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2015-03-26 16:23
By Do Je-hae



President Park Geun-hye’s March 29 visit to Singapore is a rarity in Korean diplomacy. No incumbent head of state before her has ever made a foreign trip to mourn the death of a former leader.

An almost immediate announcement of Park’s funeral attendance for the late Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, is a departure from how Cheong Wa Dae dealt with the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on Jan 25.

President Park distanced herself from that, while other leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, rushed to pay their respects. The White House re-arranged Obama’s schedule in India so that the president could attend the funeral.
Education Minister Hwang Woo-yeo led an eight-member Korean delegation to the funeral after Park released a brief message thanking the late king for promoting bilateral relations during his reign.

Park also skipped the funeral of the late South African President and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in March 2013, a global ceremony that saw the gathering of almost 100 world leaders.

Park's enthusiasm for Singapore’s state funeral for Lee is unusual, showing a lack of consistency in her funeral diplomacy decisions. Her absence at the memorial for the late Saudi King is odd, considering how much importance Park has placed on the Mideast since returning from her recent visit to the region.

There is speculation that the ties of her late father, former President Park Chung-hee, have motivated her to make an exception from her former aloofness to the funerals of foreign leaders.
Her father and Lee share common ground in that both played pivotal roles in their respective countries’ rise into Asian economic powers. 

Park has expressed her admiration for Lee’s achievements in Singapore’s growth. She fondly remembered the late leader and his wife in her 2007 memoir as, “A couple that had given me an affection that reminded me of my own parents.”

Funeral diplomacy is an occasion not just to mourn, but also to communicate with visiting leaders. Lee's funeral is expected to be a huge diplomatic arena for leaders within and outside Asia. 

Attending the funeral will be Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will lead a high-level White House delegation to Singapore that will include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

At a time of high tension in the region, the local media is keenly watching whether Park will meet with her counterparts from China and Japan. There is also media attention on who will represent North Korea at the funeral.


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