[FOUNTAIN]The pallbearers of peaceThere is no place for diplomacy like a state funeral. The delegates sent from each country do more than make calls of condolence. They meet with the leaders and officials of the host country as well as the delegates from other nations. The contacts and exchanges are called “funeral diplomacy.”
In May 1980, the funeral of Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito was attended by delegates from 123 countries. Fifty-eight heads of states personally attended, more than the number of countries that sent cabinet members for the occasion. Tanjug, the official news agency of Yugoslavia, called the funeral “The summit of mankind.” The most notable mourner was Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. While the Soviet leader had not been happy with President Tito’s participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, he still turned up at the funeral in person. The attendance was considered an attempt to bring Yugoslavia back under the influence of the Soviet Union once again. The U.S. delegation was headed by Vice President Walter Mondale, and the public condemned President Jimmy Carter for being inconsiderate.
When Emperor Hirohito of Japan died in February 1989, Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen played an almost heroic role in funeral diplomacy. The relationship between Beijing and Tokyo was tense at the time, because Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita said in the Diet that World War II should not be considered a war of aggression. Mr. Qian met with Mr. Takeshita to smooth out the relationship. He also initiated negotiations with Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto to normalize diplomatic ties between the two countries, which had been severed since 1967.
The funeral of Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in June 2000 set the stage for a last-minute tuning of the inter-Korean summit by facilitating coordination among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. The heads of the three nations had a series of bilateral meetings. U.S. President Bill Clinton then spared a day in his tight schedule to visit Tokyo. The visit was made out of consideration of the Japanese public, which thought that Washington’s Asian policy was China-oriented.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon is visiting Tokyo to attend the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He has met with Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary and the most promising candidate for the next prime minister. I hope that the funeral provides a chance for Seoul and Tokyo to reconstruct a friendly relationship.
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.