Damaging the allianceAn alliance is based on a firm trust between countries to help each other in times of emergency. Without such robust trust, no alliance can be maintained. Nevertheless, our ambassador to the United States stirred controversy with remarks once again. In the National Assembly’s online audit on Monday of the Korean Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Lee Soo-hyuck made bombshell remarks that South Korea’s choosing of the United States as its ally 70 years ago does not mandate the same choice for another 70 years. The ambassador even said that adhering to a decades-old alliance without love is an insult to America.
In reaction, the U.S. Department of State issued a statement rebutting the ambassador’s comment. Such an immediate response from Washington reflects its conclusion that he went too far. Off-track remarks are nothing new for Ambassador Lee. In June, he stated he was proud that South Korea has become a country that can choose an ally on its own — instead of being forced to take sides. At that time, the State Department sarcastically commented that South Korea already took a side when it accepted democracy after departing with authoritarian rule decades ago. Why does the ambassador continue making one provocative comment after another?
We wonder if Lee is really qualified to serve as South Korea’s ambassador to Washington. Ambassadors must exert efforts to earn trust from the countries where they are stationed in order to establish effective communication channels, represent their government’s position and maximize their national interest. Lee’s statement destroys the very foundation of the mutual trust required of an alliance.
Even if Lee has his own conviction about South Korea’s position between the United States and China, he should express it very prudently. Given his overly pointed comments — one could call them barbed — we cannot but question whether he has forgotten his obligations as ambassador.
Concerns are high that the Korea-U.S. alliance has weakened since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration in 2017. That worry was heightened by frequent discord over reactions to North Korea’s military provocations and China’s dramatic rise — and by senior government officials’ inappropriate words and actions. Lee’s job is to address any misunderstandings from Washington and help ease unnecessary friction when it arises.
But our ambassador has been taking the lead in dishonoring the alliance — for the first time since the establishment of the alliance seven decades ago. The State Department’s statement means it no longer trusts Lee. President Moon must question if he really fits his role as our ambassador to Washington and if his service really benefits our country.