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Yoon dismisses China's claim that Korea is joining NATO's Indo-Pacific expansion

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President Yoon Suk-yeol smiles during a press conference on the presidential jet heading back to Seoul, Friday, after wrapping up his five-day trip to attend the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Madrid, Spain. Yonhap
President Yoon Suk-yeol smiles during a press conference on the presidential jet heading back to Seoul, Friday, after wrapping up his five-day trip to attend the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Madrid, Spain. Yonhap

History and other issues should be addressed together to mend ties with Tokyo, president says

By Nam Hyun-woo

AIR FORCE ONE ― President Yoon Suk-yeol stressed that his trip to the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Madrid, Spain, should not be interpreted as a move to contain a certain country, referring to China's repeated claim that Seoul is joining NATO's plan to strengthen its foothold in the Indo-Pacific region.

During a press conference aboard the presidential jet heading back to Seoul, Friday (Korea Standard Time), Yoon singled out his three best moments during his first overseas trip, saying the trilateral summit between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, which took place on the sidelines of the NATO Summit on Wednesday, was one of them.

"Regarding the trilateral meeting or the NATO Summit, it is not about excluding a certain country," Yoon said. "Whenever we are dealing with domestic issues or international agendas, we should pursue a common value and protect rules that everyone should follow."

During the NATO summit, participating leaders voiced their support of a rules-based international order and coalition among countries pursuing common values.

Since South Korea is a partner country of NATO, and not a member, Yoon did not join member nations in strongly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine or the adoption of a new strategic concept singling out "systemic challenges" posed by China. However, China has been expressing its concerns over Yoon's participation in the summit, with its foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying Beijing will not ignore attempts to undermine China's interests.

"South Korea's diplomacy has been focusing on how to deal with a certain country," Yoon said. "But as I said in my NATO speech, it is important for South Korea to pursue common values and rules, and unite with others when those values and rules are violated. There is no need to mention a certain country."

President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a press conference on the presidential jet heading to Seoul, Friday, after finishing his five-day trip to attend the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Madrid, Spain. Yonhap
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a press conference on the presidential jet heading to Seoul, Friday, after finishing his five-day trip to attend the 2022 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Madrid, Spain. Yonhap

Referring to his brief encounters with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during the summit, he stressed that the two countries' past and current issues should be addressed at the same time in order to improve soured relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

"As I said earlier, matters related to the two countries' history, present and future, should be addressed on the same table," Yoon said. "We should avoid the idea that the two countries' pending or future agenda should not be discussed if there is no progress in history issues. If the two countries can cooperate for the future, the intertwined history issues between the two countries can also be addressed."

Yoon and Kishida crossed paths five times on the sidelines of the NATO Summit, although the two leaders did not hold an official bilateral talks. During those encounters, Yoon told Kishida that Seoul is willing to begin work to mend bilateral ties after Tokyo's election this month, and later told reporters that he is "convinced" that Kishida is a partner who can work together to resolve conflicts between the two countries.

President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife Kim Keon-hee hold hands as they disembark from the presidential jet at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Friday. Yonhap
President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife Kim Keon-hee hold hands as they disembark from the presidential jet at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Friday. Yonhap

Yoon returned to Seoul on Friday, after holding 16 summits and bilateral meetings with the leaders of European nations, NATO and the European Union. During the meetings, he addressed not only security matters but also discussed economic ties with European nations under his strategy of having the region become South Korea's new partner for economic growth.

"After the war in Ukraine, many countries participating the summit showed interest in nuclear power plants, to improve their energy security and facilitate carbon neutrality," Yoon said. "And I told the leaders of those countries that South Korea's nuclear power plants are the cheapest, safest and the fastest to construct."

Regarding exports of South Korea's arms and defense systems, Yoon added that there are many countries that want to jointly develop arms systems with Seoul, and there will be further progress as the defense minister holds talks with his counterparts in those countries.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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