Failure of diplomacyThe 2016 Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and its related meetings ended on Tuesday in Vientiane, the capital and largest city in Laos, after three days of working. ARF, a venue for diplomacy among foreign ministers of 27 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, draws attention for its unique status as the only multipartite consultative body available in the region. Not only the United States, China, Russia and Japan, but also South and North Korea participate.
The forum attracts special attention as it was held amid heightened tensions over the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines in the territorial disputes in South China Sea and over Seoul’s decision to allow the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system to South Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons have long been a major issue in the forum. Seoul and Pyongyang were engaged in a heated diplomatic contest over the level of pressures on the North bent on accelerating its nuclear and missile development in the face of the international community’s opposition. South Korea concentrated its diplomatic capabilities on sending a strong message against the North’s possible provocations in the future, while maintaining a solid framework for sanctions after the North’s fourth nuclear test and repeated test-firing of long-range missiles.
However, our network for promoting cooperation among concerned parties was shaken by China’s vehement opposition to Seoul and Washington’s decision to deploy Thaad and by the North’s offensive diplomacy to take advantage of the schisms. Some members even insisted on including their concerns about the deployment in the chairman’s statement.
But the division and disarray largely stems from our diplomats’ incompetence to effectively convince ARF member nations of the necessity of the missile defense system in South Korea as well as from our government’s impatient announcement of the deployment despite a strong need to establish a united front on the issue. South Korea had to make the decision to deploy a Thaad battery because the international society, including China, could not stop the North from developing nuclear weapons recklessly.
Nevertheless, our diplomats fretted about whether the chairman’s statement should include some remarks on the Thaad deolyment or not — to the last minute. It is deplorable that they failed to lead the multilateral discussions on the North’s threats through bold and creative ideas — instead of being dragged by other members.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 27, Page 30