A matter of pride
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. .
In front of Gwanghwamun subway station’s exit 2, about 70 meters (230 feet) away from the U.S. Embassy, a group of protesters held a demonstration last Friday. The event, in which protesters performed a mock beheading of U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris, was hosted by pro-North, anti-U.S. civic groups that had formed a committee for Kim Jong-un’s expected visit to Seoul in November 2018.
At the demonstration, they condemned the United States for demanding South Korea increase its contribution to the costs of the U.S. Forces Korea. They called Harris a viceroy who interferes with Korea’s internal affairs. They held a series of performances to insult Harris.
According to Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which deals with the personal inviolability of diplomats, a diplomatic agent shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. It also stipulates that the receiving state must treat them with due respect and take all steps to prevent any attack on their body, freedom and dignity.
But the government did nothing even when the ambassador of its main ally was openly insulted. The Foreign Ministry said that the government will do its best to protect the safety of diplomats and diplomatic missions in Korea and the ministry is cooperating with concerned authorities. But the police did nothing but observe the rally.
When a member of a conservative civic group used a loudspeaker to shout, “Let’s behead Kim Jong-un,” the police immediately stopped him. Another man in his 60s who shouted, “Strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance,” was stopped by the police. A passerby expressed his anger about the unfairness of the law enforcement agency.
In October, the police faced criticisms after they failed to stop members of the Korean Progressive University Student Union, who broke into Ambassador Harris’ residence in downtown Seoul. The group may have wanted to physically pressure the diplomat to try to win something like a concession. But successful diplomacy is all about using negotiating abilities, not force.
Anti-U.S. sentiment has been on the rise in Korean society ever since President Moon Jae-in took office. Even if the alliance and national security are shaken, the government is ignoring the extreme anti-American activities. That attitude is very different from how it treats China. The government is voluntarily keeping a low profile in regards to China to the point of failing to speak up for itself.
Moon’s visit to China in December 2017 was a diplomatic disaster. He insisted on visiting China before the end of his first year in office and arrived in Beijing when Chinese President Xi Jinping was out of the city. His speech at Peking University was a true diplomatic catastrophe. In his speech, Moon called China a “great country” that promotes law, virtue and the principle of inclusiveness, while calling Korea a “small country.” He was criticized for unnecessary and humiliating self-deprecation.
That year, Korea’s new ambassador to China nearly pledged loyalty to Xi by writing down an ancient Chinese phrase emphasizing a vassal’s unswerving allegiance to an emperor in a guest book when he presented his credentials to Xi. He is the current Blue House chief of staff, Noh Young-min. It is not surprising that the Moon administration is criticized for its toadyism toward China.
During Moon’s four-day trip to China, he ate 10 meals, but only two were with Chinese officials. Having a meal together is an important part of diplomacy, but he ate most meals alone. His visit to China is still criticized. Chinese security officers even beat up a Korean photo journalist during a state event in Beijing.
Moon will visit China on Dec. 23 and 24 to attend a Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit in Chengdu. He is expected to first visit Beijing and have a separate summit with Xi. It is okay if Moon fails to produce any major accomplishment other than normalizing the trilateral summit, asking for China’s role to stop North Korea’s provocation, and strengthening cooperation between Korea and China. At least, he must act confidently toward China.
That is nothing special. He can argue for our core national interests such as China’s withdrawing of economic retaliations for Korea’s sovereign decision of self-defense by allowing the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system and ask for China’s cooperation. He can use diplomatic rhetoric to please China, but there is no need for keeping an unreasonably low profile. It would also be inappropriate for Moon to praise China’s democracy when Beijing is oppressing minorities and brutally cracking down on protesters in Hong Kong.
Some officials in the Moon administration condemned Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, as a Japanese collaborator. They must read “The Spirit of Independence,” a book Rhee wrote inside a prison when he was a young man. Moon must never repeat diplomacy that insults Korea’s alliance, disgraces the country and hurts our people’s self-esteem.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 16, Page 32