Long way to go

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Long way to go

President Moon Jae-in and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, formally announced that bilateral ties are back to normal in a summit meeting held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders meeting in Vietnam.

The two shook hands in a symbolic seal to the joint press statements from the foreign ministries of the two countries last month, announcing they were normalizing frayed relations.

Moon agreed to visit Beijing at the invitation of Xi, and in return invited Xi to the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in February. Xi promised to do his best to make it. Their amicable tone ended the yearlong confrontation over the installment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea.

“After the rain, earth hardens,” Moon said, while Xi responded that the Oct. 31 agreement marked a “new start and a good beginning.”
Apart from the symbolic exhibition, the summit produced little essence. Seoul was too engrossed with the Thaad issue that it neglected the bigger discussion of the North Korean nuclear problem.

The two agreed to strengthen “strategic dialogue” on North Korean and other issues related to the Korean Peninsula, but they did not offer any specific direction.

The Blue House and foreign ministry officials caused a fiasco abroad and splashed cold waters on Moon’s overseas feat. They stumbled over President Donald Trump’s pitch to create a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which introduces the idea of including India under the U.S. strategic arm to promote it as a counterweight to China. Trump sold the idea during his tour in Tokyo, Seoul and the APEC forum.

It is understandable that Seoul must be careful when it comes to issues that could place it in awkward position between Washington and Beijing.

But it was not diplomatically appropriate for a senior presidential secretary on the economy to deny Seoul’s support for an idea that had been included in a joint press statement after the summit just two days earlier.

It is a serious problem that the foreign ministry and Blue House denied and then admitted it, back and forth, flip-flopping five times after the remark stoked controversy. High-ranking government officials should be prudent when it comes to sensitive issues. Senior officials from the Blue House and the Foreign Ministry should refrain from publicizing their opinions over sensitive issues.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 34
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