[Outlook]Sloppy diplomacy

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[Outlook]Sloppy diplomacy

A politician’s popularity is fleeting. In the presidential election in December last year, President Lee Myung-bak was elected with an overwhelming margin of more than 5.3 million votes. Now, his approval rating has fallen below 30 percent after less than half a year. The president must feel disappointed.
Things did not bode well early on when the presidential transition team started working as if it was the cabinet, drawing up many policies which were not carefully thought out, including a plan to use English in all classes in schools.
Then, the wealth of the cabinet members and the presidential aides in the Blue House was revealed, making them look like some kind of club for the super-rich.
Further problems arose in the course of Grand National Party nominations for the legislative elections and that blew a chilly wind over the party despite its election victories. Then, on top of all that, panic has broken out over imports of U.S. beef.
The beef issue can be regarded as a typical case of diplomatic negotiation without a strategy. When President George W. Bush invited President Lee to Camp David, the Blue House and the Korean foreign ministry were so eager to make the event look impressive that they allowed the president to make a quick political decision on the U.S. beef import negotiations. The fact that the prolonged talks were settled the day before President Lee and President Bush met was enough to raise suspicions that the Korean administration made concessions on the issue to the United States to create a good atmosphere during the meeting.
What Korea earned in return was the establishment of the 21st-century strategic Korea-U.S. alliance and an end to the reduction of U.S. soldiers in Korea, if nothing else.
The Korea-U.S. alliance does have the potential to expand to non-military and security fields. But at the same time there is a risk that Korea could be dragged into the U.S. global military policies, or, to put it more bluntly, into American attempts at world domination.
The optimum timing for a settlement for the U.S. beef import negotiations would be June, shortly after the U.S. Congress considers a bill to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. But the Korean government acted too soon.
The Blue House and the foreign ministry consider the Lee-Bush summit meeting a success. They seem to think that there were no big problems, except for its giving up on the beef import negotiations.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom visited the United States at around the same time as President Lee. The British prime minister met with all leading U.S. presidential candidates: Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain.
Considering that President Bush has only eight months left in office, President Lee also should have met U.S. presidential hopefuls. It would have been the type of pragmatic move President Lee insists he is pursuing.
Even if we admit that the Korean administration lacked strategies and made mistakes in handling its diplomacy toward the United States, it is still impossible to forgive the anti-American forces now stirring up the country and staging cyberterrorism attacks on the Internet over the beef import issue.
They are creating hysteria over mad cow disease among many Koreans, including young students.
Diplomatic negotiations are over. If the negotiations are to be resumed, how can we guarantee positive results, or at the very least stability?
A resumption of negotiations is impossible. The Korean government thus promised to Koreans that it would stop importing beef from the United States immediately if mad cow disease is reported in the United States, even though it would create trade problems.
For Americans, this is a grave declaration to break the agreement. But the Korean administration must persuade the United States that this is the best that Korea can do.
The Korean government made a mistake because it failed to heed Korean farmers’ reasonable protests against the opening of our beef market, forces that sought political gain by creating panic over mad cow disease, and demonstrators who poured into the streets wearing headbands and carrying loudspeakers whenever there were issues.
As a result, the administration had to say what it hated to say to the United States: that it would stop importing beef if mad cow disease occurs.
The U.S. should understand the difficult situation that Korea is in. Just like in America, diplomacy is in line with domestic politics in Korea. If Washington doesn’t want a halt in beef exports to Korea, it should take all possible measures to ensure that its cows are free from mad cow disease.
I believe that Washington will do that, so I will consume American beef along with Korean beef. Those who mislead the general public with bizarre logic must be punished in accordance with the law.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-hie
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