After over a year at the workplace, Trump still doesn’t have a permanent American ambassador in South Korea. The failure to get an official representative working with one of America’s closest allies was on full display during Mike Pence’s visit to the launching ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
North Korea’s flirtation with nuclear weapons, together with the autocratic regime’s repeated threats to the free world, would on its own surface seem to be a diplomatic priority for America. But the Trump administration, after installing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, has made clear that international diplomacy is not on its priority list.
Diplomatic posts remain unfilled after Trump’s first year, including the key position of ambassador to South Korea. This vacancy has become more glaring as the Olympics have gotten underway.
In the VIP reception prior to the games, Pence showed up late, and there was no seat available for him even though he was likely to have dinner with all the American athletes. Instead, Pence needed to walk around the dining table to greet and shake hands with other people in attendance.
This led him to skip Kim Yong-Nam, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. She had been seated between United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and International Olympic Committee chairman Thomas Bach.
An ambassador would have made advance preparations for a vice president’s seating arrangements, as well as working out diplomatic assembly protocol.
Washington Post Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield described the dinner as a “major screw-up.”
And the problems continued from there.
At the opening ceremony, the delegations for North and South Korea entered the stadium together, echoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s statement that he wants an “Olympic games of peace.”
But in the audience, Pence did not applaud or stand when the team entered, despite the close relations between America and South Korea. The Associated Press described Pence’s demeanor as “stone-faced.”
“Asia experts said the vice president’s refusal to stand could be seen as disrespectful to the hosts,” the report noted.
The missteps at the games follow Trump’s State of the Union address, where he highlighted North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, who sat in the first lady’s box. The Washington Post reports that South Korean diplomats were “blindsided” by the moment, and had not been given any warning that it was happening.
It’s seen by some as an action that hurts diplomatic attempts by America and South Korea in the region, improving the atomic threat instead of defusing it.
Trump’s antagonistic and childish behavior — such as calling Kim Jong-un “rocket man” — certainly do not help, either.
International safety relies on serious diplomacy and direction from America in dealing with North and South Korea. The Trump administration is placing America’s ally at risk as a result of their negligence, and it is making the whole world more dangerous.