Park squeezes lots of summits into 8 months

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Park squeezes lots of summits into 8 months

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From left: President Park Geun-hye with U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Returning from an eight-day tour of France, Britain and Belgium Saturday, President Park Geun-hye has now completed her overseas travels for the year.

After a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin slated for Wednesday, Park will have met each leader of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council twice or three times in just eight months as president.

“Through visits to the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, the president has sufficiently explained the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula, including North Korea, and raised the level of those leaders’ understanding,” said Lee Jung-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, in a press briefing. “Her pursuit of understanding of the trust-building process for the Korean Peninsula and a peace framework in Northeast Asia has contributed to balancing diplomacy with neighbors,” Lee said.

Park has had one-on-one meetings twice with Barack Obama, Francois Hollande and David Cameron: once at the G-20 meetings in St. Petersburg in September and once on visits to their countries.

She met with Chinese President Xi Jinping three times: during a Beijing summit in June, at the G-20 in St. Petersburg and at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Bali in October.

Park’s summit with Putin Wednesday will be her second, following one at the G-20 conference.

Although the president has had only one summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting, the two women have been friends since before Park became president.

“The president has now established a framework for diplomacy with major powers around the world,” another high-ranking official at the presidential house said. “Urgent issues can be talked about over the phone from now on.”

Park’s overseas diplomacy has differed from her predecessors. It was conventional for the Korean president to visit four key countries in the initial year of the presidency in this order: the United States, Japan, China and Russia. European visits usually came in the second year.

Park skipped a trip to Japan and didn’t have a summit with its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on sidelines of any other meetings like the G-20 or APEC. His retrogressive comments on history and territory have precluded any meeting.

When a Japanese correspondent asked why she was not having a summit with Abe during a press conference following the Korea-European Union summit in Brussels Friday, Park indirectly pressed the Japanese government to change its attitude.

“When leaders meet for a summit, it is for the sake of improved relations between the two countries and to share some good news,” she said. “If that is not the case, I am afraid the relationship could deteriorate further.”

Abe has stimulated Koreans’ anti-Japanese sentiments - by denying Japan’s invasion of Korea, for example - but he put on a confusing display on Saturday having an interview with a Japanese broadcaster while eating bulgogi (Korean barbecue) at his favorite Korean restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo.

While Park has no more plans to travel abroad for the rest of the year, she will meet leaders visiting Seoul. First is Russian President Putin, who travels to Korea today and tomorrow after visiting Vietnam. His visit to Korea is the first by a leader of the four major powers: the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Almazbek Atambaev, president of Kyrgyzstan, will visit Seoul Nov. 18 to 20, the Blue House said yesterday.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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