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Botched meeting with Modi sparks Saenuri debate

A botched meeting between South Korea’s ruling party chair and visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday sparked controversy here as to who was at fault for the poor diplomatic protocol.

After waiting for Modi to complete his schedule for half an hour, Saenuri Party chair Rep. Kim Moo-sung decided to leave, a decision that prompted debate here between those sympathetic to the five-term lawmaker, and those who criticized him for not understanding diplomatic affairs.

Indian officials had invited Kim to the meeting with Modi on Tuesday afternoon. But they left him waiting, as Modi was running late due to an earlier meeting with Indian expats here.

As the wait grew longer, Indian officials proposed that Kim meet Modi at the sidelines of the premier’s meeting with Indians here, for a brief photoshoot, instead of the prescheduled one-on-one meeting.

Kim refused, saying the request went against diplomatic protocol.

“It does not fit in with diplomatic protocol that the chief of a country’s ruling party is treated this way,” Kim said.

But the Saenuri Party chairman later added that it was understandable for Modi to be on a tight schedule as he was here for “only two days.” Kim also said the Indian embassy’s frontline staff had likely made scheduling mistakes.

Modi arrived in Korea on Monday before leaving on Tuesday.

Kim’s critics blasted him, saying that Modi, the leader of a nation, outranked Kim, who was a chief of a political party.

A South Korean foreign ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity added support to critics.

“Indian staff likely made scheduling errors. But, the schedule of a visiting president or prime minister changes frequently and often,” the source said.

“Even when our president visits other countries the timetable is timed to the minute, but schedules are often changed, so Rep. Kim should take that into account.”

But supporters of Kim said the Indian embassy should have not kept Kim waiting. They added that a visiting leader should invest time and effort to show respect for the host nation’s ruling party chief, as such figures are often contenders to be the next president or prime minister.

Kim is often considered by local pollsters as a possible 2017 presidential candidate on the Saenuri Party ticket.

Indian embassy officials could not be reached for comment despite multiple calls from The Korea Herald.

By Jeong Hunny (