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Ex-PM asks US for 10 million COVID-19 vaccines

Former South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (left) sees off White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell after their meeting at a Washington hotel on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Former South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (left) sees off White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell after their meeting at a Washington hotel on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Hwang Kyo-ahn, a former prime minister who once served as acting president, said Wednesday that he had requested 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for South Korea from the US during his meeting with Kurt Campbell, Biden’s point man for the Indo-Pacific region.

During his trip to Washington, which began last week, Hwang met key officials in the Biden administration and executives of global pharmaceutical companies to seek vaccine cooperation in response to a looming vaccine shortage.

In response to Hwang’s request, Campbell said the US understands how serious the vaccine shortage problem is for South Korea, and added that Washington will make its utmost efforts based on the alliance, according to Hwang. Hwang added that Campbell had agreed to personally report his vaccine request to the White House.

Hwang also said he learned from local pharmaceutical officials and lawmakers that a major US pharmaceutical company is set to sign a massive vaccine deal with Korea when President Moon Jae-in visits Washington next week.

Moon is to meet with Biden for their first summit on May 21, with North Korea and vaccine issues expected to top the agenda.

During Hwang’s trip, he also held talks with Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan. Hwang said he had made a similar request to Knapper for the US’ support on the vaccine front.

Hwang’s trip comes as Seoul is scrambling to procure enough vaccines to resolve its tight supply. Last month, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said Seoul was seriously discussing a “vaccine swap” arrangement with Washington, under which the US would provide vaccines from its stockpile now and get paid back later.

On Monday, Lee Soo-hyuck, South Korea’s ambassador to the US, said he was consulting closely with the US to quickly secure COVID-19 vaccines before June.

Separately, Rep. Park Jin and Rep. Choi Hyung-du of the main opposition People Power Party on Wednesday left for the US to meet with Washington officials, legislature representatives and think tank figures to discuss cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines, including a swap arrangement.

Hwang has largely stayed out of politics for the past year, but recently resumed political activities. He previously served as the leader of the main opposition party but stepped down from the post, taking responsibility for the party’s loss in the 2020 parliamentary election.

He was prime minister from 2015-2017 under former President Park Geun-hye. He also served as acting president from 2016-2017 after Park was impeached and before President Moon Jae-in was sworn in. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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