Diplomats act up, again

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Diplomats act up, again

We use the words “civilian diplomatic corps” to refer to nongovernmental workers who greatly enhance the dignity of Korea overseas. The expression is based on the premise that a diplomat’s primary goal is raising our national prestige in foreign countries. But the expression can no longer be applied to our diplomats overseas because they are too often engaged in shameful behavior.

According to the Korea Customs Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday, a former ambassador to the Ivory Coast returned to Seoul after finishing his service with a multitude of elephant tusks hidden in his luggage that he hadn’t reported to customs authorities. The ambassador explained that the ivory was included in the package by mistake.

Yet it’s hard to accept his explanation because he had not reported to his headquarters in Seoul his receipt of ivory from local officials. That constitutes a clear violation of the government’s ethics code, not to mention the Foreign Ministry’s internal rules. In addition, his receipt of the tusks is illegal, because their trade is strictly banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. He should have immediately refused to accept them as presents.

In fact, many of our diplomats have become symbols of corruption. There are plenty of examples of diplomats who have acted in defiance of the administration’s slogan for a fair society.

Former Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan resigned last year due to an embarrassing scandal over his daughter’s special employment at the ministry. Several consulate officers in Shanghai had affairs with the same Chinese woman in return for providing relevant information and help with visas. And officials at our embassy in Washington, D.C., surprised us with their frequent trips to decadent entertainment establishments. You name it, they’ve done it.

Kim Sung-hwan, who took the helm of the Foreign Ministry after Yu resigned, has repeatedly stressed the importance of self-restraint and high moral standards for diplomats since his inauguration in October 2010. But the dazzling spate of corruption incidents makes his efforts to revamp the dirty atmosphere in the ministry an empty promise, all thanks to preposterously low ethics standards among our diplomats overseas. As head of the career diplomats, Kim cannot be immune from responsibility for all the blunders. Does this uniquely unprofessional group of diplomats need some kind of special education in ethics and morality?
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