One diplomatic fumble after another

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One diplomatic fumble after another

Criticism about President Yoon Suk-yeol’s diplomacy in the United Nations and elsewhere continue. First of all, the results of his international debut fell short of the public expectations, as seen in his 48-second conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden over electric vehicles (EV) subsidies and his brief meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida over the wartime forced labor.

Yoon’s thirty-minute meeting with the Japanese prime minster was meaningful by itself. But the Yoon administration was not prepared at all. President Yoon rushed to an international conference hosted by Kishida in New York even without an invitation so he could have a short talk with him.

But Japan defined the meeting as a “short talk,” not a “summit.”

The Yoon administration brought this on itself. What matters in a summit is substance, not formality or protocol. If one side is led by the other side from the beginning, it cannot convince the other. If Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office, had not announced a Yoon-Kishida summit even before both sides fixed their summit schedule, Yoon could have a more substantial meeting with his counterpart. Negotiation to address the wartime forced labor issue is yet to begin. Such a hurry without preparations cannot lead to satisfactory results.

Yoon’s 48-second meeting with Biden borders on a diplomatic disaster. Kim Tae-hyo must explain why he hurriedly announced that the U.S. and Japan gladly accepted Korea’s request for a summit. Koreans expected their president to resolve the disadvantage for Korean EVs and consult with Biden over a possible currency swap deal with America to protect the noticeably weakening won from a strong dollar. But Yoon did not.

Looking back, a summit with Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly was improbable. Biden was busy selectively meeting with leaders of other states in New York to deal with global challenges like the Ukraine war. Biden also could not respond to Korea’s demand over EVs positively with less than two month left before the mid-term election in November. That’s not all. The blunt language President Yoon reportedly used toward the Congress after a meeting with Biden at an international conference has become a fodder for attacks from the Democratic Party in Korea.

As diplomacy is a game with counterparts, one cannot succeed with confidence only. For a leader to deliver his or her position to counterpart and reach an agreement is a job as tough as getting votes in elections. We hope Yoon reflects on what he did together with his aides on his way home.
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