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S. Korean envoys convene to navigate strategy amid Middle East tensions

April 22, 2024 - 15:08 By Ji Da-gyum
Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul delivers opening remarks during an annual conference of chiefs of overseas diplomatic missions on Monday, which commences on the same day and will continue until Friday. (Yonhap)

The annual conference of chiefs of overseas diplomatic missions commenced Monday, with a focus on navigating diplomatic strategy amidst an era of heightened geopolitical uncertainties, exacerbated by escalating tensions in the Middle East, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

A total of 181 ambassadors, consul generals and other dignitaries attended the opening ceremony of the five-day gathering entitled, "Our Diplomatic Strategy during the Era of Geopolitical Transition."

Notably absent were the South Korean ambassadors to Israel, Iran and Lebanon, as well as the head of the South Korean Representative Office to Palestine, amid simmering tensions in the Middle East.

"The rules-based international order has already been shaken by the US-China strategic competition, and the ongoing war in Ukraine has caused concern. Yet, with the crisis in the Middle East, where tensions are escalating, it has become challenging to predict the international situation even a step ahead," said Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul in his opening remarks.

"The Indo-Pacific region, including the Korean Peninsula, is no exception."

Cho explained that North Korea, continuing to enhance its nuclear missile capabilities, has now designated South Korea as the "No. 1 hostile country," escalating tensions through provocative actions and rhetoric. Conflict in the South China Sea persists without resolution.

"The escalating confrontation between liberalism and authoritarianism is also ushering us into a world where the pursuit of so-called 'pragmatic diplomacy, which separates values and national interests,' is becoming increasingly challenging," Cho said.

Cho emphasized the need for diplomats to collaborate in exploring avenues to safeguard national interests while simultaneously upholding the rules-based international order and promoting universal values.

"Of course, safeguarding our national interests while simultaneously actively contributing to the freedom, peace and prosperity of the international community amid geopolitical uncertainties is by no means an easy task," Cho said.

Cho underscored that "it entails intense deliberations and discussions as well as difficult decisions, along with responsibilities" to that end.

Around 180 ambassadors, consul generals and other dignitaries attend the opening ceremony of the five-day gathering entitled, "Our Diplomatic Strategy during the Era of Geopolitical Transition" on Monday. (Yonhap)

Cho further highlighted South Korea's role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

"We actively contribute to the efforts of the international community to uphold the rules-based international order, maintaining consistency based on principles and standards, even at times enduring short-term costs and burdens in our bilateral relations (with others)," Cho said.

Against this backdrop, Cho shed light on South Korea's vote in favor of a UN Security Council draft resolution aimed at facilitating full United Nations membership for Palestine on Thursday, describing it as a "difficult decision."

"We believe that Palestine's membership in the UN will contribute to bringing about a lasting peace by facilitating a political process based on the two-state solution."

Cho highlighted, "Just as with our vision as a global pivotal state, we must not dwell in ambiguous diplomatic rhetoric when it comes to our contributions to the rules-based international order."

Cho spoke on the importance of Korean diplomacy breaking away from past conventions, stressing that "In an era of significant transformation, there is no place for diplomacy that merely echoes the past."

"We have become too accustomed for decades to dealing with situations pessimistically, according to the logic of the moment, and accepting geopolitical circumstances as fate in a rush to manage inter-Korean relations and relations with neighboring powerful countries," Cho told participating diplomats.

Cho, however, clarified that "maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula while strategically managing and enhancing relations with neighboring countries remains the steadfast top priority of our diplomacy," specifically referring to its ties with the US, Japan, China and Russia.

South Korea, for instance, will "exert meticulous efforts to ensure that the trilateral summit involving South Korea, Japan and China, slated for the foreseeable future, provides momentum for bilateral relations," according to Cho.

Cho also added that South Korea will "dedicate special efforts to enhance cooperation with the Global South, whose strategic position has been strengthened in the international community."

Following the inaugural Africa Summit scheduled for June, South Korea plans to elevate its cooperation with ASEAN to a "comprehensive strategic partnership" by convening a South Korea-ASEAN Summit in October marking the 35th anniversary of ASEAN-South Korea relations.