[GLOBAL EYE]The different types of diplomacyFormer U.S. President George Bush, the father of President George W. Bush, went by the nickname of the “diplomacy president.” His skillful handling of the phone was called “Rolodex diplomacy.” Rolodex is the brand name of business card cases and other office supplies. “Rolodex diplomacy” referred to his style of consolidating friendship, leafing through business cards on the table from time to time and calling heads of major countries.
Some criticized the president as ignoring the proper diplomatic channels, but in many cases, problems unsolved through the official diplomatic line were resolved through the trust between the heads of state. The large mobilization of coalition forces for the first Gulf War was possible thanks to this summit diplomacy.
When Mr. Bush stayed in an apartment in Houston, Texas, after his term ended, former British Premier Margaret Thatcher visited the United States to attend an event to celebrate the publication of her book after her retirement. In a testament to their strong ties, Ms. Thatcher bought flowers on the street and visited Mr. Bush’s apartment.
There were cases in which the president ignored the diplomatic line and directly took the lead in making an important breakthrough. Former President Richard M. Nixon and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret envoy diplomacy also hewed to this sort of diplomacy.
But it is hard to find similar cases of presidential diplomacy in which the president declares he is “willing to wage a diplomatic war.” This is because diplomacy is a highly sophisticated game whose stakes involve national interests and the president is its final coordinator.
Taking a firm stance but using gentle words and deeds and never locking the front door without leaving the back door open are the basic tenets of diplomacy. If it is for the national interest, the president should frequently take pictures with heads of foreign countries even if he does not feel like it. Diplomacy goes beyond the simple goal of national interest. The most worrisome aspect of President Roh Moo-hyun’s diplomacy was mixing it with political ideology and introducing populism in the realm of diplomacy.
The dichotomy between the “diplomacy of saying what needs to be said” and “silent diplomacy” is nonsense. Proper diplomacy is to meet the concerned party directly and say what needs to be said silently but clearly. If one party declares to the world what he is about to say, the other party will doubt his sincerity.
The people’s response and the Internet users’ praise are important, of course. But nothing is more disheartening than to hear that the president’s remarks, which are based on his convictions, are dismissed by the other country as being designed for domestic politics.
Mr. Roh’s remarks that Korea will leave the framework of the “triangular alliance” with the United States and Japan, and that the “balance of power” in Northeast Asia will be changed by Korea’s strategic choice were shocking. In diplomacy, overconfidence is much more dangerous than humility. Two days before the president made the remarks, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon emphasized in an interview with an influential foreign newspaper that the United States was very important to the balance of power and stability in Northeast Asia. We can surmise that Mr. Roh’s remarks reflected the view of the diplomatic team that shares the “Roh code,” and were not related to the Foreign Ministry.
No one will oppose the idea of a self-reliant national defense. But unrealistic and blind arguments for self-reliance can lead to Korea’s being isolated from other countries.
Did we forget the cynical response from China, Russia and Japan to our aspiration to be the hub of Northeast Asia? The problems concerning South Korea-Japan relations can’t be limited to the two countries because of the complicated nature of their relationship ― they compete while distrusting each other, but cooperate at the same time.
We should accept that the United States is crucial to the balance of power in Northeast Asia, embrace China, and solve the problem with Japan within the bigger framework of Northeast Asia. We should look at how the problem of German-French relations was resolved within the framework of the integration of European countries.
It is good to see “public diplomacy” in which the president directly explains current diplomatic issues to the people and draws support from the public opinion. But in a country where democracy hasn’t yet matured completely, public diplomacy can easily lead to populism.
What Mr. Roh needs to do now is to get out of the closed framework of the “Roh code diplomacy” and learn to be flexible instead. He also should gain wisdom from around the nation by encouraging experts to participate in the government, just as a “participatory government” should.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun