Ringing in the New Year requires champagne and fireworks for most people in the United States and in Korea, rather than staying up past midnight, it often means waking up before dawn and hiking to the top of a mountain to greet the New Year’s rising sun.
For foreign envoys in Korea, however, it could mean something entirely unexpected.
For some foreign envoys here, it is the time of year to head back to the home office and convene with their ambassadorial colleagues in an annual Foreign Ministry conference.
These annual conferences serve as once-a-year opportunities for ambassadors to discuss the prevailing foreign policy environment, take stock of the previous year’s ups and downs and set priorities for the future direction of their country’s foreign relations.
Ecuadorian Ambassador to Korea Nicolas Trujillo just returned from his country’s capital city of Quito where he met with other ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions posted around the world, as well as government officials during a 10-day conference from Nov. 19.
|Ecuadorian Ambassador to Korea Nicolas Trujillo discusses his country’s annual ambassadors’ conference in Quito during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in downtown Seoul, Wednesday. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)|
“These annual conferences give us a chance to share experiences and share strategies that worked in other countries that we perhaps did not think of, but it is also really good to talk to your bosses face-to-face,” Trujillo said.
For example, foreign envoys here must prepare an annual report that covers every aspect of what they do here, who they meet, what they achieved, challenges that remain and goals for the coming year. This reports are submitted for the yearly meet ups.
It is a major part of the life and work in Korea.
“These face-to-face meetings are highly valuable for me,” he said. “There is a 14-hour time difference between Ecuador and Korea. It is a 60-hour flight round trip. So, these annuals meetings are particularly important for us posted in East Asia.”
By the time it is 7 a.m. in Ecuador, it is 9 p.m. in Korea. Trujillo said most of his phone calls with officials at the Foreign Ministry in Quito take place from 3-5 a.m.
“(Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino) has called me twice in 10 days at 4 in the morning,” he said.
“(Ecuadorian Embassy in Korea) does not get many (Ecuadorian) dignitaries to simply pop in to Korea. So, we do not get much face-to-face feedback.”
Trujillo said the 10-day conference includes exhaustive evaluations and critical feedback from high ranking Foreign Ministry officials, starting at 5 in the morning and ending at 10 in the evening.
“When I get a chance to have that valuable face time I take it,” he said.
Trujillo was not the only foreign ambassador to participate in his foreign ministry’s annual conference at this time of the year. Turkish Ambassador to Korea Naci Saribas and Israeli Ambassador to Korea Tuvia Israeli recently participated in similar annual conferences, too.
The annual ambassadors conference in Turkey took place both in Ankara and Izmir City from Jan. 2 to 7 with the theme of “Humanitarian Diplomacy.”
Turkey’s marching orders for its foreign envoys is for them to focus on “humanitarian diplomacy” especially at its diplomatic missions in Africa.
Israel had its annual conference from Dec. 30 to Jan. 3, during which Deputy Chief of Mission David Levy said the countries ambassadors submitted their reports, summarized the previous year’s activities and engaged in lively working discussions.
Israel’s National Security Council chief, Yaakov Amidror, made headlines early last week when he lashed out at Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor in response to a question he asked concerning the timing of an announcement about an expansion of settlements, telling Prosor he should either represent Israel or resign.
Israel announced the plan for a new settlement expansion the day after the Palestinians won their statehood upgrade in November at the U.N. General Assembly.
But these annual confabs rarely grab headlines like that. They mostly dwell on the arcane minutiae of wonky policy issues and a country’s outlining diplomatic strategies for the future.
They do provide coordination with other organizations, though, and with institutions that play a key role in the implementation of foreign policy.
For Trujillo it meant a further expansion of the Ecuadorian diplomatic mission in Seoul. He will get two more people to work on his staff, one to work on technology and knowledge transfer. “We want more Korean professors to go to Ecuador and more students from Ecuador to visit Korea.”
“Such annual meetings are important because we must update information regarding politics and economics, as well as business opportunities vis--vis our country and our host countries,” said Paraguayan Ambassador to Korea Ceferino Valdez, who is a lawyer with 30 plus years experience as a diplomat.
“We submit a country report and share this information with our colleagues, meet with government officials from various ministries, the business community and cultural sector,” Valdez said. “We also participate in meetings with ambassadors to countries within our region and attend inter-regional meetings.”
The annual meetings often include the regional coordination of the activities by diplomatic missions working in the same region.
That is crucial to avoid redundant work, for example, to more effectively solicit foreign direct investment among multiple players across several countries in East Asia.
By Philip Iglauer (firstname.lastname@example.org)