A critical lack of diplomatic courtesy

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A critical lack of diplomatic courtesy


The unusual toast echoed throughout the Kennedy Center, the largest performing arts venue in Washington, D.C. Ahn Hong-joon, chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee at the National Assembly, was speaking at a reception for a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korea-U.S. alliance. His speech was scheduled for five minutes, but as he spoke for 15 minutes, attendees began losing interest. Suddenly, he proposed a toast. He said those without a glass should raise their hands. He shouted “Sa-u-di” three times, explaining that “sa” stands for “love,” “u” for “friendship” and “di” for “till death” in Korean.

Korean-Americans at the reception reluctantly followed along, while American guests were lost. The interpreter said, “It is a slogan for love and friendship forever.” The 2,000 guests included Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman and many legislators as well as foreign dignitaries. It was fortunate that the Saudi ambassador to the United States was not present at the moment when the Korean politician raised a wine glass and shouted “Saudi.”

Ahn’s risky diplomacy does not end here. On Sept. 24, he met with three U.S. senators. There are only 100 senators in the United States, whose population is 326 million. The three met with Ahn because of the position he holds.

However, Ahn doesn’t seem to understand the weight of his position. Before he left Washington on the afternoon of Sept. 24, he wrote 19 tweets, including pictures taken with the senators.

His tweets included sensitive information: “Met with James Inhofe, ranking member of the Republicans in the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Rather than setting a timeline for delaying the transfer of wartime operational control, we would watch North Korea’s provocation and Korea’s goal of preparedness and defense.”

Another one said, “Met with Ben Cardin, the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs subcommittee under the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and had mutual feelings toward the historical distortion in Korea-Japan relations.”

The subject of wartime operational control is such a sensitive and confidential issue that even military officials in Seoul and Washington refrain from discussing it publicly.

Aside from Ahn’s discourtesy, I get embarrassed by the behaviors and bad manners of visiting politicians. They often make gaffes as they only seem to be interested in taking pictures to prove that they have met with U.S. government officials or politicians.

The level of Korean politics has fallen behind that of the economy, the eighth largest in the world. However, the lack of diplomatic courtesy displayed by a three-time lawmaker and chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee was quite shocking.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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