Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to attend NATO Summit in Madrid
This will be the first time for a Korean president to attend the NATO Summit and also marks Yoon's first overseas trip since he took office on May 10.
Yoon will attend the summit hosted by Spain upon the official invitation of NATO, said an official of Yoon's presidential office in a briefing Friday. In addition to attending a session with the leaders of the 30 NATO members and partner countries, Yoon will also hold bilateral talks on the sidelines with a number of foreign leaders, mainly from major European countries participating in the summit
The presidential office has not further elaborated on his exact itinerary.
NATO invited the leaders of four non-member countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine and Georgia are also participating in the NATO summit as partner countries.
"The president's attendance in the NATO summit, as his first overseas trip since taking office, is expected to be an important step in strengthening cooperation with NATO allies and partners and expanding Korea's role as a global pivot state to maintain international order based on shared values and rules," said the official.
Global pivot state is a slogan for the Yoon administration's foreign policy which signifies partnering with allies to become a more relevant global actor.
NATO is expected to address Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's rising military influence in the Indo-Pacific region in the upcoming summit. Some analysts say that the United States intends to bring its allies in Europe and Asia together to counter China and Russia at the same time.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press briefing alongside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 1 that in the upcoming Madrid summit, member states will "prepare for an age of increased strategic competition with authoritarian powers like Russia and China," which includes working more closely with its "partners in the Asia-Pacific."
Another issue of interest is whether Yoon's first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will take place on the sidelines of the NATO gathering. Kishida is also reportedly considering attending the meeting.
Diplomatic sources in Seoul said that coordination work for a meeting between the leaders of Korea and Japan is ongoing, and that such a meeting is expected to take place though the exact format has not yet been decided.
On a summit between Yoon and Kishida, the presidential official said, "Since there are sensitive issues, it's not a matter we can confirm at this point."
Seoul and Tokyo have faced frayed bilateral relations 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.
Addressing whether there will be discussions of the so-called comfort women issue in possible summit talks with Kishida, Yoon told reporters last Thursday, "On historical issues, I expect problems between Korea and Japan to be resolved smoothly from a standpoint of cooperation for the future."
There is also the possibility of a trilateral meeting with the Korean and Japanese leaders and U.S. President Joe Biden, who confirmed last week that he will attend the summit.
Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin kicked off a four-day visit to Washington Sunday to meet with Blinken on Monday, and arranging another bilateral meeting or trilateral talks with Japan on the sidelines of the upcoming Madrid summit could be discussed. Park could make a visit to Tokyo later this month for talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, which could be an opportunity to further coordinate a Yoon-Kishida meeting and an agenda.
The last Korea-Japan summit was held in December 2019, when President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in Chengdu, China.
Korean presidents usually make their first overseas trips to the United States, but Biden made a trip to Seoul last month for a summit with Yoon.
Yoon is not planning on making other stops during his first Europe trip, since key players will be attending the NATO Summit.
Last week, Yoon dispatched People Power Party Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon as a presidential special envoy to the European Union. Kim led a seven-member delegation to Europe from June 5 and met with Mircea Geoana, NATO deputy secretary general, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels Wednesday.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]