Dereliction of duty

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Dereliction of duty

A leadership vacuum has demoralized Korea’s foreign and defense front to an alarming level. Seoul’s voice in foreign and security affairs has become muted after the president was impeached by the legislative in implication with the worst-ever power abuse scandal.

Tokyo has rekindled the dispute over Dokdo, the easternmost islets in the East Sea, after the fallout over installment of statues symbolizing the victims of the Japanese military’s enslavement in military brothels during World War II. China has become more blunt in its retaliatory actions against Korea’s decision to deploy U.S. antimissile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), sending a fleet of military aircrafts to pass through Korea’s air defense identification zone off the southern coast of Jeju Island.

The nonchalance of the foreign ministry has built up the crisis. A district office in the southern port city of Busan at first objected to a civilian group’s plan to erect a statue honoring the victims of sexual slavery, euphemistically referred to as comfort women, near the Japanese consulate in the city, similar to the bronze young girl sitting across from the Japanese embassy in Seoul since 2011.

While the foreign ministry chose to ignore the problem, the district office succumbed to public pressure and granted the installment.

Foreign minister Yun Byung-se only got involved when Tokyo strongly protested by saying it was not desirable to unilaterally install a structure in front of a foreign mission. But his belated engagement only made matters worse.

Diplomatic strife escalated after a group of assemblymen launched a fund to install a similar statue on Dokdo. The government so far has no official position on the issue. Dokdo islets are a national treasure, and the law bans any structure on the rocky islets. The culture ministry stays mum although the jurisdiction falls upon the ministry.

The foreign ministry kept low even when a civilian group shot a “No Thaad” laser beam on the building of U.S. embassy in Seoul during a protest last Saturday. It goes against diplomatic protocol to take intimidating action on a foreign mission. The defense ministry is equally impotent. It did not issue any statement when eight Chinese aircrafts violated the Korean air defense zone.

China’s action was a clear provocation that could increase geopolitical tensions in the region. A government is useless if it cannot stand up for and defend national interests and safety. Regardless of political unrest, the government must do its role.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 19, Page 34
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