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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on June 1)

All News 06:56 June 01, 2016

Mishap in Uganda

President Park Geun-hye's three-nation tour of East Africa was marred by a mishap involving Uganda's relations with its long-time ally North Korea. During an AFP interview on May 28, Uganda's deputy government spokesman Shaban Bantariza lashed out at Cheong Wa Dae's claim that Uganda would cut military ties with Pyongyang, calling it "propaganda."

The Ugandan foreign ministry later confirmed that it will cut military ties with North Korea, overturning the initial angry reaction from the deputy government spokesman. This incident involving the Uganda-North Korea ties nonetheless highlighted a glaring lack of judgment on the part of Cheong Wa Dae.

There are two things wrong with Cheong Wa Dae's hasty announcement about a shift in Uganda's North Korea policy. First, it is not Korea's place to announce such a huge about-turn in Uganda's diplomacy before the country makes a public declaration first. It is in accordance with diplomatic protocol and common sense for Cheong Wa Dae to wait until the Ugandan government officially declares the policy shift regarding North Korea. Only then should Cheong Wa Dae have spoken publicly about it in careful coordination with the Ugandan authorities.

After Cheong Wa Dae's announcement caused a stir, Uganda's State House said late Sunday that "the government had already been given orders to disengage with North Korea on police and other military engagements." But the deputy government spokesman underlined that Uganda is simply "disengaging from military cooperation" and not cutting diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Second, Park's media team is mistaken if it believes that Uganda's disengaging with North Korea is an occasion for trumpeting the President's diplomatic achievements. In fact, it is unclear how much impact Park's visit will have, if any, in fundamentally changing the strong bilateral relations Uganda and North Korea have forged since establishing diplomatic ties in 1963. Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, has visited North Korea three times and met Kim Il-sung, the country's late founding president and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. Under a cooperation program, North Koreans are believed to be working in Uganda as military trainers.

Uganda's disengagement with North Korea in the military sector should not be seen as Uganda taking sides with South Korea over North. If Uganda has decided to distance itself from Pyongyang, the decision is based strictly on its own national interest and a commitment to its policy of not supporting nuclear proliferation. Cheong Wa Dae has no right to take credit for another country's diplomatic strategy and should not use it to promote the outcome of an overseas visit.

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