former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Chun Yung-woo
By Kang Tae-ho, senior staff writer
At a recent luncheon, three former South Korean foreign ministers and one former Blue House senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security were in agreement that “what Park’s government is selling is not the same as what is on the label.”
These former leaders of South Korea’s foreign ministry - including Song Min-sun from the Roh Moo-hyun administration and Yu Myung-hwan and Kim Sung-hwan from the Lee Myung-bak administration - by and large agreed that “the problem inherent in the Park administration’s foreign policy is that it’s hard to tell what is being sold just by looking at the label, and that what is actually being sold is different from what the label says.”
Though couched in figurative language, these former ministers suggested that the plans put forward by President Park - including the Trust-building Process for the Korean Peninsula, the Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative, the Eurasian Initiative, and the Dresden Declaration - do not match the measures that Park is actually implementing.
It was quite unusual for these four people, who gained a wealth of experience directing foreign policy over more than thirty years, to be in the same place. The discussion took place during an off-the-record luncheon meeting for former Foreign Ministers during the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, which took place from May 28 to May 30.
Hosted by Chun Yung-woo, former Blue House senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security, the meeting lasted for around two hours, with academics, politicians, and journalists in attendance. In accordance with the private nature of the event, the organizers requested and the media agreed to preserve the anonymity of the participants when reporting what was discussed at the event.
“I think that President Park is on the whole doing a good job in its foreign policy toward our neighbors, though there are some issues in our relations with Japan,” said one former minister, adding, “the problem is that no progress has been made on the initiatives she has brought forward.”
Attributing this to a disconnect between plans and policies, he said that the Park administration’s Trust-building Process for the Korean Peninsula, its policy toward North Korea, is actually working to isolate North Korea, while the South looks on. In regard to the direction that the South Korean government ought to take, this participant said that the conservative government needs to unify public opinion by integrating the progressive agenda, just as West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl did around the unification of Germany in 1989.
A second former foreign minister was in overall agreement with this view, while also pointing out the urgency of improving South Korea’s foreign service infrastructure in order to narrow the yawning gap between public expectations about foreign policy and its reality.
“For us, diplomacy is a matter of survival. If we fail at diplomacy, it means war; if we succeed, it means peace. In other words, diplomacy is the crossroads between war and peace. But the Foreign Ministry’s budget is only 0.7% of the total government budget. Not only that, but if you look at the 50 or so departments at the Foreign Ministry, hardly any of the seven or eight people in each of these departments except for the chief have overseas experience. When we have these kinds of diplomats and this kind of budget to work with, how much should we really expect?” he said.
In response to those remarks, other foreign ministers expressed agreement, noting that South Korea’s diplomatic corps is on a similar level to a bunch of interns.
The third former foreign minister to speak up addressed the question of how much of a priority the Korean peninsula is in US foreign policy. “Both South Korean Foreign Ministers and the public have insisted that the issue of the Korean peninsula should have an important place on the agenda of American foreign policy, but as can be seen recently, the US has not really tried to engage this issue. Instead, Koreans should be taking responsibility for the situation on the Korean peninsula,” he said.
He also said that there is no need for South Korea to choose sides between the US and China, as the relationship between Washing and Beijing wavers between strife and cooperation. “It is not enough for just South Korea, the US, and Japan to meet as in the past,” the figure said. “Now, South Korea, the US, and China must meet, and our foreign policy must keep moving quickly.”
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