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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 22)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:02 September 22, 2022

'Amateurish' diplomacy
: Yoon slammed for failing to pay respects to queen

President Yoon Suk-yeol has triggered controversy for having failed to pay his respects in person to British Queen Elizabeth II as she was lying in state at Westminster Hall. Criticism arose as Yoon missed viewing the queen's coffin after arriving in London, Sunday, due to traffic congestion. It is regrettable that Yoon has come under criticism, apparently due to a lack of thorough preparations for his "condolence diplomacy" in Britain.

According to the presidential office, the British government asked Yoon to skip the earlier parts of the funeral day and attend the dinner reception upon arrival due to the traffic jam. In the end, Yoon arrived too late to view the queen lying in state, but signed the condolence book at Church House later on Monday. The office added that British King Charles III expressed deep gratitude to Yoon for his condolences. In contrast, other national leaders, such as Japanese Emperor Naruhito and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as U.S. President Joe Biden paid their respects to the late queen before signing the condolence book and attending the reception.

In the meantime, the issue has turned into a political one here. Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lambasted Yoon for causing a "diplomatic disaster," while Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and lawmakers of the ruling People Power Party defended the president.

Whatever the reason, it was bad for Yoon to miss out on a rare opportunity to pay his respects to the late queen at Westminster Hall. It appears to be insufficient to cite a mere traffic jam as the reason. One may question whether such an occurrence could have been avoided if the presidential staff and diplomats accompanying Yoon had made better preparations for his trip to attend the queen's funeral, which drew the global spotlight.

Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs, rebuffed any diplomatic flaws, saying the change in Yoon's schedule was made at the request of the British government. Yet, the traffic congestion in London had previously been forecast as dignitaries from more than 200 countries and millions of British citizens were supposed to gather in the urban central area.

A protocol team was dispatched to work together with the Korean mission in London and the British government in preparation for Yoon's visit. They were supposed to map out detailed measures for the presidential schedule to proceed smoothly as planned. For instance, the departure time of the presidential plane from Seoul should have been moved up to tackle a possible traffic problem.

We cannot but point out the seemingly amateurish aspects of the Yoon administration in dealing with major foreign affairs. Earlier, for instance, it invited criticism for failing to arrange a meeting between Yoon and visiting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stayed here Aug. 3-4. Yoon took flak for not meeting with the speaker, despite the significance of such a meeting in solidifying the alliance with the U.S. Yoon should have done more than having a 40-minute phone conversation with her.

Diplomacy is getting more important for South Korea, particularly amid the escalating great power rivalry between the U.S. and China. That's why Yoon and his administration should engage in active and pragmatic diplomacy to step up cooperation with our allies and partners as well as protect our national interests. They should bear in mind that any type of diplomatic amateurism could put the nation at risk.
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