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Diplomacy ignored

Feb 01,2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Thursday a public health emergency of international concern over the spread of the new deadly coronavirus after it infected over 9,600 people across the world, killed 170 and generated person-to-person transmissions. It dilly-dallied on declaring an international warning. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom-Ghebreyesus praised Chinese authorities for their handling of the infection and refused to endorse a ban on Chinese traveling overseas.

The WHO’s foot-dragging may have been influenced by Beijing’s offer to contribute 60 billion yuan ($8.5 billion) in 2017. Human Right Watch and other nonprofit bodies accuse Beijing of preventing medical experts from disclosing developments and using its influence over international organizations.

In 2003, China hid the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) for more than three months, and that disease ended up infecting 8,000 around the world and killing 774. In the latest outbreak, it disclosed the number of infected 19 days after it discovered the virus and refused to admit person-to-person transmissions as well as other information.

China must fully recognize its responsibility to share all information with foreign states and organizations while ensuring the safe return of foreign nationals. Its restriction of chartered flights out of the country due to concerns about bad publicity is arrogant and uncivilized.
The spread of the new disease also underscored Seoul’s poor diplomacy. The Moon Jae-in administration has been kowtowing to Beijing to the point of irking the United States. It specifically asked the local media to refer to the new disease as a new coronavirus instead of a Wuhan-triggered disease to avoid annoying China. Still, Beijing only allowed one chartered plane to carry Koreans out of Wuhan and delayed the flight without good reason. It allowed Japan to fly its people out of Wuhan. Seoul should have learned the lesson that kowtowing does not earn respect on the international stage.

The Korean Consulate General position is vacant. Connections are important to do business or diplomacy in China. Yet President Moon Jae-in has sent Blue House chiefs or loyalists — politician Noh Young-min (now chief of staff) and Jang Ha-sung, former presidential policy chief and economist — as ambassadors to Beijing. Unsurprisingly, Jang has helped little in the latest crisis. Diplomacy is wrecked because politicians have been placed in key positions, instead of career diplomats. Seoul must get real. This fiasco over a disease should be a grave lesson on the diplomatic front.

JoongAng Sunday, Feb. 1, Page 30