(News Focus) Breach of diplomatic etiquette shadows Korea-U.S. alliance |
By Yoo Cheong-mo
SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) -- Seoul and Washington on Wednesday displayed disharmony in bilateral diplomatic communications before officially announcing U.S. President George W. Bush's plan to visit South Korea on Aug. 5-6, indicating some strain in their bilateral alliance after nearly two months of protests in Korea over the resumption of U.S. beef imports.
Dennis Wilder, the Asian affairs director at the White House's National Security Council, said in a media briefing on Tuesday (Washington time) that Bush will visit South Korea Aug. 5-6 before he goes to China for the Olympics.
Reports of Wilder's remarks immediately embarrassed South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, as the two governments were gauging the timing for the formal announcement of Bush's trip following U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan in Seoul last week.
The U.S. government belatedly expressed regrets through diplomatic channels for unilaterally disclosing Bush's planned South Korean trip to the media, but some officials at Cheong Wa Dae suspect the White House official's disclosure to be an "intentional mistake."
Washington had committed a similar diplomatic provocation exactly a week ago, when White House spokeswoman Dana Perino "suddenly" announced Bush's plan to cancel his trip to South Korea in July and instead meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Japan on the sidelines of the G8 summit of major advanced economies.
Cheong Wa Dae officials said at that time that the South Korean government was not notified of Perino's announcement in advance.
The successive communication problems between Seoul and Washington have cast doubts on the sustainability of the bilateral alliance.
"Washington has offered an apology for making public Bush's schedule for his South Korean trip without consultations with Seoul. But this is not the first time such an incident has occurred. It could be intentional disregard of diplomatic etiquette," said a ruling party lawmaker.
"The U.S. has to be blamed for disregarding its strategic ally South Korea. What is worse, the Lee administration has failed to adequately respond. It should have lodged strong protests over Washington's breach of diplomatic etiquette," said the lawmaker.
A Cheong Wa Dae official also stressed the importance of basic communication between the two countries' diplomatic channels for further improvement in bilateral relations.
"South Korea-U.S. relations have been in disarray over the past months due to the beef import dispute in South Korea. At this sensitive juncture, in particular, the bilateral diplomatic channel has to remain on high alert," said the official.
Relations between Seoul and Washington have been uncomfortable following the recent revision of a bilateral beef trade deal, signed in mid-April, at the request of the South Korean government, which is beleaguered by nearly two months of fierce public protests over the resumption of U.S. beef imports.
Diplomats in Seoul speculate that Washington's repeated breaches could have something to do with the U.S. government's complaints about significant restrictions in its beef exports to South Korea under the revised terms of the April deal.
Cheong Wa Dae's response to Wilder's remarks also drew criticism.
Nearly three hours after Wilder's announcement of Bush's planned Seoul visit, Cheong Wa Dae issued a press release, saying,"The schedule for Bush's visit to South Korea has yet to be fixed. The exact date for Bush's visit is still under discussion."
But just several hours later, Cheong Wa Dae's top official in charge of foreign affairs confirmed Bush's plan to visit South Korea in early August.
"It's not desirable for the U.S. to disclose Bush's Seoul trip schedule without consultations with South Korea," said the top official. "The U.S. says its mistake was caused by a slip of the tongue by an individual official. But we don't think such an incident is desirable. It should not be repeated," he said.