and the media stick to reporting inefficient self-tormenting articles, there is not much room for the Foreign Ministry to call attention to the things it is doing right.
The daily newspaper of Zurich, Switzerland, called NZZ, is known worldwide for its expertise in reporting international issues. It has over 90 special correspondents overseas, and plenty of journalists with doctorates as well. The front pages of the paper start out with in-depth international articles.
I asked the vice president of NZZ about its background two years ago. He answered, “Would Switzerland be able to survive without the people’s understanding of and interest in foreign affairs?”
Our geopolitical situation is frequently compared to that of Switzerland. Yet our deeply rooted mistrust of the government and civil servants is probably very different from the feelings of the Swiss. Also, the actions of our people who are used to thinking lightly of our government and the nation are exposed when they go abroad as uncontrollable thoughtlessness at times. This is also probably different from Switzerland.
That is why I agree with the vice minister of foreign affairs, who said, “The sentiment of people who still have the feel of being persecuted leads to difficulties in making cool-headed decisions.” The self-reflective statement of the minister of foreign affairs, who said, “The whole ministry should be on alert against the crisis and should be born again as a department for civil affairs,” also seems to hold water.
Therefore, I ask this from officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. First, do not aim too high. However, have a sense of duty and pride deep within your hearts.
There is no reason to be pushed around by or feel overwhelmed in front of the National Security Council. There is no need to cringe at the attacks of a few aggressive politicians or the media. After all, they are all accomplices.
However, discard the opportunistic attitude of the past, of bowing down once and waiting for the wind to pass by. Didn’t the consulting firm advise the ministry to overcome its illusions first?
Only then will I be able to comfortably shout, “Be strong, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade!”

* The writer is an editorial writer and director of the Research Institute of Unification Culture of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kil Jeong-woo
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