Stop apologizingMinister of Unification Lee Jae-jung kept an inexplicably humble profile in front of North Korean delegates to last week’s ministerial talks.
Lee kept saying, “Thank you,” and apologizing at the end of every sentence as he addressed Kwon Ho-wung, the head of the North Korean delegation. On the last day of the talks, Lee thanked Kwon for having that last meeting, and at the dinner reception the day before he was apologetic for having prepared a party that was modest and pragmatic.
Why should he be thankful just for the chance to show up and talk? Why should he be apologetic for keeping to a simple and pragmatic protocol when it was done by mutual agreement? Perhaps he was simply sorry for not being able to provide food aid despite the dire situation of the North Korean people. But the suspension of aid was a matter of principle. The government has linked food aid with progress on the North Korean nuclear issue, and the South negotiated in accordance with that principle. As stated above, it was a just act that accords with proper procedure. What is so wrong, then, that he felt this overwhelming need to be both apologetic and grateful? Has he been caught by North Korea displaying some sort of flaw unknown to the South Korean people?
Surely you may feel sorry for sending your guests away empty-handed, and it is also true that the more mature you are the more humble you become. Nonetheless, there was nothing in the talks that required the minister to lower his head.
Lee should keep it clearly in his mind that he is dealing with North Korea not as a private person but as the lead representative of the South Korean delegation to the ministerial talks. South Korean citizens do not want a minister of unification who approaches talks with North Korea without solid principles. They want a minister who embraces North Korea but also stands firm.