A good start for Yoon

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A good start for Yoon

Leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan have met for the first time since 2017. In September that year, heads of the three countries met at the UN General Assembly in New York. At the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain, President Yoon Suk-yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held their first meeting to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation on North Korean nuclear threats, the economy and regional security in East Asia. Though it was relatively a short (30-minute) meeting, it carries great significance, as the three heads of state had a head-to-head meeting to solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum.

North Korea has fired various types of missiles 18 times so far this year and finished all preparations for its seventh nuclear test. The meeting held under such circumstances itself is meaningful. On Tuesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the meeting was aimed at discussing uninterrupted missile tests and provocations from North Korea. The meeting could help the leaders find ways to block North Korea from finding financial resources for its nuclear and missile programs, he stressed.

A meeting between Yoon and Kishida was not held, but their first encounter offered an opportunity to thaw the frozen relations between the two countries. After Yoon expressed to Kishida a willingness to resolve thorny issues for a better future during a banquet held in the royal palace in Madrid, the Japanese prime minister responded by proposing to make an effort to improve the relations.

Normalizing the tense ties calls for concrete actions. If the Yoon administration takes steps to address historical disputes, Japan also must take corresponding actions. Business activities between the two neighbors still face troubles. In the meantime, the emotional schisms between the two peoples are getting wider. What matters most are efforts to move forward step by step.

The NATO summit is momentous as it will certainly help South Korea cope with rapidly-changing international environments. Alarming inflation from soaring petroleum and grain prices from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, critical supply shortages from the pandemic and China’s attempt to change the global order led by Uncle Sam all pose tough challenges to South Korea, together with ever-evolving nuclear threats from Pyongyang. Such a multi-faceted crisis does not affect just one country.

In a speech to the NATO Summit, President Yoon stressed the importance of international cooperation and solidarity. NATO’s invitation to a South Korean president from the other side of the globe testifies to the significance of cooperation. The time has come for Yoon to show his leadership in times of crisis like this.
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