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Yoon's inept diplomacy draws flak

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President Yoon Suk-yeol, third from right, and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands during the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, Wednesday (local time). AP-Yonhap
President Yoon Suk-yeol, third from right, and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands during the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, Wednesday (local time). AP-Yonhap

President criticized for swearing, lack of results, PR failure

By Jung Min-ho

When Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said last week that President Yoon Suk-yeol's summit with U.S. President Joe Biden would be brief ― 30 minutes or so ― many thought that it might be too short to talk about the urgent issues between the two countries. But the meeting in New York City turned out to be even shorter ― far shorter ― than he hoped it would be. At a fundraising event hosted by Biden, Yoon had a standing conversation with him for less than a minute ― 48 seconds, precisely.

According to Yoon's office and the White House, Wednesday (local time), Yoon asked Biden to help resolve South Korean companies' concerns over the Inflation Reduction Act and they reaffirmed their commitment to bolstering the bilateral alliance against North Korea during the conversation.

The act, passed last month, gives a tax credit to buyers of electric vehicles (EVs) from next January if a minimum of 40 percent of the critical minerals in their batteries are mined or processed in the U.S. or countries that signed free trade agreements in the U.S., or recycled in North America. At least 50 percent of the battery components must also be manufactured or assembled in North America. The law is causing significant concern for Korean automakers.

The news immediately drew criticism from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), which called the meeting the latest episode of "diplomatic disaster" committed by Yoon.

"I don't want to believe that their 48-second standing conversation could actually be called a summit," Rep. Park Hong-keun, the DPK's floor leader, said during a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul. "If that really was all, I'm truly worried that he has failed to resolve any important economic issues, such as the discriminatory electric vehicle tax incentives and the pressure on Korea's semiconductor and bio industries."

Speaking of video footage of the president using swear words to refer apparently to the U.S. Congress, Park called it a "slanderous diplomatic accident that seriously tarnished national dignity." It is unclear what specifically Yoon was talking about when he said, "How embarrassing would it be for Biden, if those 'sekkideul' (which can be translated as "those bastards") in the Congress did not approve it?"

President Yoon Suk-yeol attends the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, Wednesday (local time). AFP-Yonhap
President Yoon Suk-yeol attends the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, Wednesday (local time). AFP-Yonhap

The same day, Yoon also met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where they expressed the need to improve relations between the two countries despite many historical issues impeding progress.

Despite it being the first one-on-one talks between the leaders of the two countries since December 2019, the meeting became a target of DPK criticism before it was even held, after the Japanese side openly expressed displeasure over Yoon's office having leaked to the press that the summit was going to occur, although it was supposed to remain confidential until the last minute.

"Both the process and the results were humiliating," Park said. "It was a meeting without a set agenda … No progress was made on historical issues such as forced labor."

Yoon's seven-day trip to Britain, the U.S. and Canada was bumpy from the beginning. Given that he failed properly to pay his respects to British Queen Elizabeth II upon his arrival there, unlike many other world leaders who did, the DPK has criticized him as an incompetent leader who knows nothing about diplomacy or politics.

Although some of the criticism could be seen as unfair or excessive, experts say this trip could have ― and should have ― been managed much better.

"When the information about Yoon's summit plan with Kishida was leaked, it removed any positive dramatic effect Yoon could have gained and only created political noise," Kim Sung-soo, a professor in the department of political science and diplomacy of Hanyang University, told The Korea Times. "Yoon needs experts who can coordinate such important events in a way that maximize the political effects and inform the public more effectively … Much of the opposition party's criticism is simply political attacks, but Yoon's office should be smarter and more sophisticated."


Jung Min-ho mj6c2@koreatimes.co.kr


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