[VIEWPOINT]Korea needs more activity in the ‘pipeline’

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[VIEWPOINT]Korea needs more activity in the ‘pipeline’

Moon Hee-sang, former speaker of the National Assembly, and Yoshiro Mori, former Japanese Prime Minister, reportedly played a decisive role behind the scenes in the decision by the governments of South Korea and Japan on April 22 to steer away from further confrontation over the Dokdo islets (JoongAng Ilbo April 24, p. 4). The two politicians are the presidents on each side of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union. It seems the “pipeline diplomacy” between the political leaders of South Korea and Japan worked after a long period of dormancy.
Pipeline diplomacy refers to unofficial diplomatic activities, in this instance, negotiations between influential politicians.
Between emotionally charged South Korea and Japan, official diplomacy has sometimes been marked by confrontation. On many occasions, therefore, the diplomatic pipeline between political leaders of the two countries has played an important role.
In 1974, for instance, relationship between the two countries had gone to the brink of catastrophe because of an attempt on the life of the late President Park Chung Hee by Moon Se-gwang, a member of the North Korean Residents’ League in Japan. At the time, the breakthrough was found with the help of the diplomatic pipeline between the two countries.
Since then, South Korean politicians such as Kim Jong-pil and Park Tae-joon and, on the Japanese side, former Prime Ministers Noboru Takeshita and Yasuhiro Nakasone and others have been involved.
In 2003, the South Korean government demanded that President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to Japan be upgraded to a “state visit,” which accords the highest protocol to a visiting head of state, but the Japanese government rejected that proposal.
At the time, the presidents of the South Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union on both sides, former Prime Ministers Kim Jong-pil and Yoshiro Mori, negotiated successfully in the background, and the visit was upgraded.
However, the diplomatic pipeline between the two countries was almost cut off in 2004 due to a mass reshuffling of Korean lawmakers following that year’s legislative elections.
Japanese politicians at the time said there were no Korean politicians to talk to. Although there were exchanges between younger legislators, their influence was meager. Mr. Roh’s government has been inclined to consider official diplomatic channels more important than unofficial diplomacy.
At present, relations between the governments of South Korea and Japan are in rough seas. The fundamental reason, of course, lies in the Japanese propensity for creating controversy through Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, distortion of history textbooks and efforts to get territorial rights over the Dokdo Islets.
But it can also be pointed out that the reason the situation has been aggravated lies in the absence of mediation through pipeline diplomacy.
Pipeline diplomacy has often been criticized, because officials intervene diplomatically for political, rather that national, interests. But it has at times played a bigger role than official diplomacy.
In a sense, it is natural that the politicians responsible for state affairs should assume a bigger diplomatic role for the national interest. To do so, they must broaden exchanges with influential people overseas and consolidate friendships.
Almost half of Japan’s politicians rush to the United States when their parliamentary sessions are over, to create and maintain diplomatic pipelines.
Some people point out that since Japan is under the parliamentary cabinet system, its politicians are active in diplomatic activities - but it is just as true of the United States, which is under a presidential system.
President Roh Moo-hun announced on Tuesday that South Korea would take stern action against Japan in connection with the Dokdo issue. Stern action, however, is effective only when backed up by diplomatic strength.
In “The Art of War,” the Chinese classic that President Hu Jintao of China presented to President George W. Bush during his recent visit in Washington, Sun Tzu described the strategy of winning a war without military confrontation. This is considered the best military strategy.
In international relations, diplomacy is also a means of war. And diplomacy is not the monopoly of the government, but a total war in which the whole nation should have a role.
What is the situation with us? I wonder whether there are politicians [in Korea] who pay much attention to diplomacy. Is the criticism that they are too focused on domestic politics too harsh? Moreover, when politicians are reshuffled on a large scale, existing unstable pipelines are often disconnected. The government and the governing party are not interested in utilizing the diplomatic pipeline of the opposition and the opposition does not want to help the government, because they are bound to their own party interests.
In 2003, Mr. Koizumi sent former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to Arabic countries and former Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko to the Eropean Union as special envoys to get agreement for the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. The two were political rivals who contested the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, but on this occasion they worked in unity for the national interest. Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and an influential Democratic Party politician, visited Pyongyang using a U.S. military plane. President Bush provided it in an effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem with the help of Mr. Richardson, who is an expert on North Korean affairs.
It is time to unfold a broader diplomacy in which our politicians establish a variety of reliable diplomatic pipelines with leaders of other countries and for the government to utilize them intelligently.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Day-young
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