Rash remarksOn a four-day state visit to Australia, President Moon Jae-in on Monday said that his government is not considering a diplomatic boycott of the February 4-20 Beijing Winter Olympics. He made a rash statement. In a joint press conference held after his summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Moon said, “Korea has not been encouraged to participate in a boycott by any other countries, including the United States.” Earlier, a senior official at the Blue House said, “No decision has been made on boycotting the Winter Games.” Moon’s remarks made clear the government’s position to not join the boycott.
Moon’s stance starkly differs from the United States, which decided on a diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest human rights abuses in China. The UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand decided to follow the U.S. lead and not to send diplomatic delegations to Olympic-related events in Beijing. Despite the South Korean president’s citing of no request from America, U.S. President Joe Biden urged 110 countries participating in the Summit for Democracy last week to join hands in the boycott.
“Democracy is not a state, it is an act,” he underscored. The passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act by the House of Representatives a day before the opening of the summit translated into pressure on leaders of democracies to join America’s crusade.
Given South Korea’s economic relations with China, the Moon administration may have found a diplomatic boycott very awkward. Yet Moon showed his diplomatic card too early rather than maintaining strategic ambiguity. Moon went too far, considering the way Japan has dealt with the same diplomatic dilemma. No Japanese leader has made clear Tokyo’s position on a boycott of the Games. News reports have said that the government decided to send a lawmaker who served as head of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. That’s a top-caliber diplomatic decision for a country to comply with the boycott and save China’s face too.
If Moon is refusing a diplomatic boycott to get China’s help in declaring an end to the Korean War, that is more inappropriate. In the joint press conference, Moon relayed the “support in principle” he had received from “the U.S., China and North Korea.” But the U.S. already showed a lukewarm reaction. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the two sides “may have somewhat different perspectives on the precise sequence or timing or conditions for different steps” when it comes to Moon’s proposal.
With less than five months left before his term expires, Moon must refrain from trying to achieve goals that are over the top. And with less than three months to go until the March 9 presidential election, he must not hand any unnecessary burdens to the next administration. Moon must make a wise decision — for instance, one that is acceptable to the international community even though Korea does not join the boycott. We hope his government demonstrates diplomatic skills this time.