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Diplomacy in disarray

Feb 27,2020
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not doing its job properly even as an increasing number of foreign countries bar Koreans from entering after the Covid-19 (official name for the coronavirus) spread fast in Korea. Despite a plethora of challenges from the infections, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is choosing to keep a low profile. Despite the obvious role her ministry has in addressing international restrictions on Koreans, all it does is show its incompetence.

The number of foreign countries that restrict Koreans’ entry increased to 24 as of Wednesday from 15 on Monday. Even Japan, with its own outbreak, started to block Koreans from Daegu and North Gyeongsang — where the infections are concentrated — from entering. If the current pace continues, the number of countries restricting Koreans’ entry will snowball mightily.

Banning the entry of people from infected countries is the right of each country’s government. Yet it should respect its fellow nations in implementing such regulations. Our nationals received insulting treatment from Israel, Vietnam and Mauritius. If our Foreign Ministry had closely communicated with those countries, we could have avoided such mistreatment. But the Foreign Ministry only invited foreign envoys in Seoul to a meeting and called for their support in “refraining from taking excessive measures targeting Koreans.”

More baffling is the absence of the foreign minister despite such urgent challenges. She is on an overseas tour to attend an international security conference in Munich. Kang claims she requested other countries to refrain from taking such over-the-top actions against Koreans in the meeting. But that is not the right venue for such a message. She should return home immediately to address growing diplomatic discourtesies from other countries.

The Moon Jae-in administration’s attitude toward China is overly submissive. It confined its entry ban to Chinese from Wuhan and other parts of Hubei Province. In a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Thursday, Moon said, “China’s difficulties are the same as ours.” Despite such bending over backwards to please China, its own local governments including Shandong and Liaoning Provinces are reportedly quarantining Koreans against their will. Kang asked Beijing to stop taking excessive measures against Koreans. That is truly the least she could have done.

The Moon administration clearly didn’t expect international antipathy towards Korea. After calls arose for a ban on the entry of Chinese people this month, China’s Ambassador Xing Haiming stressed the need for Korea to put itself in China’s shoes, citing the World Health Organization’s opposition to restrictions on trade and movement. If Xing doesn’t heed his own advice, he will see anti-Chinese sentiment rise here.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 27, Page 30