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Seoul dismisses China's objection to Korea attending NATO summit

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NATO flag / gettyimagesbank
NATO flag / gettyimagesbank

US, China clash over Korea's participation

By Nam Hyun-woo

The presidential office has dismissed China's apparent objection to President Yoon Suk-yeol's attendance at next week's North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, saying his participation has nothing to do with any "anti-China policy."

"There is no change to our stance in regard to President Yoon's attendance at the summit," an official at the presidential office told The Korea Times when asked about China's objection, Friday. "As we stated earlier, Yoon's attendance has zero relation with suspicions that Seoul may veer toward anti-China or anti-Russia policies."

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin speaks during a press conference, Thursday. Captured from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website
China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin speaks during a press conference, Thursday. Captured from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website

The comments came after China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Thursday expressed Beijing's objection to four Asia-Pacific countries ― Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand ― participating in the summit as partner nations.

"The Asia-Pacific is beyond the geographical scope of the North Atlantic," Wang said during a press conference. "Countries and people in the Asia-Pacific are strongly opposed to anything said or done to extend the military bloc to this region or stir up division and confrontation."

Wang said NATO has been "flexing its muscles" in the Asia-Pacific to replicate "the kind of bloc confrontation seen in Europe," adding the attempt is "highly dangerous."

Yoon will be the first Korean president to participate in the summit, slated for June 29 to 30. There, he will deliver a speech at a session between NATO member countries and the four observer nations. Also, four-way talks are anticipated between the leaders of the four countries and a trilateral meeting between Seoul, the U.S. and Japan on the sidelines of the meeting.

The upcoming NATO summit is largely described as an event to enhance the U.S. and its allies' countering of China's assertion, as the organization is poised to adopt a new strategic concept on containing Beijing's growing influence.

Due to this, there has been speculations that Yoon's NATO summit attendance may give a signal that Seoul may join the U.S.-led campaign to contain China.

However, the presidential office has been explaining that Yoon's attendance does not mean Korea is joining NATO, and the country seeks to promote its presence in the global community, rather than containing a certain country.

"We are not a NATO member country," another senior official at the presidential office said earlier this week. "NATO's concept of collective defense has no relation with us, while we are focusing on improving our partnerships with NATO members on broader ideas for comprehensive security, climate change, new technology and other values."

As the officials at the presidential office said, Yoon is anticipated to focus on having bilateral meetings with NATO member countries, rather than talking about China. The office is now preparing for about 10 bilateral meetings with European nations during Yoon's stay in Madrid, Spain.

U.S. National Security Council coordinator John Kirby responds to a question during a daily briefing in the White House briefing room, Thursday. UPI-Yonhap
U.S. National Security Council coordinator John Kirby responds to a question during a daily briefing in the White House briefing room, Thursday. UPI-Yonhap

The U.S. also took a similar stance on Seoul's attendance at the summit, but used stronger rhetoric.

John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council coordinator, said in a press briefing Thursday that China does not have the authority to veto which international meetings Korea should attend, adding that the summit is not "about an Asian version of NATO."

Kirby said that the planned summit is not about creating an Asian version of NATO, stressing that NATO is a security alliance among countries in the Atlantic region. He also said the U.S. is excited about South Korea's participation in the summit.

Against this backdrop, a number of multilateral meetings that will involve Korea are gaining greater attention.

President Yoon is likely to attend four-way talks with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Since Japan and Australia have already showed their clear stance against China, there are chances that the two countries may want to discuss Beijing. Also, a potential meeting between Seoul, Washington and Japan at the summit may provide a test for Yoon, experts said.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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