Yoon should have met Pelosi

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Yoon should have met Pelosi

Yeh Young-june
The author is an editorialwriter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Chinese President Xi Jinping may be privately pleased by having an excuse courtesy of the United States to send warships and warplanes to the Taiwan Strait in protest of U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island Beijing claims as its own. Xi could have at first been baffled by the bold move by the top American legislator but jumped at the opportunity to break the long-standing taboo of crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait in full-scale war drills.

A taboo is no longer taboo once broken. Political gain also would have been huge through much-needed internal unity ahead of the National Congress. Xi could campaign for stronger public faith in the party and leadership by pointing out that the U.S. warships have been on the sidelines despite its war threats.

Whether all would be a gain cannot be sure. Xi could have stoked a greater risk for himself and uncertainty for his country’s future. The tensions between the United States. and China have elevated to a new level. The U.S.-led democracy front across South China Sea could expand to the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. would have upped the reasoning for defending Taiwan, and the Taiwanese distrust of the mainlanders could have increased. Xi’s aspirations to bring Taiwan under Chinese arms could become more distant.

The waves over the Taiwan Strait could spill over to the Korean Peninsula. Tensions in Taiwan have strong ramifications for the Korean Peninsula not just because of the geographic proximity, but also due to strategic deployment and military balance. The first thing the United States did after North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950 was to send warships to Taiwan to watch Chinese movements.

South Korea must closely watch the developments around the Taiwan Strait and heighten vigilance. Seoul could have learned through Pelosi, who flew to Seoul immediately from Taipei, on the thoughts of the U.S. government and Congress and their strategies against the Chinese response as well as Taiwan’s intentions and strategies and progress on the Chip 4 alliance. Seoul has stake in all of these issues, and President Yoon Suk-yeol should have gotten clear answers through a private conversation.

There could have been a limit to the discussions between Pelosi and National House speaker Kim Jin-pyo, who is a representative of the opposition party. The president’s office stayed passive about a meeting with Pelosi and later hastily arranged a phone conversation between Yoon and Pelosi. 
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited South Korea last week as part of her Asian tour targeting China, but she could not meet President Yoon Suk-yeol, as he was on vacation. [JOONGANG PHOTO] 

The excuse that Yoon was on a summer break could not stand. When an official of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries went missing while on an inspection at sea and was captured by North Koreans two years ago, President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff, national security advisor, defense and unification ministers held an emergency meeting at night and waited until the morning to brief President Moon Jae-in so as not to wake him. That kind of excuses cannot be acceptable when the safety of public lives is at risk, as the prime presidential duty is to protect public lives. A president’s break should not collide with an important diplomatic event. Yoon could have saved some of his sinking approval rating if he showed up at the presidential office in Yongsan for a special meeting with a foreign guest.

There has been a speculation that Yoon had evaded a direct meeting with Pelosi in order not to upset Beijing. If that is true, Yoon is following in the poor footsteps of the former administration. Yoon promised an independent and proud diplomatic policy and a strong alliance with the United States. But neglecting a VIP from Washington not to anger its neighbor is not the way to achieve that. Whether China was the reason or not, Yoon’s passing of the U.S. visitor did not sit well with the public. All this may be why there is no stop in the slide of the president’s approval rating.
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