An ambassador, not a personal assistantKorean and Japanese lawmakers gathered on July 10 for the general meeting of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians Union at a hotel in Tokyo.
It was at that gathering that Kang Chang-il, the secretary general of the South Korean parliamentary union and a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), raised his voice to Korean Ambassador to Japan Yoo Heung-soo. More than 40 lawmakers had arrived the previous day, and Kang wanted to know why the ambassador had not welcomed them at the airport. It was also discourteous, he added, that the ambassador had skipped dinner with the lawmakers.
Kang and Yoo exchanged uncomfortable remarks and entered the hall separately, making it awkward for everyone around them. I met with Kang the next day to ask about the encounter, and he told me that many of the assemblymen felt annoyed - he had just spoken on their behalf. He further stressed that for an ambassador to welcome visiting assemblymen is a courtesy.
In July 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs replaced the Reception Protocol for National Assembly Members Traveling Overseas with business cooperation guidelines for National Assembly members traveling abroad for diplomatic reasons. In order to obtain the cooperation of a diplomatic mission, a member of the National Assembly must send an official letter to the foreign minister 10 days before departure. But the guidelines do not clarify the extent of protocol for the ambassador during official trips by lawmakers.
The Korean Embassy in Japan explained that a meeting between the ambassador and a local newspaper had been arranged in April, and the appointment couldn’t be rescheduled, so the embassy called a few lawmakers in advance to seek their understanding, and the ministerial counselor for political affairs instead welcomed the legislators at the airport. It seems Kang went too far by openly embarrassing the ambassador. Especially since ties between Korea and Japan are so complicated, it is an important part of his diplomatic activities to meet with Japanese media to convey Seoul’s position.
In April 2013, President Park Geun-hye said diplomatic missions should not focus on receiving and attending to the schedules of politicians or other powerful figures. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has changed these guidelines, but some politicians still demand excessive protocol. In 2009, Japan’s ruling coalition clarified that its members would not be received by overseas diplomatic missions when they traveled abroad, nor could they use their authority to receive special treatment. The ambassador is not an assistant to our Assembly members.
The author is the Tokyo correspondent
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 26
by LEE JEONG-HEON