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S.Korea’s president, top diplomat attend global summits excluding China

Seoul decides to participate in democracy summit, G-7 ministerial meeting

President Moon Jae-in (R) and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (L) attend the virtual Summit for Democracy hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden from the presidential office in Seoul on Dec. 9. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (R) and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (L) attend the virtual Summit for Democracy hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden from the presidential office in Seoul on Dec. 9. (Yonhap)
High-profile international meetings attended by the South Korean president and diplomat this week are mainly aimed at countering China's influence, increasing the difficulty of Seoul’s diplomatic balancing act amid the growing US-China rivalry.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday took part in a global democracy summit hosted by his US counterpart Joe Biden, and Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong is set to join the meeting of G7 foreign ministers this week.

The US President hosted the two-day Summit for Democracy to rally the world against the backsliding of democracy and the resurgence of autocracy, gathering leaders and officials from over 100 countries, including India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Ukraine.

Notably, the South Korean president is one of the 12 world leaders, including Indian and Canadian prime ministers, who attended the closed-door Leaders’ Plenary Session hosted by Biden.

In his opening speech, Biden warned that democracy and freedom have been in retreat across the world, calling on the world’s leaders to join Washington’s democracy promotion efforts.

Biden underscored that the trends of democratic regression had been compounded by global challenges, including autocrats’ efforts to “advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world, and justify their repressive policies and practice.”

“Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to renew it with each generation. And this is an urgent matter on all our parts, in my view,” Biden said. “In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time.”

At the summit, the US President sought to enhance the US global leadership and to establish a broad coalition of the democratic governments against rising anti-democratic tides spearheaded by China and Russia. But Biden did not point the finger at China and Russia, with which the US has experienced increasing tensions.

The South Korean presidential office Thursday said Moon also delivered a speech at the Leaders’ Plenary Session.

Moon pledged that Seoul would “actively join and contribute to efforts to promote democracy based on its successful experience in simultaneously achieving democratization and economic development” in Asia, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said.

The Cheong Wa Dae also assessed that Moon’s participation in the democracy summit showed South Korea’s “strong commitment to contributing to the international community’s solidarity and cooperation in promoting democracy.”

But in his speech, Moon did not target China, which South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun previously described as a “strategic partner.”

The Moon Jae-in government has maintained strategic ambiguity amid the growing US-China rivalry. But this week, South Korean high-ranking officials continue to attend international events led by the US and its allies, whose major goal is to counter rising challenges by China.

Chung to attend G7 summit with ASEAN, Australian leaders
South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong is set to attend the G7 Summit of Foreign and Development Ministers, which will be held from Friday to Sunday in Liverpool, England. 

G7 countries consist of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, US, and UK, and also include the EU.

The minister will “discuss a range of global issues, including economic resilience post-COVID, global health, and human rights,” according to the UK Foreign Office.

But the China challenge in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be one of the top agenda topics for the ministerial meeting.

Especially, the UK’s major goal is to build a “worldwide network of liberty” at the meeting. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss previously explained the network aims to advance “freedom, democracy, and enterprise” and encourage “like-minded countries to work together from a position of strength.”

Notably, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN will attend the meeting for the first time as guests, the UK Foreign Office confirmed, underscoring that the participation is a “sign of the UK’s growing Indo-Pacific tilt.”

Amid Washington and Beijing scrambling to win over the ASEAN, Beijing would view the invitation as the US allies’ attempt to extend their influence on the regional bloc and have broad support for the AUKUS trilateral security pact.

Australia, who signed the AUKUS with the UK and US, was invited along with India, South Korea, and South Africa.

The meeting comes at a critical juncture when member countries of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) have joined the US-led diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Games. But South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the government was not considering a diplomatic boycott for the Olympics.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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