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Who will attend Yoon's inauguration ceremony?

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From left are U.S. Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Yonhap
From left are U.S. Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Yonhap

US vice president's husband, Chinese leader's close aide may be present

By Jung Da-min

High-profile delegates from the United States and neighboring countries such as China and Japan may attend President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's inauguration ceremony, which is set to be held at the National Assembly on May 10.

From the U.S. side, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, is being considered to lead the U.S. delegation, according to Tuesday's media reports. Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and House Foreign Affairs subcommittee head Rep. Ami Bera are among other members who would accompany Emhoff.

In previous inaugural ceremonies of South Korean presidents, the U.S. secretary of state or the U.S. national security adviser represented Washington, but it has been reported that the possibility is low due to preparations for U.S. President Joe Biden's summit with Yoon in Seoul, which is slated for May 21.

Emhoff also led the U.S. delegation to the summer Paralympic Games last August.

From the Chinese side, Vice President Wang Qishan is expected to attend the ceremony, according to media reports citing diplomatic sources also. If Wang, widely known as one of Xi's closest aides, visits Seoul for the ceremony, it would be an unprecedented case. China sent deputy prime minister-level officials for past inaugural ceremonies of former South Korean presidents.

Such a visit by Wang, if made, would be seen as a move to hold the U.S. in check when South Korea and the U.S. have vowed to strengthen their alliance in order to counter the growing nuclear and missile threats of North Korea better.

Regarding the anticipated visits of high-ranking foreign officials, Park Joo-sun, the chief of the presidential inauguration preparatory committee, has yet to confirm or announce their visits, citing diplomatic courtesy that the foreign countries should announce the relevant facts first.

"We are currently reviewing the attendance of high-ranking foreign delegations for the presidential inaugural ceremony," Park said during Tuesday's press briefing at the transition committee's headquarters in central Seoul. "Even though the ceremony is being held amid the pandemic situation, we have been notified that a considerable number of foreign delegations will attend the ceremony compared to previous presidential inaugural ceremonies."

The Japanese government has decided to send Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to Yoon's inauguration ceremony, according to recent Japanese media reports.

There had been earlier reports that the Japanese government had been reviewing Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's visit to Korea to attend the ceremony. But the Japanese government reportedly decided to wait and see the Yoon administration's stance on thorny historical issues between the two countries.

The delegations from the U.S., China and Japan that are anticipated to attend the next South Korean president's inaugural ceremony are drawing attention among diplomatic observers, as South Korea is facing diplomatic challenges amid the deepening U.S.-China rivalry, as well as growing nuclear and missile threats coming from North Korea.

Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, said he believes Biden's focus during the upcoming May 21 summit with Yoon will be based on holding China in check. In this regard, South Korea will find it difficult to decide to which level it should stand with the U.S. when it also needs China's cooperation to solve the North Korea nuclear threat issue.

"Biden's schedule of visiting South Korea and then Japan for the U.S.-Japan summit and a Quad summit symbolically shows Biden's focus on holding China in check," Park said, referring to the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which also involves Japan, Australia and India. "But as the May 21 South Korea-U.S. summit will come only 11 days after Yoon's inauguration, it will be hard to expect many fresh outcomes from it," Park said.

Jung Da-min


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