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Moon returns to face-to-face diplomacy

President Moon Jae-in and first lady Kim Jung-sook arrive in Seoul Airport, a military air base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Friday morning. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in and first lady Kim Jung-sook arrive in Seoul Airport, a military air base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Friday morning. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in returned home Friday morning after completing a weeklong trip to Europe, where he chatted and bumped elbows with other heads of state in a host of multilateral and bilateral meetings.

“We are getting back to in-person diplomacy,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity. “Even though the size of the delegation may remain reduced for some time, we will continue to seek more opportunities for multilateral or bilateral meetings.”

Following his brief visit to the US for a summit with President Joe Biden last month, Europe was the president’s first destination for a multilateral meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 11, he departed for Cornwall, southwestern England, to attend the G-7 summit held in a picturesque, seaside resort over the weekend. Moon was invited to the gathering of the world’s biggest economies as a guest, along with his Australian, Indian and South African counterparts.

He attended three extended sessions on health care, economy and climate change and shared his vision for hosting a global vaccine production hub in Korea to scale up productions for the global supply.

He also pledged $200 million in aid through next year to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in lower-income countries, including North Korea.

Moon held summit talks with the UK, Australia, Germany, the EU and France to discuss wider cooperation, with vaccine partnerships among the items topping the agenda. His first meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga ended in a brief encounter without making a breakthrough in the stalled diplomacy between the two countries.

Next, he headed to Austria where he made a state visit June 13-15. He received a warm welcome especially from Korean residents there, as it was the first visit by a Korean president to the country since the establishment of bilateral ties in 1892.

The two countries agreed to elevate their ties to a strategic partnership and further their substantial cooperation in the fields of culture, investment and education through memorandums of understanding.

The last leg of Moon’s European trip was Spain, where he stayed June 15-17. It was also the first time for Spain to receive a foreign state visit in the middle of the pandemic.

The bilateral ties between the two nations have also been upgraded to a strategic partnership on the occasion of the latest visit. The leaders agreed to bolster cooperation in diverse fields such as construction and renewable energy to seek new business opportunities together in overseas markets.

In a roundtable meeting on promoting tourism, the two nations agreed to extend the “Visit Korea-Spain Year” for another year to boost the struggling tourism industry of both countries.

“This trip was physically challenging but it was so rewarding with many achievements,” Moon wrote on his Facebook as he departed from Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday. “I witnessed our nation’s elevated status at the G-7, learned Austria's pride in arts and culture and felt Spain’s will and passion for a new era.“

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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