Lost opportunity for diplomacy

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Lost opportunity for diplomacy


As the proverb goes, “You may not remember happy events, but you don’t forget what happened in sorrow.” Nearly 100 foreign leaders attended the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday. All former and current U.S. presidents that were able to travel attended, including President Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The United States offered bipartisan condolences to the former South African president. However, Obama did not attend the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles, as well as the presidents of France and Germany attended, as did the incumbent and former Canadian prime ministers. The funeral drew more VIPs than a summit meeting. They all have many pending issues and extremely busy schedules, so each of them must have had to cancel or reschedule important meetings in order to fly to Johannesburg. Planning a foreign visit at the last minute also involves many security arrangements.

Why did they all cancel their schedules and travel all the way to South Africa? The prime reason is to mourn for Mandela and celebrate his legacy. They wished to pay their respects to the great soul that fought against inhumane racial discrimination and attained a living history of forgiveness and integration. Of course, national interests involving South Africa’s resources and the potential of the African continent also played a part.

However, that’s not all. It was a kind of a summit meeting of an “alliance of values” among the leaders of nations, who share the same values of democracy and liberty. The heads of democratic states who supported Mandela’s efforts to create a free and just world where human rights are protected and discrimination is eliminated may have wanted to reaffirm their beliefs and strengthen their solidarity. Most of the leaders were heads of states that pursue such values. Also, many of the attendees are the main players in the international community, setting the agenda and direction for the world with confidence and responsibility. When they meet in future summit meetings, would they be reminded of episodes related to the funeral and reaffirm the value alliance?

Korea sent Prime Minister Jung Hong-won to pay a call of condolence. If President Park Geun-hye had personally attended the funeral, Korea’s dignity and international status could have been elevated. Of course, she would have many reasons not to attend, but it is about time that Korea considers diplomacy of value.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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