Photo: Yoon Suk-yeol (center) in the ASML "clean room." Credit: Office of the President.
Not everything about President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열’s December 11-15, 2023 state visit to the Netherlands was smiles and handshakes. According to a JoongAng Ilbo 중앙일보 report from December 14, the Dutch government summoned South Korean ambassador Choi Hyeong-chan 최형찬 to express displeasure over Seoul’s excessive demands. Reportedly, the Yoon administration insisted that too many people be permitted to enter semiconductor manufacturer ASML’s “clean room,” and asked for the dimensions of each elevator that Yoon would use during his visit, apparently for security reasons.
It is extremely rare for an ambassador to be summoned over diplomatic protocols: such issues are usually handled quietly, behind the scenes. Amsterdam attempted several times to handle the matter through diplomatic channels before resorting to the drastic remedy. Tak Hyeon-min 탁현민, former Presidential Secretary for Protocol 의전비서관 under the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration, said: “I thought it was fake news. ‘Unprecedented’ doesn’t even begin to cover this. The Netherlands would not have done this unless they were ready to scuttle the state visit altogether. There might have been some kind of an issue involving the Dutch royal family or the prime minister.”
With at least one overseas trip for virtually every month of 2023, Yoon Suk-yeol has been an unusually avid traveler. (See previous coverage, “Yoon’s Jetset Life.”) His diplomatic advance team, which has been dogged by accusations of information siloing and amateurism, does not appear to have gotten better with practice. The JoongAng Ilbo report noted a lack of coordination between the Office of the President 대통령실, the Foreign Ministry 외교부 and overseas embassies, with each actor attempting to score points with Yoon by hoarding information and shutting out the others.
It cannot help that the presidential office currently has no Secretary for Protocol. The last holder of that office, Kim Seung-hee 김승희, had no relevant experience beyond having worked with First Lady Kim Geon-hee 김건희 during her time as an art curator and exhibition planner. Kim Seung-hee resigned in October after it emerged that after his daughter beat up and injured a classmate, Kim’s wife brandished his connection to President Yoon in an attempt to silence the classmate’s parents.