[Viewpoint] Ban’s quiet diplomacy

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[Viewpoint] Ban’s quiet diplomacy

Western media organizations have been increasingly critical of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of late. The feeling of ill will against Ban is spreading across Europe, the United States and Japan.

The Washington Post joined the critical offensive on Sept. 1, following The Economist, U.S. foreign affairs magazine Foreign Policy and The Wall Street Journal.

The stinging Foreign Policy column was also published in Newsweek Japan. In Norway, Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Mona Juul’s report blasting Ban created controversy when it was leaked to the media.

However, if you look closely, you will see something interesting about these attacks. Foreign Policy, which poured personal attacks on Ban, Newsweek Japan, which published the same column, and The Washington Post, which joined the offensive more recently, all belong to the same media group.

Newsweek has been a part of the Washington Post Company since 1961, and Foreign Policy became a part of the group last year. Criticism of Ban might look widespread, but in fact, it’s all coming from the same source.

Moreover, reports from the Washington Post subsidiaries leave a bitter taste.

Just in time, Newsweek Japan included a translated version of the Foreign Policy column right before Ban visited Japan. The Washington Post’s article contained a crooked view by quoting Deputy Ambassador Juul’s comments criticizing Ban.

Recently, Juul failed to receive an assistant secretary general position and might have reason to feel resentful toward Ban, since he has the power to nominate different candidates for the posts.

It doesn’t seem coincidental that Juul’s report was leaked to the media right before Ban’s visit to Norway to raise awareness about the severity of climate change. He wanted to draw attention to the issue by visiting the melting polar glaciers.

Ban’s critics claim he has made compromises with dictatorial regimes, and the ethical authority of the United Nations, the fortress of international human rights, has been undermined as a result.

They are talking about Ban’s meetings with dictators such as General Than Shwe of Myanmar, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.

Than Shwe is the autocratic head of Myanmar’s military junta, and Omar al-Bashir is a fugitive from the International Criminal Court on charges of mass killings in Darfur. Rajapaksa is considered responsible for a civil war that cost thousands of civilians their lives.

The conservatives might have been disappointed when the UN chief shook hands with these dictators instead of harshly censuring their autocratic rules.

However, the reason Ban met these dictators and the consequences of the meetings are now taken for granted. By meeting with Than Shwe, a half million refugees from the devastating cyclone were saved.

Ban pressured Bashir into permitting UN Peacekeepers into Darfur. Ban’s visit to Sri Lanka, despite the danger, drew the attention of the international community to the civil war there.

One concern is the fear that Ban lacks organizational dominance over the United Nations. It might be a side effect of his UN reform: Reform is meant to be followed by resistance.

The more UN officials resist, the more open his office has to be. Unless he manages his organization smoothly, his external accomplishments might lose their shine.

*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Kyung-min
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