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[Newsmaker] South Korea sets 7 diplomatic tasks, aims to expand presence as ‘global pivotal state’

Foreign Minister makes first report on diplomatic tasks to president. Yoon stresses on the importance of economic security in diplomacy

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) listens to Foreign Minister Park Jin's briefing on major diplomatic tasks at the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) listens to Foreign Minister Park Jin's briefing on major diplomatic tasks at the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea will aim to reset relations with the neighboring countries of Japan and China and build regional cooperative network to strengthen its role as a “global pivotal state,” Foreign Minister Park Jin said in his briefing to the president on major diplomatic tasks on Thursday.

In his first official report to President Yoon Suk-yeol, Park presented an operation plan to carry out seven major diplomatic tasks, including a diplomacy road map with major countries, operation plans to promote economic security, and on ways to engage North Korea in denuclearization dialogue.

“We had an indepth discussion to successfully carry out the country’s diplomatic visions,” Park said in press briefing held after his meeting with the president. Their meeting lasted for two hours and 30 minutes.

“The president underscored the need for South Korea to expand the diplomatic horizon for national interest. He also stressed on the importance of economic security in diplomacy, and said he would travel to anywhere if it helps our economy,” Park said.

Neighbors, allies and the North

With Japan, South Korea will aim to recover trust, and resume “shuttle diplomacy,” as part of Seoul’s drive to improve relations that have been at their lowest point due to historical disputes.

“For true advancement of the Korea-Japan relations, we believe we need to revive the ‘shuttle diplomacy’ of the top-levels, which has been cut off for over a decade,” a senior ministry official had told reporters, explaining the seven major tasks.

The term shuttle diplomacy used in the context of Korea-Japan relations refers to regular and frequent exchanges, rather than how former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger first introduced the term to mean a third party acting as an intermediary to resolve a conflict.

Park has just returned from his first official three-day trip to Tokyo on Wednesday, where he had met with the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi.

On Park’s report of his trip to Tokyo, Yoon reiterated his determination to revive the bilateral ties, according to the foreign minister.

“The president also expressed his strong desires to improve the bilateral ties with Japan, and to build a trusting relation that can mutually benefit the two countries,” Park said.

To make top-level talks regular, the Korean ministry would continue to hold high-level and working-level talks with its Japanese counterpart, official said.

Seoul would also work to come up with the “most rational” solution to resolve the major dispute with Japan, which involves the country’s top court ruling ordering Japanese companies to provide compensations to Korean victims of forced labor during wartime, the official added.

As the Yoon Suk-yeol administration has been highlighting since its inauguration in May, the foreign minister will be leading the efforts to bolster alliance with the United States, to upgrade it to a global comprehensive strategic alliance.

The minister said the country would pursue strategic communication with the US, to make ministerial and high-level official talks regular.

The two sides have already agreed, and has held ministerial talks, and they also agreed to resume the operation of their strategic dialogue on extended deterrence, known as Extended Deterrence Strategy Consultation Group, at the earliest date possible.

They also launched economic security dialogue, aims to further cooperation on economic and energy security.

On relations with China, Park said the ministry would work to increase high-level talks, and expand tangible exchanges for mutual benefit, based on common values and rules.

“With the president, we talked a lot about China. China is a neighboring country closest in distance, and the country has the longest history. ... It is also our biggest trade partner,” Park said.

“Yoon made it clear that we provide ample explanation to China to leave no misunderstanding,” Park said, explaining that some of the decisions Seoul made, such as joining the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, is not intended at countering China.

South Korea would also suggest China to form a 2+2 working group meeting to bring together the foreign and defense vice ministers.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry is currently in talks with the Chinese government to coordinate on Park’s visit to Beijing in August, for the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic ties of the two countries.

The South Korean government, however, has not yet decided on whether it would join the so-called “Chip 4,” a US-led semiconductor alliance, which the US proposed in March. The proposal envisions gathering of four global chip powerhouses -- the US, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan -- and is thought to be aimed at countering Beijing’s growing influence on global supply chains.

Addressing ways to handle North Korea and its missile and nuclear provocations, the South will continue to make effort to persuade Pyongyang to come to the negotiation table for denuclearization, Park said.

While upholding a hard-line approach, Seoul will be prepared to give great incentives to Pyongyang if it were to agree on denuclearization. The foreign minister also said the ministry would seek to set up a trilateral liaison office of Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, to secure a communication channel.

The government is currently working on an “audacious plan” to offer to the North, that would vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life of its people, the official added. 

Global pivotal state

As South Korea seeks to expand its global presence as a global pivotal state, it is also working to establish its own Indo-Pacific strategy.

Park explained the ministry would form a union with the Association of South East Asian Nations to further expand cooperation in the region and diversify the country’s supply chains.

The ministry also aims to form stronger networks with countries in other continents of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Central Asia.

Park also touched on the country’s goal to lead the efforts in building a new order in the region, by taking various regional initiatives and international meetings, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, G-20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Seoul joined the IPEF, the US-led economic initiative, as the founding member in May.