|President Yoon Suk-yeol shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during their summit at a hotel in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday (local time). Yonhap|
By Nam Hyun-woo
MADRID ― President Yoon Suk-yeol and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese agreed on Tuesday to strengthen communication in setting up their respective Indo-Pacific strategies and their relations with China.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Madrid, Spain, which will officially begin on Wednesday. Both South Korea and Australia will attend the event as partner countries of NATO.
Yoon and Albanese explored ways to upgrade the two countries' comprehensive strategic partnership during their first summit. Both Yoon and Albanese took office in May.
"Both South Korea and Australia are currently working on their respective Indo-Pacific policies," a senior official at South Korea's presidential office said. "As they closely communicate in this process, the leaders explored how South Korea and Australia will set their relations with China, while removing any room for hostile relations with Beijing. Also, the leaders agreed to seek ways to form future-oriented partnerships with Beijing and other major countries in the region."
After Yoon took office on May 10, Seoul has been departing from its so-called "strategic ambiguity" in the U.S.-China rivalry, and moved closer to Washington. Albanese, who took office on May 23, also heralded a hardline stance, saying Australia's relations with China will remain "a difficult one" during his inauguration press conference.
Against this backdrop, their close communication in formulating their Indo-Pacific policies and China relations may trigger vitriolic responses from Beijing, which has been critical of Yoon's participation in the NATO Summit and said it will make South Korea's relations with China "more complicated."
Citing experts, China's Global Times reported Tuesday that the "U.S. aim to further promote NATO's Asia-Pacific expansion" will create tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and "Seoul's relations with Beijing will be more complicated if the Yoon administration gradually loses its diplomatic independence by relying on the U.S."
Regarding the NATO summit, the official at the presidential office said, "There will be no direct questions asking how South Korea will react to China's emergence at the NATO Summit, even though the organization will mention China in its strategic concept during the meeting."
"There will be no measure putting direct pressure on China during the NATO Summit. … Due to the war (in Ukraine) and those who support the war, the global economy, including that of South Korea, is suffering difficulties. There will be greater criticism and doubts raised on South Korea if it decides not to attend this summit," the official said.
Yoon also said during a meeting with aides Tuesday that "Madrid is where [South] Korea's Indo-Pacific strategy and global peace initiative meet with NATO's 2022 strategic concept."
|President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a meeting with his aides at a hotel in Madrid, Spain, Thursday. Yonhap|
His rhetoric hints at the shared interest between South Korea, as one of the key countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and NATO members that seek to have a greater presence in the region.
According to officials at the presidential office, Yoon will stress the importance of South Korea's partnerships with NATO member countries and partner nations to counter "emerging security threats," such as fluctuating energy prices and instability in the global food supply chain which stem from the Ukraine war.
"Those threats are showing the uncertainty in global economic security, and South Korea will enhance its partnerships in semiconductors, nuclear power plants, green technologies and other fields of emerging security with NATO members and partner countries," an official at the presidential office said.
During the summit with Australia, Yoon and Albanese also shared their views on North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and promised "a firm and unified response" to Pyongyang's provocations. Along with the security agendas, the leaders exchanged ideas on areas of future partnership between the two countries.