Going against the tide

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Going against the tide

The U.S. mission in Shanghai made an unusual announcement on May 3. It documented the scenes of U.S. Consul General in Shanghai Hanson Smith’s recent marriage to his long-time partner Lu Yingzong, also known as Eric Lu, in San Francisco on its official Weibo account even when same-sex marriage is not legalized or well accepted in China. A U.S. Department of State spokeswoman relayed the agency’s offer of congratulations to the couple on their marriage. Such an act would have been unimaginable on the Korean diplomatic stage.

The Korean bureaucratic community remains as rigid and old-fashioned as ever, unaffected by the changes of times. President Park Geun-hye, who showed inventiveness in appointments by choosing a U.S. citizen as her minister for the Minister for Science, ICT and Future Planning, recently summoned home three envoys before their terms ended, questioning the dual citizenship of their children. Some senior officials at the foreign ministry stationed at home also were disadvantaged in appointments for the same reason, even as it had been their offspring, not themselves owning a foreign or dual citizenship.

But it was not as if they used foreign citizenship to dodge military service, since the children were not born in the country at a time when their parents were serving missions there. Is it fair for their parents to be accountable for the choice and decisions the children made when they grew up? Is it not cruel for the children to watch their parents receive punitive actions because of their choices? How demoralizing it would be for diplomats to force their children forgo their foreign citizenship in fear of demotion. The government in its excess could be a home-wrecker.

The government also has not been fair in evenly applying the same strict code. A former senior presidential secretary recently elected as a lawmaker and many senior government officials including a deputy prime minister have children with questionable citizenship. Yet that had not been a problem for them. Only the foreign ministry staff came under such scrutiny. Does the government suppose an overseas envoy with three to four staff under them have more public responsibility than a deputy prime minister or senor presidential secretary?

Enforcing discipline in public service too must be based on fair law and principles. Before slapping any disadvantages on appointments for those with children with foreign citizenshipzovernment should have warned of such actions in documented regulation. Such legal provisions would raise controversy of guilt by association. But it is better than regulating someone on a whim. It is a national waste and insensible to exclude a capable and committed diplomat from eligible posts just because of an implication over his or her children. If it is that much of a problem, the envoy could be stopped from serving a mission in the country where his or her children are citizens, not flatly denied foreign service work altogether.

Moreover, the government’s code goes against the global public office trend where citizenship of the spouse and offspring pose less of a problem. The single-sex marriage announcement of a U.S. consul general is one good example. Even Japan, which tends to be more closed on immigrant policy, has a senior foreign ministry official with a foreign wife. Israel grants dual citizenship to senior government officials including the president. Imposing disadvantages on appointments for foreign ministry officials just because the spouse or offspring is not a Korean national is shamefully outdated.

The practice must end not just because the world has become globalized and multi-cultural. Many countries believe multiple citizenship can add strength rather than create weakness. Our broad public sentiment may not agree to it yet. But we at least should not regard holding a foreign or dual citizenship as a kind of betrayal to the country. Birth in a foreign jurisdiction is no longer limited to the elite class.
Despite her immense popularity and command of an overwhelming majority in parliament, the iconic democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi could not become a candidate for vice president or president of Myanmar because the clause in the military-written constitution prevents her from taking the top office while her sons have foreign citizenship. Seoul joined the international community in condemning this restriction in Myanmar and yet, strangely, it maintains the same discriminative action when dealing with its foreign ministry bureaucrats. Korea’s very first First Lady was a foreigner. Korea must be moving backwards.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 4, Page 27

*The author is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.

Moon Chung-in
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