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[Kim Seong-kon] All countries are important to us

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 13, 2023 - 05:31

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No country can survive alone these days. Every country is interdependent and mutually beneficial in one way or another. This is especially true for a country like South Korea, whose economy depends heavily on export and trade, or whose national security largely relies on its allies. It would not be wise for such a country to provoke other countries and make enemies.

Enemies, of course, are the exception. It is difficult to be on good terms with hostile countries that threaten you with lethal weapons or that attempt to annex your country to theirs. Otherwise, you should never be on bad terms with other countries because all the countries on Earth are important, even precious to you. Besides, having many good friends is always good. You can rely on them every day, and in case of crises, they can become your allies, too.

When we make friends with other countries, geographical distances do not matter. When the Korean War broke out, countries all over the world sent their young men to help us, from not only Asia, but also Oceania, Europe, Africa, North and South America. That was 73 years ago. Today, the world has become a global village where you can go anywhere on earth within a day, thanks to super-fast jet planes. Today there is no longer a “faraway” country.

The size of the country does not matter either: Big or small, all nations are equally vital to the future of our country. We do not make friends according to their sizes. Immediate relevancy or urgency, too, does not matter. We do not make friends for relevancy or urgency, either. Some countries may not seem to be immediately relevant to us, especially when we have to struggle with urgent issues involving several countries. Yet, we never know what might happen in the future. Despite how seemingly nonrelevant a country may seem for any given matter at hand, then, we have to treat every country with equal esteem and appreciation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Friendship among nations, as among individuals, calls for constructive efforts to muster the forces of humanity in order that an atmosphere of close understanding and cooperation may be cultivated.” Indeed, friendships among countries resemble friendships among individuals. We should care for one another and be trustworthy in times of crisis.

In Seoul, we have many foreign embassies that play an important role in our diplomacy. While stationed in Korea, foreign diplomats are closely watching our society. They are eager to learn about Korea and many of these diplomats are quite fond of Korean culture. They can be our reliable, good friends.

The President’s Office may have to work with only a few embassies depending on the exigent needs of the moment. However, it would be greatly encouraging for other embassies if the President’s Office were to extend its hospitality and concern to them as well, acknowledging their value and importance to us. Inviting foreign diplomats to social gatherings as often as possible would be a good idea for our diplomacy. If the President’s Office is too busy to do it frequently, the Prime Minister’s Office or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could host such an occasion from time to time instead. That way, no foreign embassies would have to feel alienated.

For example, we should value our friendship with Southeast Asian and Central Asian countries, Oceanic countries and Middle Eastern countries. We should also cherish our friendship with African countries, Latin American countries and European countries, especially as we will closely work with NATO from now on. Having a good relationship with other countries is what an advanced country with the global mindset would and should do. If we do this, we will never be isolated in the international community. On the contrary, if we neglect to appreciate our friendship with other countries, we will surely end up being alone when we need help from them.

Colin Powell once said, “Diplomacy is listening to what the other guy needs. Preserving your own position, but listening to the other guy. You have to develop relationships with other people so when the tough times come, you can work together.” According to John Roos, “Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.” If we replace “people” with “diplomats,” we come to realize the importance of our friendship with foreign diplomats.

We should extend our warm hospitality to the foreign diplomats stationed in Seoul. Our government can do many things that can raise the profile of South Korea by providing social and diplomatic gatherings for foreign diplomats in Seoul.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can make the most of cultural diplomacy, too. As Cynthia P. Schneider said, “The most successful cultural diplomacy strategy integrates people-to-people or arts/culture/media-to-people interactions into the basic business of diplomacy.”

Our friendship with foreign diplomats in Seoul will surely play a vital role in furthering our relationship with other countries.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.