A phone call is not enough

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A phone call is not enough

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent trip to East Asia was not a customary visit of a heavyweight politician in America. In the face of a vehement protests from China, she visited Taiwan defying Beijing’s One China policy and strongly emphasized the values of democracy and freedom in the country. She went on to visit South Korea and Japan to consolidate alliance with them. During her visits to those countries, Pelosi not only put pressure on China and North Korea but also made remarks directly related to South Korea’s economic interests. In Singapore, Malaysia, and all other countries she went to, Pelosi met with her legislative counterparts and heads of state to share her opinions about the volatile international situation and economic security issues. The only exception was President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea.

Given his persistent championing of a reinforced Korea-U.S. alliance as top diplomatic priority of his administration, Yoon’s decision to not meet Pelosi is hard to understand. To make matters worse, no one from the National Assembly or government went to the airport to greet her. That’s serious diplomatic discourtesy.

The presidential office says that Yoon did not meet Pelosi as he was on vacation. The president may have accepted the request from aides for their boss to take a rest without interruption. Certainly, he is entitled to relax after a three-months of work even without the honeymoon period. But all schedules for the president should be carefully coordinated so not to cause any risks for the country. In other words, there should not be any conflict between a presidential vacation and diplomatic meetings with foreign VIPs. Yoon’s hurried phone conversation with Pelosi at the last minute shows the inappropriateness of his earlier decision to not meet her. We wonder why he chose a phone talk instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Security experts link the presidential office’s decision to China’s apparent opposition shortly after her visit to Taiwan, a symbol of the U.S.-China conflict. The government’s wish to not irk Beijing ahead of Foreign Minister Park Jin’s imminent trip to China may have played a part. If that’s true, it cannot match the “dignified diplomacy” the Yoon administration upholds, not to mention sending the wrong signal to both the U.S. and China.

Clearly, South Korea’s relations with China are as important as with Uncle Sam. And yet, the government has no reason to not meet Pelosi. Even if it did reach the decision without considering the China factor, it could trigger misunderstandings. The decision can lead to subtle schisms in the alliance, too. If such immature diplomacy continues, the Yoon administration cannot avoid criticism.
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