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2008/01/15 08:00 KST
(News Focus) Lee sends envoys to proclaim start of 'pragmatic diplomacy'

   By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's incoming leader Lee Myung-bak will send his older brother to Japan on Tuesday as a special envoy to herald the advent of his pragmatism-oriented diplomacy, dubbed "MB Doctrine" by the media.

   Rep. Lee Sang-deuk of the Grand National Party (GNP), vice speaker of the National Assembly, is the first of four envoys to be dispatched to the four major regional powers by the president-elect.

   Park Geun-hye, a former GNP chairwoman, will head to China on Wednesday. This weekend, Reps. Chung Mong-joon and Lee Jae-oh will carry letters to the U.S. and Russia, respectively.

   The dispatch of the envoys before Lee's inauguration slated for Feb. 25 is aimed at explaining his diplomatic policy direction and laying the ground for improving bilateral ties, according to officials at the transition team.

   All the envoys carrying letters will also coordinate Lee's first visits as Seoul's new leader to the four nations that heavily that affect South Korea's foreign affairs.

   "The role of the special envoys is very important in that it signals the start of the Lee Myung-bak administration's pragmatic diplomacy," Choi Byung-il, professor of the Ewha Womans University said.

   The dispatch will also mark the end of the Roh Moo-hyun government's diplomatic drive for self-reliance, which was highlighted in Roh's push for Seoul to play a "balancing role" in the region, Choi added.

   The selection of the envoys also has political and diplomatic implications.

   Japanese officials are satisfied with Lee's choice of his older brother as special envoy to Tokyo, given his political clout and personal ties with the incoming president, according to local diplomatic sources.

   Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda reportedly plans to meet with the elder Lee, whose mission is to pave the way for mending Seoul-Tokyo relations and resuming the "shuttle diplomacy" between the leaders of the neighboring countries.

   The relationship between the two countries has been strained by historical and territorial disputes for years, in part a legacy of Japan's colonial rule of Korea from 1910-45.

   Japanese and South Korean leaders began holding regular summits in July 2004, with the venue alternated between their capitals, but the exchanges stopped a year later due to South Korea's anger over then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which holds Japan's war dead, including war criminals.

   President-elect Lee's aides on foreign affairs say that he will push for stronger "triangular" ties with Washington and Tokyo to counter North Korean threats and promote economic co-prosperity.

   The dispatch of Park Geun-hye to Beijing appears to be more politically motivated.

   Park, once Lee's main rival in the GNP's presidential nomination race, remains a party heavyweight. Party officials supporting Park are at loggerheads with Lee's supporters over the nominations for the general elections in April.

   Political analysts say the appointment of Park -- who still has huge political influence -- as special envoy to China is part of efforts to resolve the spat, or at least make a public image of intra-party reconciliation.

   Park faces the daunting task of quelling Beijing's anxiety about the next South Korean government's purported favor of the U.S. and Japan.

   Critics said that the Roh administration, under its drive for a regional balancing role, sought closer relations with China while being less influenced by Seoul's time-honored ally of Washington.

   But the incoming government openly talks about the need to upgrade the alliance with the U.S. and Japan, a move experts say may cement ties among China, Russia, and North Korea on regional affairs.

   Addressing the worries, President-elect Lee said in his televised speech on Monday that "China and Russia alike are very important countries for South Korea's future." In particular, Russia and China, the host of the six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, have great political and economic leverage with the isolated North.

   Heading to Washington, five-term lawmaker Chung Mong-joon will have a relatively small burden on his shoulders. He is likely to be warmly welcomed by U.S. officials, who have high expectations for the next South Korean government's policy toward Washington.

   Five years ago, then President-elect Roh's special envoy to Washington Chyung Dai-chul faced a barrage of questions about Roh's "self-reliant diplomacy," and anti-American sentiment at home that was rekindled by the deaths of two schoolgirls who were crushed to death by an armored vehicle of the U.S. troops.

   In Russia, Lee Jae-oh, one of the closet aides of the president-elect, is expected to focus on "energy diplomacy" in Russia.

   In his meeting with Russian Ambassador to Seoul Gleb Ivashentsov last month, Lee Myung-bak said, "The joint development of the Eastern Siberian region by South Korea and Russia will be in the interests of both sides. I would like to begin the work soon after my inauguration."
Lee's dispatch of the high-profile figures to the four nations is intended to simultaneously grab the "two rabbits" of security and economy, analysts say.

   "The Lee Myung-bak government is a pragmatic administration," Lee proclaimed. "I am willing to go anywhere if it helps the national interest and economic recovery. That is why I'm sending the envoys to the four countries even before taking office."