Memorandums of untruths

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Memorandums of untruths

It is common sense that a government cannot pursue its policies effectively if its people don’t trust it. And yet there were many times in the past when the people just could not believe the government, particularly when it bragged about the achievements of presidential diplomacy in securing natural resources when presidents took trips to foreign countries.

According to diplomatic cables of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul released by WikiLeaks, a Korean diplomat said that a 2009 memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Korean and Iraqi leaders at a summit, which would grant Korea the right to explore oil fields with a potential of 2 billion barrels, had actually been announced without a concrete agreement having been reached. In fact, one month later, the Iraqi government announced that Korean oil companies would be excluded from bidding on those oil deals.

Misleading announcements of that sort were made by other administrations, too. According to revelations by WikiLeaks, the Roh Moo-hyun administration deliberately misstated the cost to our government of relocating U.S. bases in an attempt to bolster the legitimacy of the transfer of wartime operational control from the U.S. to Korea.

Yesterday’s press release by Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Tae-hwan points out that only one out of 35 MOUs exchanged between our presidents, prime ministers and special emissaries and their foreign counterparts to develop mineral resources overseas has actually gone anywhere since 2003. Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, in particular, virtually no achievement has been made so far, according to Kim. Among the 20 MOUs signed by the government and its foreign counterparts from 2008 until last year, nine went down the drain, 10 are “in progress” with no results imminent, and only one has a glimmer of hope.

Such embarrassments are inevitable as long as our leaders can’t resist the temptation to exaggerate their accomplishments on visits to countries with abundant resources. It also points to an unscrupulous pursuit of personal achievements rather than of the national interest. This shameful practice to exploit foreign tours to polish the president’s image should be stopped.

Some may argue that MOUs are, by nature, not legally-binding agreements. But the government must stop this nonsense. If real achievements are not possible on a foreign trip, maybe the president should stay home.

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