Yoon Suk-yeol may go to NATO meeting, summit with Fumio Kishida possible
Heading into the presidential office in Yongsan Thursday morning, Yoon was asked if he would attend the summit and consider talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He told reporters, "We are making preparations, but it is difficult to say that it has been confirmed yet."
If Yoon attends the NATO summit in Madrid from June 29 to 30, it will be his first overseas visit and comes just over a month since taking office on May 10. The presidential National Security Office is known to be making preparations for such a trip to Spain.
NATO invited the leaders of four non-member countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Korean presidents usually make their first overseas trip to the United States, as was the case for Yoon's three immediate predecessors: Lee Myung-bak, Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in.
Lee held his first summit with U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David in Maryland on April 19, 2008, 54 days after taking office. Park met with President Barack Obama in Washington on May 7, 2013, 71 days after taking office. Moon met with President Donald Trump in Washington on June 30, 2017, 51 days after taking office.
But this time around, U.S. President Joe Biden visited Seoul for a summit with Yoon on May 21, just 11 days after Yoon's inauguration. Biden also visited Tokyo on the second leg of his first Asia trip since taking office in January 2021.
Kishida, a former foreign minister who took office in October 2021, is also reportedly considering attending the NATO meeting.
If Yoon, a former prosecutor general and political rookie, attends the summit, it will be his debut on the multilateral diplomatic stage. The summit could provide an opportunity for other dialogues such as another Korea-U.S. meeting or trilateral talks with Japan.
If Yoon meets with Kishida on the sidelines of the NATO gathering, it would be the first summit between Korean and Japanese leaders in over two years and comes at a time of deteriorated bilateral relations. On his recent Asia trip, Biden encouraged trilateral cooperation between Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, especially in light of Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats.
Yoon told reporters Thursday, "On historical issues, I expect problems between South Korea and Japan to be resolved smoothly from a standpoint of cooperation for the future."
He had been asked if he was preparing a solution to the so-called comfort women issue if a summit with Japan is held. Japanese media had reported that the two countries leaders are likely to hold formal talks.
Seoul and Tokyo have faced ongoing tensions over historical issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, such as the Japanese military's wartime sexual slavery and compensation for Korean forced laborers. The two countries have also been in a trade spat since the summer of 2019, after Japan imposed exports restrictions on Korea on three key materials used in semiconductors and displays and the two countries removed each other from a "whitelist" of trusted trading partners. Those restrictions followed court rulings ordering compensation of Korean forced laborers during World War II.
Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin is expected to visit Tokyo later this month to meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, where final coordination for a leaders' summit could be made.
Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori met in Seoul Wednesday and "agreed on the need for close cooperation between Korea and Japan to respond to various regional and global issues, including the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula." They didn't disclose if there was any discussion on a Korea-Japan summit.
Japan is holding upper house elections next month, and Kishida's trip abroad and meeting with Yoon could depend on the political situation in his country. Kishida likely will attend the G7 summit in Germany later this month before heading to Madrid.
Then President Moon and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last met in December 2019 on the sidelines of a Korea-China-Japan summit in Chengdu, China.
If Yoon and Biden reunite in Madrid, they could review measures discussed at their first summit last month and evaluate the current situation regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.
The NATO summit is expected to set the military alliance's strategic direction for the next decade and also focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The White House on Wednesday confirmed that Biden will travel to Schloss Elmau in Germany to attend the G7 leaders' summit on June 25 and then head to Madrid on June 28 for the NATO summit.
In a statement, the White House said that allied leaders will endorse a new strategic concept to guide NATO's transformation "from strengthening deterrence and defense, to building resilience against transnational threats including cyber and climate, to deepening partnerships with democratic partners in Europe and Asia in order to strengthen the rules-based international order."
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]