Opening a new security horizonPresident Yoon Suk-yeol is attending the NATO Summit, a first for a South Korean president. His participation in the June 29-30 meeting in Madrid carries great significance as it dramatically expands Korea’s diplomatic horizon, not to mention signifying his first overseas trip as head of state.
In Wednesday’s briefing, National Security Office (NSO) director Kim Sung-han announced that South Korea will reinforce “value-based solidarity” with 30 member nations of the NATO who share common values and norms, such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Kim said the country will get support from them by explaining the government’s position on North Korean nuclear issues. In particular, he stressed the importance of building a base for comprehensive security cooperation in unpredictable international circumstances.
His comment represents an unavoidable choice for security on the Korean Peninsula in a world sharply divided between democratic countries of the West and authoritarian countries, like China and Russia, since the invasion of Ukraine. The security director also indicated a plan to set up a diplomatic mission representing South Korea at the headquarters of NATO in Brussel.
At first glance, President Yoon’s attendance at the summit could be seen as a departure from the strategic ambiguity South Korea has maintained between America and China. But actually it does not represent anti-China stance of the new government. An NSO official said Yoon’s attendance has nothing to do with joining a collective defense system.
“It goes too far if you link it to an anti-China stance,” he said.
A schedule for a Korea-Japan summit on the sidelines of the NATO summit has not been fixed yet. Instead, President Yoon can meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for three occasions, including a four-party summit among South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand in Brussel. We hope President Yoon paves the way for improved relations with Tokyo through those occasions. Fortunately, Ryota Takeda, secretary-general of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, raised hopes for better bilateral relations in an interview Tuesday by proposing proactive communications between the two governments over Korea’s Supreme Court’s ruling for compensation for wartime forced labor and the Moon Jae-in administration’s scrapping of a deal over former sex slave issues.
The mood for better relations has matured in both countries. The flight route between Kimpo International Airport and Haneda International Airport will be opened 27 months after its shutdown from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Yoon administration is preparing to establish a civilian body to discuss issues between Seoul and Tokyo. We hope such efforts lead to a better future for the two countries.