Leaks trouble Seoul officials

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Leaks trouble Seoul officials

WikiLeaks’ exposure of secret U.S. State Department cables has drawn little response from the South Korean government, which is citing the fact that the cables are non-Korean as reason for its silence.

Observers say the incident could scare Seoul officials into not speaking as candidly with their U.S. counterparts the next time they meet.

“Because it exposed discussions that could only be made with the assurance of confidentiality, [WikiLeaks’ revelations] will likely make it very difficult for Korea to maintain the same level of diplomacy,” said Yun Duk-min, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Yun said the case has dealt a major blow not only to the United States but also South Korea.

The leaked cables revealed that the Lee Myung-bak administration began trying to arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il through meetings with North officials in late 2009. But contact was severed after the North demanded aid as a prerequisite to a summit, the cables showed. In the past, Seoul had denied suspicion that it tried to contact the North for a summit between Kim and Lee.

The cables also contained comments by South Korean officials who said that China’s attitude toward the North is changing from affection to impatience. Analysts have since pointed out that this viewpoint, though surprising, is long on speculation and short on fact.

“If the government has drafted policies on the North based on speculation, it means we may not be dealing with it properly,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.

The cables also show that some government officials hold extremely personal, and potentially embarrassing, opinions of their counterparts in China. Chun Yung-woo, former vice foreign minister and current national security advisor, was quoted in one cable describing Wu Dawei, China’s point man on Korea, as “an arrogant, Marx-spouting former Red Guard.” Wu, Chun said in the cables, “knows nothing about North Korea.”

Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Blue House declined to comment on the leaked documents, saying they can’t comment on non-Korean documents.

The National Intelligence Service also declined to comment on a request to confirm new revelations, such as the recent defections of many high-profile North Korean officials to the South. That information was delivered to a U.S. official by former Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, a cable showed. Meanwhile, sources say the government has begun talking with the U.S. about the case.

“The only bright spot with the leaks,” said Jeung Young-tae, a researcher at the Institute for National Unification, “is that it might send a warning to Pyongyang that Beijing cannot remain its ally forever.”

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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