Photo: Office of the President. Credit: Office of the President.
True to form, President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 대통령 again embarrassed himself on the international stage during his visit to Japan. (See previous coverage, “Diplomatic Disaster Parts I, II and III.”) For his state dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Yoon requested omu-rice at Rengatei - whose 128 year history may make it noteworthy, but not a venue for a formal occasion. In a speech at Keio University, Yoon approvingly quoted Okakura Tenshin, a Meiji-era intellectual who argued for the colonization of Korea by promoting pseudo-historical accounts of ancient Japan’s dominion of Korea.
Another viral moment came when Yoon failed to put his hand on his chest when South Korea’s national anthem was being played, and then bowed to the Japanese flag while being greeted by the Japanese color guard. The Office of the President and the conservative press rushed to defend the president, noting that the color guard was holding both the South Korean and Japanese flags. The protocol, however, is for the South Korean president to salute the Korean flag, then for the Japanese prime minister to bow to the Japanese flag. Yoon duly saluted his country’s flag (while Kishida stood straight), but when Kishida bowed to his country’s flag, Yoon followed along.
The president’s persistent inability to follow basic protocol drew attention to the abrupt resignation of Kim Il-beom, Presidential Secretary of Protocol 김일범 대통령실 의전비서관 and a career diplomat, on March 10 for what the Office of the President called “personal reasons.” The timing of Kim’s resignation raised eyebrows, coming as it did just a week before the South Korea-Japan summit meeting and a month before Yoon’s state visit to Washington DC - perhaps the most important stretch of diplomacy in Yoon’s presidency. Reportedly, Kim’s farewell message to his office was: “Good luck, everyone. 모두 건승하시라.”