[Viewpoint] A gladiator of diplomacy is neededMinister for Trade Kim Jong-hoon’s nickname is gladiator. During the negotiations of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, his strong will to win shined.
But the gladiator lowered his head and kneeled as 207 errors were found in the Korean translation of the Korea-EU free trade agreement. Repeating the apology, he dropped his head.
The gladiator felt disgrace, and the people were disappointed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s performance.
The ministry defended the errors by saying that the 1,300-page agreement was translated in a short amount of time with a limited number of translators.
And yet, the ministry translated “epidemiological service” into the Korean words for “dermatological service” and “transplant” into the Korean word for “blood transfusion.” These are just unacceptable mistakes.
But there is an even bigger problem - the ministry’s arrogance.
When the accusations were first made about the translation errors, the ministry played down their significance. The ministry treated the matter as if critics, who without professional knowledge of the matter, were picking a fight over minor issues.
The ministry also said some typos were included in the original documents, but that they didn’t really affect the content of the agreement, brazenly demanding the National Assembly ratify it first.
If the ministry had admitted its mistakes and tried to fix them from the beginning, it may have been able to save face. But it failed to understand the real-world situation and implications and could not avoid this incredible embarrassment.
The ministry, in fact, has a long history of such embarrassment. The previous foreign minister left the country after it was discovered he had hired his daughter through a special recruitment process, forcing him to resign.
Diplomats in Shanghai fought with each other over a mistress, and the ministry failed to supervise them properly. The head of another mission even embezzled money allocated for diplomatic activities.
When the Cheonan warship sank, the Foreign Ministry failed to persuade the UN to issue a statement condemning Pyongyang and instead just complained about China’s strength. At the same time, North Korea is building up its nuclear stockpile, but the Foreign Ministry only watches.
Diplomacy is a matter of personal interaction. The Foreign Ministry’s problem is with its diplomats. After passing the foreign service exam, diplomats with similar abilities compete internally for jobs.
They become diplomats by memorizing book after book that have nothing to do with reality.
Thus, it is hard to expect them to possess true problem-solving ability and strong determination to serve the public.
Rather than serving the country with the courage and smart strategies, they are mostly half elites who care mostly about their personal ties with those in power and the privileges attached to their jobs.
That is why the country must groom proper and able diplomats through a special academy, rather than selecting people through an exam. That’s what President Lee Myung-bak is interested in seeing happen. But no progress has been made. A bill to revise the law governing diplomats is currently pending in the National Assembly.
The bill was intended to form a special graduate school to train professionals to become capable and able diplomats. But now, the bill has been changed so much that the foreign service exam would still remain.
Diplomacy is the key for Korea’s success in geopolitics, but it is also the one field that the country really lacks ability in.
In reality, North Korea is better at diplomacy. We criticize the North for its “brinkmanship” but are we really qualified to say that?
We need talented diplomats. The diplomats must be selected with a focus on real problem-solving abilities, not based on their language skills or ability to memorize.
It’s critical they have the ability to understand history and international affairs in addition to having strong national values.
Changes are desperately needed. An overhaul of diplomacy is Korea’s path for survival. What we need right now is not an FTA gladiator, but a gladiator of diplomacy.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok