[OUTLOOK]Not everything needs to be said

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[OUTLOOK]Not everything needs to be said

At the moment, South Korea is enjoying the notion that it’s a country that “says what needs to be said.” The problem is that no clear line seems to have been drawn between what needs saying and what would be better left unspoken. Worryingly, our political leaders appear to be confusing the two.
On March 22, at the Korea Military Academy’s graduation ceremony, President Roh Moo-hyun issued this warning: “In the future, the balance of power in Northeast Asia will be changed by the strategic choice that Korea makes.”
Why would the president say such a thing? What could have been his intention?
There are only two possibilities here. Things could actually turn out as he predicts they will, or the Northeast Asian balance of power could be left completely unaffected by whatever it is that Korea chooses to do. If the latter proves to be the case, then the person who predicted otherwise will undergo a loss of credibility. If the former is true, then there is no need to make an announcement about it ahead of time.
Indeed, doing so could provoke hostility from powerful countries in the region, and could even encourage a movement to impose restraints on our growth. China is well aware of this; that’s why its leaders are constantly saying that people overestimate its potential.
Korea is doing exactly the opposite. As ever-more-powerful China downplays its might, Korea,which is growing less than half as fast, boasts that it can change the regional power structure if it wants to.
Korean leaders also keep saying that we can’t maintain the present “triangular alliance” with the United States and Japan.
First of all, no such alliance even exists. Korea is an ally of the United States, but not of Japan. Talk of leaving the triangular alliance is really talk of leaving the alliance with the United States.
That alliance, by the way, is often described as one that’s been imposed upon us against our will. But the truth of the matter is that we are in that alliance because we have needed it, and most of the Korean people think we still do.
President Roh has not hesitated to use strong words regarding Japan lately. Last week, he even said that he was willing to wage “diplomatic war.”
It is fair to say that Japan’s attitude toward the Dokdo issue is highly unsatisfactory, and that there are problems with the country’s attitude toward its past.
But one cannot help but question whether it was appropriate for the leader of a neighboring country to make such remarks. The issue is not whether or not there are problems with Japan; the issue is whether there is anything to be gained from denouncing those problems with such strong language.
Inherent in the very expression “saying what needs to be said” is the suggestion that there are also things that do not need saying. Judgments as to which is which ought to be based on what results a statement is likely to produce.
Diplomacy is about results. No matter how noble the intentions behind a public statement might be, it can’t be considered successful diplomacy if it doesn’t improve the situation.
I cannot help but be concerned about what results will come about from the statements that have been made in the name of the Republic of Korea in recent days.
It is true that speaking our minds, without worrying about whether or not it’s appropriate to the situation, makes us feel better. But the object of diplomacy is not to express one’s emotions, nor to enjoy the pleasure of acting without restraint.
Diplomacy is the effort to persuade others in the attempt to secure the interests of a sovereign nation. Because the international community is composed of sovereign states, a country has to be satisfied with diplomatic measures if they achieve half of what it wants.
When a country gets more than half of what it’s seeking, it means the country that it’s dealing with is getting less than half. That, in turn, means that there’s a strong chance that the other country won’t like the results, and will ultimately try to reopen negotiations.
Diplomacy is, in effect, warfare conducted with words. In diplomacy, one must be wise enough not only to distinguish between what needs saying and what doesn’t, but to be satisfied with getting half of what one wants.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-won
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