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Dangerous cacophony

Nov 29,2017
The confusion among top diplomatic and security officials over our relations with China doesn’t bode well for the future of Seoul’s diplomacy with Beijing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense came up with totally different explanations about whether Beijing’s proposal for consultations on military affairs with Seoul had eventually been delivered to the Defense Ministry. The Foreign Ministry said it handed a document on China’s proposal to the Defense Ministry, but the Defense Ministry denied it. We are dumbfounded at the level of miscommunication between the two ministries — a simple fact could not be confirmed by the Moon Jae-in administration.

After the discrepancy triggered controversy over ministerial cooperation or lack thereof, the two ministries said they have been in close consultation with one another over the issue of establishing a communication channel between the two countries’ military authorities. That’s shameless.

Such a mismatch explicitly shows a serious lack of communication among senior government officials handling security and diplomatic matters. We are deeply concerned about such dangerous cacophony at a critical time when these two ministries have to collaborate to tackle a plethora of security challenges facing our nation.

The Blue House should be held accountable for a large share of the dissonance. If government ministries handling diplomacy and security are to take concerted action, the presidential office must allow them to share information closely, have heated debates with each other and then hammer out feasible action plans. Otherwise, the administration cannot expect them to come up with effective strategies to deal with increasing threats from outside.

The Blue House must not abuse its power. It must not ignore opinions of the Foreign and Defense Ministries working on the front lines of national security. According to the explanations by the Foreign Ministry, however, the presidential office obviously went too far after the media reported that Seoul assuaged Beijing’s security concerns with the so-called three nos — no additional Thaad deployments, no joining of a U.S. missile defense system and no future Korea-U.S.-Japan military alliance.

The Foreign Ministry allegedly inserted the wording “at the moment” to each of the three nos. But the media reported that the Blue House deleted that wording at the last minute. If the presidential office had left the original expression, the government would have room for maneuvering later. The Blue House must demonstrate “democratic leadership” instead of a top-down approach if it really wants to see the level of our diplomacy rise.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 29, Page 34