Diplomacy Goes to the Dogs as FM Sidelined

      October 06, 2020 13:13

      The foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. meet in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or "Quad," a new strategic forum. The U.S.' goal is to rally allied nations in the Asia-Pacific region to keep China's hegemonic ambitions in check. South Korea is absent from the club, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled a visit to Seoul, just two hours away from Tokyo, because he apparently sees no point trying to rope it in.

      The Foreign Ministry here said the top diplomats of both countries will continue to discuss another date for their meeting, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha "expressed disappointment" to Pompeo on the phone. But Pompeo may not be in office much longer, while U.S. President Donald Trump has tested positive for coronavirus with the presidential election there less than a month away, heightening global uncertainties as well as security concerns in Northeast Asia. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is rushing to complete the development of a new submarine and intercontinental ballistic missile. Yet the South Korean government is watching from the sidelines as key allies gather to discuss a concerted game plan.

      The government still seems to be banking on photo ops with Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seoul and has effectively given up pressing the North to abide by its denuclearization pledges. It seems more interested in appeasing China than in its most important ally, the U.S. Earlier, the U.S. and Japanese defense chiefs met in Guam to discuss the threats posed by North Korea and China, including issues that are directly related to South Korea's national security, but the South Korean defense minister stayed away citing COVID-19 concerns. When the U.S. urged South Korea to join the Quad, Kang refused, saying the forum is "not a good idea." It might be a better idea if she joined it and tried to influence it from within, but that thought does not seem to have occurred to her. Pompeo's cancellation of his trip to Seoul may reflect his own disappointment.

      Even if the presidential office is fixated on appeasing North Korea and China, surely South Korea's diplomats must objectively assess the country's national interest and continue efforts to maintain close ties with its allies. But the Foreign Ministry simply no longer has any clout and has been relegated to an administrative arm of Cheong Wa Dae. South Korean diplomacy is practically nonexistent. Kang was not even invited to a Cheong Wa Dae meeting on the shooting death of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean soldiers. Instead, she is busy explaining her husband’s wild-goose chase in the middle of an epidemic to buy himself a yacht. It is difficult to imagine a sadder figure being cut by the top diplomat of any country.

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