[GLOBAL EYE]Roh’s claims ill-consideredPresident Roh Moo-hyun said in a written interview with an Internet media outlet last week, “I think this participatory government has achieved more than expected in the diplomatic area.” His explanation was that his administration said what should be said and solved problems better than people had expected, without ruining diplomatic relations.
If the present administration has indeed revived the economy and overachieved its targets in diplomatic affairs, we should all give loud cheers for that accomplishment. But why are elders from various circles making much ado about the possible collapse of our country?
Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan vented his complaint by saying, “Although the country is founded on a rock, some media outlets are deluding the world and deceiving the people.” Are our people so foolish as to be swayed by some “conservative news outlets” with thoughts of the Cold War? But if not, then how can we explain the support rate of only 20 percent for the governing party?
The diplomatic performance of the government cannot be calculated at a certain point like export targets or the profit and loss of business management. Diplomacy is a medium-to-long-term game for the national interest, and a small investment in diplomacy now may bring large profits later. It is a rare case in which the leader of a country boasts that he did a good job in diplomacy.
Diplomacy has partners and, in particular, it is not polite to groundlessly talk about the achievement of the government for domestic purpose. This is because diplomacy is carried out with gentle words but negotiations are made behind the scenes.
The foreign policy of the “participatory” government toward the United States has created a fuss, making hasty remarks, canceling the words after they had poured out and then settling the repercussions. The government says the South Korea-United States alliance is still solid but it is crumbling to the extent that the United States doubts if South Korea is indeed an ally. Even if the relationship is not broken, it has been seriously cracked. Whoever sees it, the agreement at the six-nation talks was a stopgap measure to prevent this rupture. Nevertheless, our government officials hurry to praise themselves, calling the agreement a “victory of South Korean diplomacy.”
Our foreign policy with Japan is in a worse situation. Even the basic trust between the two leaders of South Korea and Japan is destroyed. Behind the “arrogance” of the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi lies his deep “misunderstanding” that the Roh Moo-hyun administration is using diplomatic issues to play domestic politics. The dispute over the Dokdo islets and Mr. Koizumi’s visiting the Yasukuni Shrine are matters that cannot be overlooked on our part. Even so, it is not proper diplomacy to discontinue all exchanges between the two countries or allow them to be overly influenced by those issues.
Aware of the North Korean authorities, the “participatory” government has consistently given up on or failed to participate in United Nations resolutions on the North’s human rights problems. In the international community, South Korea is even derided as a “backward country on human rights.” How will the outside world see South Korea now when the country ignores human rights conditions in North Korea but steps forward to protect the human rights of a professor who has praised North Korea?
In a press conference at the closing ceremony of the South Korea-United States Annual Security Consultative meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked a question about some South Koreans’ perception that the United States is more a threat than North Korea to peace on the Korean Peninsula. He took on a quizzical expression and paused for a while. He then reminded us that “South Korea’s democracy and economic lifestyle were possible substantially thanks to the sacrifice and money of Americans.” His remark was in line with a recent lamentation from Hwang Jang-yup, a former secretary of North Korea’s Workers Party, who said, “North Korean residents do not know why they go hungry, while South Koreans do not know why they became well off.”
Self-reliant diplomacy cannot be realized in words alone. Every time they go abroad, the president and the prime minister may well take pride in South Korea’s expanding national strength and have the impulse to say whatever is on their mind. But the more South Korea becomes globalized, the more it is expected to use words and deeds befitting that globalization and a mature and responsible diplomatic attitude. Populist and ideological diplomacy that focuses on short-term performance will result in also being called a “backward country on diplomacy.”
* The writer is a senior columnist of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun