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[Kim Ji-hyun] Mastering the art of ‘mildang’

I have never quite gotten the hang of negotiating.

Either I give up too much, or refuse to budge at all, mostly because I don’t see the point. It’s not a matter of life or death, so let it go, I say.

These days, however, I have improved a bit after watching a friend in action. It’s almost like an art, watching her.

She would, for example, casually pick out the people she thinks she may need help from in the future. Then she would offer subtle acts of kindness, so subtle it’s hard to catch them. But pretty soon, the time comes for them to return the favor and they are eager to do so because they have been so carefully hooked.

She is, so to speak, the queen of “mildang” in my world. Mildang is a word coined between “milda,” meaning “push” in Korean, and “danggida” which means “pull.” Roughly put, you need to know when to push and then when to pull.

This mastery, I believe, is also the formula for successful diplomacy. And perhaps that’s why Japanese people have a gift for it ― assuming that they have the inherent traits that we all believe them to have, such as astuteness, diligence and subtleness.

For instance, take a look at the latest military deal agreed between the United States and Japan during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit.

I am no expert on such affairs, but even I can see that this deal is showing the world that Washington and Tokyo are on the same page on defense issues, and that Japan has now been given the mandate to more aggressively help the United States keep other rising forces such as China in check.

In return for Washington’s “concessions,” I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that Tokyo will yield at some point regarding the ongoing talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is still opposed by many in Japan.

So we will leave it up to some of the world’s best and brightest diplomats to give it all they’ve got.

Now let’s pivot back to South Korea.

Seoul recently agreed with Washington on a revision of a nuclear agreement.

But the results were far from satisfactory, and there is much grumbling here about how the alliance with the world’s largest and strongest economy is not helping South Korea what it wants and needs.

Going over the revision, Seoul failed to secure full rights to reprocessing spent fuel and enriching uranium ― technologies that are necessary for both political and economic purposes.

I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say it will now be another two decades before South Korea can become more energy efficient and wield any kind of nuclear deterrence toward North Korea.

It’s really quite a poor deal when you consider the nuclear capabilities that Pyongyang now possesses, said to include tens of nuclear warheads.

However, what’s done is done.

The central question that remains now is the future, and the kind of delicate but efficient diplomatic tactics that Seoul will put in motion on other such significant geopolitical issues.

Nobody is pointing fingers at our diplomats, or even the president for that matter, since this is a country where the primary priority of a politician is to stay in power.

Fighting for a bigger defense budget or talking about how to reprocess spent fuel when people are staging rallies to avoid nuclear waste facilities in their backyard is no way to woo the voters.

But we would still like to believe that our government does have some ideas and guidelines on how to navigate on equally pressing matters in the future with wit and finesse.

If other words, we want it to master the art of “mildang.”

So far, it seems like the country has been all about the push and not about the pull. It pushed and pushed to build up the economy in a matter of decades. Parents push their kids, kids push other kids. Voters push politicians and politicians … well it looks like these days they are literally giving the push to businessmen.

But I digress.

Very simply put, South Korea needs to be more astute about getting the things it wants and needs, and from whom it can get them.

Some people are good at short-term goals. Some are better at long term. For a nation, both are critical for its existence.

By Kim Ji-hyun 

Kim Ji-hyun is The Korea Herald’s Tokyo correspondent. ― Ed.