Lee’s diplomacy comes under fire

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Lee’s diplomacy comes under fire

Facing down criticism that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s trip to China spells a diplomatic failure for South Korea, Blue House officials yesterday defended their capabilities, claiming that there is no rupture between Seoul and Beijing.

“Many are concerned about what had happened,” Blue House spokesman Park Sun-kyoo said. “But let me say this clearly: China in the past had never informed us in advance when Kim Jong-il or Kim Il Sung of the North visited the country.”

Park insisted there has been no breakdown in cooperation between China and the South.

“The South Korean government’s position was expressed appropriately during the summit [between President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao last Friday] in Shanghai. And the two governments are also having close consultations right now,” he said.

But other sources said the South’s government learned about Kim’s upcoming trip on the second day of Lee’s trip to Shanghai - Saturday, the day after Lee met with Hu. And Seoul expressed its displeasure about the timing of the visit to the Chinese ambassador only on Monday, after Kim’s trip was confirmed.

The facts that Kim visited China only three days after the Lee-Hu summit and that Hu did not tell Lee about the trip have prompted criticism that Seoul has failed in its diplomacy.

“Concerns grow that the Lee government’s diplomacy is facing a predicament,” Democratic Party floor leader Lee Kang-rae said. “Although Hu’s remarks on the Cheonan’s sinking were nothing more than a diplomatic statement and a formality, the Lee government promoted it as if China were backing South Korea. And now Kim has visited China, and the Lee administration is baffled.”

The floor leader said the Hu-Kim summit will likely address the possible resumption of the six-party nuclear talks, and the Lee administration must not insist on concluding the Cheonan probe before returning to the table.

“The government is jumping to the conclusion that the North is behind the sinking and it’s trying to direct the situation toward that conclusion,” he said. “That’s nothing more than politics of instigation ahead of the June 2 local elections.”

The conservative Liberty Forward Party also criticized the administration’s diplomatic capabilities.

“China did not say a word about Kim’s trip [during the summit], and isn’t that an insult to the president and South Korea?” said Lee Hoi-chang, the LFP head. “This is an example of South Korea’s diplomatic incompetence.”

Lee urged Seoul to reinforce its ties with Washington at this point.

While the opposition parties continued to criticize the administration’s diplomacy in China, the Blue House claimed that President Lee made a strategic decision not to bring up Kim’s trip during his summit with Hu.

“When the Lee-Hu summit took place, President Lee had already been told of imminent indications about Kim’s trip,” a senior Blue House official said Wednesday. “Lee contemplated whether he should bring up Kim’s trip during the summit and convey the South’s concerns, but decided not to.”

The ruling Grand National Party also defended the Blue House, and instead put the fault on China.

“China received [Kim] despite the concerns of South Korea and the United States,” GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon said yesterday.

By Ser Myo-ja, Seo Seung-wook [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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