A diplomatic discourtesy

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A diplomatic discourtesy

Lee Ha-kyung

The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In a strange development, President Yoon Suk-yeol chose not to meet U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visited Seoul last week and instead only talked to her on the phone. The third most powerful politician in the U.S. met with national leaders in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, which are not U.S. allies. Yoon’s presidential office said the president was on summer vacation at the time. Come on.

Pelosi is a pro-Korean politician, who put the brakes on the Trump administration demanding more defense money from South Korea and urged Japan to apologize for its wartime sexual slavery by leading the passage of a resolution to denounce the shameful acts of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Yoon’s decision to not meet Pelosi seems to have been made because the presidential office was worried about the reaction of China.

The Financial Times pointed out that Yoon gave the cold shoulder to Pelosi even though he has put top priority on strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance in his foreign policy. Someone with strong pride in America is probably fiddling with a retaliatory bill targeting its ally.

In September 1966, Richard Nixon, a former vice president at that time, wanted to visit South Korea for two days to meet with President Park Chung Hee. In 1960, Nixon lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy. Then he lost a gubernatorial race in California. All the media said Nixon was finished. But the seasoned politician was polishing the Nixon Doctrine as a card for his victory in the 1968 presidential election. Nixon wanted to test public sentiment in Korea about sending its soldiers to Vietnam after visiting Southeast Asia and Japan.

During the Park era, U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Winthrop Brown asked for help from Foreign Minister Lee Dong-won over Nixon’s trip to Seoul. Lee recommended Park meet with Nixon. Park refused, saying he was a has-been U.S. politician. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian countries and Japan treated Nixon with the highest-possible honors as an investment in an uncertain future.

In the 1968 U.S. presidential election, Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin. After becoming president, Nixon played the card of a doctrine to pull out U.S. forces from South Korea. President Park was at a crossroads. He hurriedly ordered his aides to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Nixon but to no avail.
Nancy Pelosi meets with her Korean counterpart Kim Jin-pyo, National Assembly speaker and lawmaker from the Democratic Party, August 4. [KIM SEONG-RYONG] 

Park proposed to Nixon to offer the Jeju Island as a military base for the United States. Nixon pretended to give in and counter-proposed to meet in San Francisco near his hometown in August during his summer retreat, not in Washington DC. It was an insulting proposal, but Park accepted it.

After meeting Nixon, Park told the foreign minister that he tasted the bitterness of a small powerless country. As expected, Nixon did not appear in the hotel lobby or elevator. When President Park entered the room, Nixon stood up in another room at the other end and greeted Park. It looked like an emperor treating the king of a vassal state. Nixon even brought his hometown friends over the table to have a dinner together, Park recalled.

Nixon’s surveillance in South Korea led to the first pullout of a division of U.S. Forces Korea and provoked a sense of crisis to Park — and his anxiousness coupled with the discord with Washington eventually led to his assassination on October 26, 1979, according to the foreign minister. President Yoon must remember that he must not allow just a fleeting moment of carelessness.

The presidential office said Yoon had not met Pelosi after comprehensively taking into account Korea’s national interests. But Foreign Policy relayed U.S. Embassy staffers’ disgruntlement about a lack of hospitality in Korea. A high-ranking official at the State Department said that Seoul sent to the rest of the world a signal that it does not protect common values. Mark Fitzpatrick, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, brushed off the effect of refusing a meeting with Pelosi. China will think it can bully South Korea anytime, the minister said.

Is it any different from former president Moon Jae-in’s shameful lone meals on his state visit to China? Korea must deal with China proudly. As long as the North Korean threat exists, South Korea must reinforce its alliance with America. Only then will China change. After being pressured from Beijing, Singapore rebutted that it cannot give up the freedom of navigation at sea. What we really need is determination.
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