U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that “details” are being worked out for a possible second U.S.-North Korea summit, amid a flurry of media reports that Trump has proposed holding the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February. Critical issues that will determine the fate of the Korean Peninsula will be discussed at the imminent Trump-Kim meeting. Yet, the South Korean government has increasingly faced unfavorable factors in its diplomacy with the United States, China, Japan, and Russia, and seems to be sitting on is hands when it comes to bilateral relations with the four powers.
Washington and Pyongyang are expected to negotiate on a denuclearization roadmap including the North’s actions to get rid of nuclear weapons and corresponding incentives at the second summit. The removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces in Korea are also likely to be included in the agenda. However, the rift between Seoul and Washington stemming from the issue of sharing the defense cost has only deepened.
Meanwhile, relations between Seoul and Tokyo are at an all-time low due to the South Korean top court’s recent ruling that ordered a Japanese company to compensate Korean victims of forced labor as well as an alleged radar lock-on incident. Also, while China is expected to actively intervene in the future nuclear talks following Kim Jong Un’s fourth visit to Beijing, the post of an ambassador to China remains vacant, implying the government’s laid-back attitude amid impending, unpredictable diplomatic encounters.
In fact, the current state has been expected since President Moon Jae-in first appointed ambassadors to the four countries. All four of them had no experience as a professional diplomat, but worked on Moon’s presidential campaign or for think tanks. They had no expertise whatsoever in diplomacy, let alone a command of the countries’ language. Though some expected that their closeness to President Moon would be of help, the ambassadors’ presence in their country of sojourn was imperceptible, and no envoy has been assessed as having enlarged the contact base of diplomacy. The ambassador to China, in particular, brought ridicule upon himself as he vacated the seat every time the North Korean leader traveled to China. The ambassador to Russia, who was visiting Seoul to attend a conference, had to rush back to Moscow as he was embroiled in the presidential special inspection team scandal.
The South Korean ambassadors to the four countries are all heavyweights in politics to the extent that they had been mentioned for the post of a chief presidential secretary. There’s a constant stream of speculations that they will be nominated as a minister or run for office. No wonder some criticize that the post of an ambassador is being used for career development. Still, the same is likely to happen yet again for the replacement of an ambassador to China. With the current make-up of the nation’s diplomacy with the four powers, we will not be able to overcome a crisis. Regardless of experience as a diplomat, at least a person with the minimum qualifications should be appointed to normalize bilateral ties.